"Tom Harrell is the best musician I've ever encountered in 40 years of playing music," says alto sax giant Phil Woods, in whose quintet Harrell played trumpet and flugelhorn for six years. "I've played with some great musicians and I've never played with anyone better than Tom Harrell." These sentiments are widely echoed in the jazz community. All players that work with Tom become loyal colleagues and fans.
Born in Urbana, Illinois, and raised in Los Altos, California, Tom took up trumpet at the age of eight. "I liked the sound of it," he says. "It's an extroverted sort of instrument. That appealed to me." The Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman recordings in his parents' collection also appealed to him. He began playing jazz immediately. Tom lists Clifford Brown as one of his strongest early influences. "I still listen to Clifford for inspiration," Tom says.
After graduating from Stanford University in 1969 with a degree in music composition, he went out on the road with Stan Kenton and then with Woody Herman. He joined the Horace Silver Quintet in 1973.
He was a regular member of the group for four years. "I learned about all the elements of music from him," Tom says of Silver. "He would always do material with different kinds of rhythmic feels-Latin, funk, straight-ahead- and I've been influenced by that when I do things on my own." Tom cut five albums with Horace and went on to record with Bill Evans, Lee Konitz and Bob Brookmeyer.
After Silver, Tom worked with all the jazz greats from Lionel Hampton to the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis big band. In 1979 Tom played his first gig with Phil Woods. In 1984 he became a regular member of the group. From the nurturing, creative shelter of the Phil Woods Quintet, Tom has emerged as a prolific composer and arranger as well as one of the very finest trumpet players.
Passages, Tom Harrell's fifth recording as a leader and first release for Chesky Records, pulled together and balanced all of his formidable creative strengths into a powerful artistic statement. "I want my music to reach people," says Tom, "but I still want to try to experiment with it as much as I can, with the materials that are out there. I think it's still possible to do both."
Now, with the release of Tom's latest, and greatest recording, Upswing, featuring jazz greats Joe Lovano, Danilo Perez, Bill Goodwin and, of course, Phil Woods, Harrell has realized the continuation of his dream. As with Passages, Upswing makes a powerful artistic statement. The music on Upswing is, however, so joyful and relentlessly swinging that the accent here leans decidedly upon reaching people. Here, more than on any of his previous recordings, Tom reveals an inner joy and strength in his writing and playing, and Upswing is a true reflection of this.
"An amazing array of high-powered musicianship...With Tom Harrell, Joe Lovano, Phil Woods, Danilo Perez, Peter Washington, Bill Goodwin, you know you're going to get tight ensemble playing, solid swing, and inspired improvisation. And of course there's the added sparkle of Chesky sonics - almost as legendary as the musicians themselves. What more could you ask for?" - CD Review
"For several years now, Tom Harrell has been on the short list of truly inventive trumpet and flugelhorn players. For Upswing, he gathers a powerful supporting cast who help push Harrell to some of his hottest playing in years." - Jazziz