The story of jazz drummer extraordinaire Eric Du'sean Harland, a first-call player of the decade from 2000 onward, is one filled with courage, persistence, and fortitude. Born in Houston, Texas, in 1978, he is the nephew of Houston vocalist Leo Polk. An extremely overweight teenager, he was a target of cruel children, mean-spirited teachers, and at times, family members. His religious mother, believing she had seen a vision when he was born, was convinced that Eric was the messiah-in-waiting. She took him to voodoo priests and witch doctors to confirm her expectations. Harland found acceptance in music, learning orchestra percussion, and at age 14 idolizing Elvin Jones. At home, he would lock himself in his room, playing along with John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and recordings by Jeff Watts, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Weckl, and Steve Gadd. He began his professional career in 1993 playing locally, and finished high school at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Harland won first chair in 1992-1993 with the regional and state jazz band. He met Wynton Marsalis at a school workshop, and the trumpeter encouraged the young drummer to continue his jazz studies in New York City.
Harland went on to the Manhattan School of Music with a full scholarship -- but upon collapsing from exhaustion and self-starvation in 1996, Harland returned to his home in Texas to recharge his physical and spiritual batteries, and studied theology at Houston Baptist University to become an ordained minister. Upon his return to N.Y.C., and losing a considerable amount of weight, Harland found himself in demand, working with Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Stefon Harris, Joe Henderson, and especially Betty Carter, who he accompanied until her death in 1998. Other collaborations represent a virtual and exhaustive who's who of modern jazz, including Greg Osby, Joshua Redman, Geri Allen, Kenny Garrett, Michael Brecker, Jason Moran, John Patitucci, Ravi Coltrane, Jimmy Greene, Mark Shim, Gregory Tardy, Rodney Jones, Mark Sherman, Aaron Goldberg, Joel Weiskopf, Stefano di Battista, Brett Sroka, Jacky Terrasson, John Swana, Edward Simon, Liberty Ellman, Kathy Kosins, and Zakir Hussein. Harland has also participated in high-profile tours and recordings with McCoy Tyner; the Dave Holland ensemble and big band; the SF Jazz Collective with Redman, Miguel Zenón, Nicholas Payton, and Bobby Hutcherson; and, most prominently, the Charles Lloyd Quartet. Harland has played on numerous motion picture soundtracks, and unbelievably, with his substantial weight loss, pursues a sidebar career in modeling. In 2010, Harland released the album Voyager: Live by Night. A year later, he appeared on the album James Farm with saxophonist Joshua Redman.