Old Soul New Projects

A Brief Interview with Loston Harris


Loston Harris’ piano playing has been described as percussive but incredibly fluid, his vocals, suave and contemporary. For more than a decade Loston has headlined the legendary Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, a spot previously held by Bobby Short, Eartha Kitt, Elaine Stritch, John Pizzarelli and the Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). One of Loston’s mentors, Michael Feinstein, calls him an “innate and dazzling talent… a beacon of quality,” while John Pizzarelli calls Loston “a singular sensation… what music is in NYC.” *Loston and his quartet, along with very special guest Monica Behan, performed at Birdland July 8-12, 2104.

BL: What do you have planned for your week at Birdland?

LH: I will be playing songs from my new CD release “Swingfully Yours” plus a few new arrangements from the great American songbook. The band features Ian Hendrickson-Smith on tenor sax, Gianluca Renzi on bass, and Clarence Penn on drums.

Clockwise: Gianluca Renzi, Clarence Penn, Ian Hendrickson-Smith, Monica Behan

BL: Who is Monica Behan, your “very special guest?”

LH: Monica Behan is a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. I have known her for almost 20 years but our first collaboration is this project, with Grammy Award winning producer Russ Titelman, featuring great American songbook standards as well as original compositions. At Birdland, Monica will be featured on two or three songs per set each night.

BL: As an artist who interprets the great American songbook, how do you balance the responsibility of a rich tradition with the demands of being a contemporary artist?

LH: The biggest challenge I have is to interpret the Great American Songbook in a way that is contemporary, without losing the original intent of the great composers. Of course, no one can play Cole Porter, for example, better than Cole Porter himself. However, my passion is to honor that timeless artistry and share the joy of such music with audiences of all ages.

BL: You’re also the first of your generation to hold down the famous Cafe Carlyle residency.

LH: The Carlyle really honors that rich Great American songbook tradition. I am truly blessed to be a part of that legacy by performing each night at Bemelmans Bar.

BL: What else are you into lately?

LH: I am currently reading “Sinatra — Behind The Legend” by J. Randy Taraborrelli. I am always listening to recordings of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Johnny Hartman and Bobby Darin to name a few. And I always enjoy listening to WNYC 93.9FM and NPR radio.