Eddie Harris

Exodus to Jazz

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One of the biggest hit jazz LPs of the post-rock & roll era, Eddie Harris' Exodus to Jazz seemed to come completely out of left field. It was the debut album by a previously unknown artist from an under-publicized scene in Chicago, and it was released on the primarily R&B-oriented Vee Jay label, which had originally signed Harris as a pianist, not a tenor saxophonist. The impetus for its breakthrough was equally unlikely; Harris adapted Ernest Gold's stately, somber theme from the Biblical film Exodus -- which had been covered for an easy listening hit by Ferrante & Teicher -- and made it into a laid-back jazz tune. Edited down to 45-rpm length, it became a smash, reaching the pop Top 40 and pushing the album to the upper reaches of the charts -- a nearly unprecedented feat for instrumental jazz in 1961. Its stunning popularity sent jazz critics into a tizzy -- after all, if it was that accessible to a mass audience, there just had to be something wrong with it, didn't there? In hindsight, the answer is no. Exodus to Jazz is full of concise, easy-swinging grooves that maintain the appealing quality of the strikingly reimagined title track (particularly Harris' four originals). Far removed from his later, funkier days, Harris plays a cool-toned tenor who owes his biggest debt to Stan Getz's bop recordings, though there are touches of soul-jazz as well. He's no slouch technically, either; he plays so far -- and so sweetly -- in the upper register of his horn that some still mistakenly believe he was using an alto sax on parts of the record. Exodus to Jazz paved the way for numerous other crossover successes during the '60s (many in the soul-jazz realm), and while that may not be a credibility-boosting trend to start, the music still speaks for itself.

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