Beaver Harris / April 20, 1936 - Dec 22, 1991

One of the heaviest drummers in jazz, William "Beaver" Harris came out of a baseball family in Pittsburgh (in fact, his father was a founder of the Negro Leagues Pittsburgh team and two of Harris' uncles were pro players as well). A teenaged Beaver played professionally at 3B for the Negro League's Kansas City Monarchs, New York Black Yankees and Indianapolis Clowns.

After playing reed instruments as a child he started playing drums while in the military at 20. While stationed at Fort Knox, he played in a band with Albert Ayler and Stanley Turrentine. After discharge he was playing gigs around Pittsburgh when Max Roach encouraged him to move to NYC, which he did in '62, first working with Sonny Rollins and then joining Archie Shepp in '65, touring and recording 17 albums with Shepp. In '66 & '67 he reunited with Ayler, touring Europe and playing on four albums with his band.

During the '60s he also played with Marion Brown, Roswell Rudd, Thelonious Monk (although he was the only drummer Monk ever fired!), Dexter Gordon, the Jazz Composers Orchestra and others. In '68 he started the 360 Degree Music Experience (with Grachan Moncur III, Roland Alexander, Dave Burrell and Ron Carter, and even featured a steel drummer at times). This group aimed to combine world rhythms with jazz and other black music forms. He played with the great Cecil Taylor during the '70s, as well as with Gato Barbieri, Ken McIntyre, Steve Lacy and in a quintet with Chet Baker, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden and Lee Konitz .

Around the late '70s/early '80s he played in the improv punk/noise/no wave band The Blue Humans (with Rudolph Grey). In the '80s he worked extensively with guitarist Larry Coryell. His last group was a trio with Barry Harris (no relation) and Ron Carter before his untimely 1991 death from prostate cancer.

Here's something from his classic album From Ragtime To No Time, 1975:

Beaver's ensemble on a calypso-jazz vibe:

Here's Beaver playing with that incredible group Ayler brought to Europe in '66:

 Beaver with Shepp, ca '68:

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