Born: New Orleans, 1960. Donald Harrison grew up in a home environment saturated with the city’s traditional music of brass bands, parades, modern jazz, r&b, funk, classical, world ethnic, and dance music. His connection to New Orleans roots were deepened by his father, a Big Chief in the African and Native American influenced culture of New Orleans’ Black Mardi Gras Indians. The culture is an offshoot culture of Congo Square, one of the only known places in North America where Africans openly participated in their culture in the 1700’s and 1800’s.
Recorded, “Quantum Leap” in 2012 which musicians and critics agree is a next step for jazz. With quantum jazz Harrison has opened up new areas for time, harmony, and melody. The record also melds cutting edge jazz with New Orleans funk - connecting the past with the present with jazz music that transcends boundaries.
Became the Big Chief of The Congo Square Nation Afro-New Orleans cultural group in 1999 and coined the term Afro-New Orleans to describe it. Built the first costume that merges East, West, and Central African designs with Afro-New Orleans style cultural designs.
Created “Nouveau Swing” - a style of jazz that merges modern dance music like r&b, hip-hop, soul, rock with the swing beat. The style has influenced a large but quietly prominent movement and can be heard in the music of a number of artist like, Christian Scott, Joe Dyson, Max Moran, Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield, Esperanza Spaulding, Conun Pappas, Carl Allen, John Lamkin, Cyrus Chestnut, Trombone Shorty, and Johnathan Batiste.
Combined jazz with Afro-New Orleans traditional music on the critically-acclaimed album “Indian Blues” (1991) The recording deepened Harrison’s commitment to maintaining the offshoot rituals, call and response chants, and drumming of Congo Square alive for the next generation.
Created and patented an invention which is a new way to record and playback music.
Performed with an illustrious list of distinguished musicians in Jazz, R & B, Funk, Classical and more : Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Lena Horne, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, Eddie Palmieri, Jennifer Holiday, Dr. John, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, McCoy Tyner, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Miles Davis, Digable Planets, Notorious BIG, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.
Harrison co-founded and became the artistic director for the Tipitina’s Intern Program, and The New Jazz School where he along with a staff of his hand pick of seasoned veterans teach jazz theory, music and history to students 13 to 21. Taught and mentored the following musicians: trumpeter Christian Scott, trombonist/singer Trombone Shorty and his whole band, pianist/singer Jonathon Batiste, trumpeter John Michael Bradford, bassist Max Moran, drummer Joe Dyson, rapper Notorius BIG, guitarist Josh Connelly in addition to saxophonists Louis Fouche, Chris Royal and Aaron Fletcher. His working groups have proven to be an incubator for jazz band leaders such as trumpeter Christian Scott, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassists Christian McBride, and Esperanza Spaulding.
As an actual evacuee/survivor of Hurricane Katrina, appeared in Spike Lee’s HBO documentary “When the Levees Broke.”
Appeared as himself in and co-wrote the sound track for Academy Award winning director Jonathan Demme’s feature film, “Rachel’s Getting Married” starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger.
Aspects of Harrison’s life and music are chronicled with 2 characters on David Simon’s ground breaking HBO series, Treme. He appears as himself in nine episodes.
His awards include France’s “Grand Prix du Disque”, Switzerland’s “The Ascona Award”, Japan’s Swing Journal “Alto Saxophonist of the Year”, The Jazz Journalist Association’s “A List Award”, 2012 New Orleans Civic Award, 2007 Jazziz Magazine’s “Person of the Year”, the Big Easy Music Awards “Ambassador of Music,” the Big Easy Awards "Saxophonist of The Year," Down Beat Magazine Alto Saxophone Poll Winner, 2006 Resident at William and Mary College, 1995 “Meet The Composer” recipient.