Longtime friends, jazz musicians Stan Strickland and Joel Harrison, have been playing the occasional gig on the Vineyard since the early 80s. Although both have gone to highly successful solo musical careers, the two value the Vineyard vibe and the appreciative local audiences enough to treat Islanders to one or two shows a year.
This Friday, the new Ocean Club will host a not-to-be-missed evening of improvisational jazz by these two masterful musicians who will mine their collective impressive reservoirs of musical styles to deliver what guitarist, composer, and vocalist Joel Harrison describes as, “Music that treats all the senses, body, mind and soul.”
Singer, saxophonist, flutist, and actor Stan Strickland who is, as Mr. Harrison notes, “An iconic figure and a mainstay of the Boston scene,” first came to the Island in 1969 to play with his college band, Brute Force.
“I had the time of my life,” he says. In his four decades as a professional performer he has performed all over the world, including concerts at Symphony Hall in Boston and New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Mr. Strickland has performed with an impressive list of jazz greats and has recorded on his own and with a number of other groups. He has opened shows for, among others, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and Barenaked Ladies. He has also acted in a number of films and collaborated with a dozen choreographers, including Alvin Ailey. He performed his one-man show, “Coming up for Air” at The Yard in 2006.
Although Mr. Strickland went on to play every summer on Nantucket for 10 years after his early visit to the Vineyard, he says, “Once I started coming back I realized this scene was where it’s at, so I come back here every chance I get.”
Mr. Harrison concurs. “I always love to come back here and have an intense, sweaty, fun, soulful weekend playing music with Stan.” Mr. Harrison, who has roots on the Vineyard going back to 1960 when he first started coming here with his family, is now based in New York. He is primarily noted for his work as a composer, having released 10 CDs and collaborated with Norah Jones and many other noted musicians. He has won a number of awards, has numerous prestigious commissions to his credit, and has scored dozens of films for HBO, A&E and PBS, among others.
Mr. Harrison has experimented with a number of musical styles throughout his lengthy professional career. He recollects that his high school band here was among the first to perform at The Ritz, putting on impromptu sets of Appalachian music and passing the hat. They also played regularly at the old Sea View on Ocean Avenue in Oak Bluffs. He first connected with Mr. Strickland when he recruited him to play for his Boston world music band, Native Land, in 1982.
“We’ve always had this really nice chemistry together — a real spirit of creativity and adventure in music,” Mr. Harrison says. He comments on how the diverse musical backgrounds of the two old friends allows for a richness in their improv sessions. “We sort of balance each other out. It’s an interesting blend. No matter what we’re doing we bring a lot of soul. It ends up being a real tapestry of soul and funk and R&B.” Adds Mr. Strickland, “Improvisational music is based on the sum total of all your music.”
The two will be joined on stage by the accomplished bass player and Berklee College of Music teacher Bruce Gertz and popular local drummer Taurus Biskis, both of whom they have played with before.
“There has to be a level of trust and communication to allow the music to flow,” says Mr. Strickland. “It’s a way of tapping into a very special language. It’s a way to communicate with other musicians and collaborating from a heartfelt place. There is a place where we can have a connection and work together wth mutual respect and trust and explore together, and you never know… sometimes you get these really high moments.”
Mr. Strickland, who is accustomed to playing large venues for urban audiences, enjoys the infrequent gigs here as well as the break from the city.
“I like coming to the Vineyard. It’s a beautiful island and when you’re surrounded by that much water it affects the atmosphere. There’s a different energy than in Boston where everyone is a little more tense. On the Island there’s a very appreciative audience. It makes you feel like you can just have a good time and be closer to the people.”