Wine glasses clink as two lovers toast their impending nuptials to the strains of “Prelude to a Kiss.” A fork scrapes across the teeth of an overweight businessman as he scarfs his last chunk of steak to the faint murmur of “My Foolish Heart.” Servers sweep from table to table taking orders as “Remember” drifts into their subconsciouses.
For the past 11 years, from Wednesday to Saturday night, pianist Bill Harris has played the Willard Room in the Willard Inter-Continental Hotelalone. He has many other gigs performing with his trio as well as jamming with visiting guests in the hotel’s other jazz space, the Nest. But playing solo affords Harris the chance to stretch outeven if no one’s listening.
“I think most people just think it’s pleasant to eat dinner by. A lot of the people in that room are conducting business or romantic liaisons, and the music just adds to the whole ambience of their experience. But I don’t mind that, because even if people aren’t directly listening to me I know I’m hitting them on one level or another,” Harris says.
“Sometimes it’s work. But I try to be musical all the time. I always try to find someone who’s musically in tune in the room. All it takes is a glance. All I need is one person to play for. Sometimes it doesn’t happen, but I just try to be creative anyway and just try to play whatever I’m feeling at the moment,” he explains. “I’m playing Ellington and Strayhorn, and Gershwin, Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, Kern, etc., and every time I play a tune I see what kind of twist I can put on it.”
Harris’ second album, Solo + One, documents his Willard Room explorations of classic songwriters. (The title’s + One refers to bassist Tom Baldwin, who joins Harris on four tracks.) But even at home, where I’ve played the CD several times and enjoyed Harris’ lyrical extemporizations, I find my mind wandering toward things like my special girl, my impending deadline, and that big, juicy plate of steamed broccoli I’m going to eat for dinner. And the very talented Bill Harris just plays on and on.Christopher Porter
Harris celebrates the release of Solo + One Sunday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. in the Nest at the Willard Inter-Continental Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. (202) 637-7440.