"Harold's been one of the finest tenor players I've heard and I have hardly heard a write-up about what this man has been doing through the years. In New York he would have gotten more."
A soft-spoken man whose personality rarely suggests the incandescence of his instrumental sound, Harold Land was born in 1928 in Houston, Texas. The family moved to San diego when he was five; it was during his high school years there he became interested in music and in 1945 was presented with his first saxophone.
His early influences were the big, warm tones of Coleman Hawkins and Lucky Thompson; later Charlie Parker's new concepts helped determine his direction. He was just out of high school when a bass player named Ralph Houston helped him join the Musician's Union.
After working in Houston's band, he spent a long while soaking up experience at the Creole Palace where a small combo, usually five or six pieces, was led by Froebel Brigham, a trumpeter. "During both these jobs my closest friend and musical colleage was the drummer, Leon Petties," Harold remembers. "We played the floor show and jazz sets too. Sometimes men like Hampton Hawes, Teddy Edwards and Sonny Criss came down from Los Angeles and worked with us--this provided a great stimulus."
Later, Land and Petties went on the road for about a year, first with a group led by guitarist Jimmy Liggins, and then in the band of his celebrated brother, Joe "Honeydripper" Liggins. Harold recalls this rhythm-and-blues experience as valuable in rounding out his musical education. After putting in additional time back at the Creole Palace, Harold decided in 1954 to try his luck in Los Angeles. For several months there were various odd jobs, none very rewarding.
The turning point came one night when Clifford Brown took his combo-leading partner, Max Roach to hear Harold play in a session at Eric Dolphy's house. "Eric had known me since the San Diego days, and after I moved to L.A. we became good friends," Harold says. "He was beautiful. Eric loved to play anywhere, any hour of the day or night. So did I. In fact, I still do."
The unofficial audition led to Harold's being hired by Brown and Roach. As jazz night club audiences around the country were exposed to the freshness and vitality of Land's playing, he seemed to be well on his way; but in 1956 he had to leave the quintet and return to Los Angeles because of illness in the family.
If, during the balance of the 1950s, he had continued to tour with name groups, there is little doubt that his reputation would have been established sooner and much more firmly on an international level.
--LEONARD FEATHER, from the liner notes,
The Fox, 1959, Contemporary.
A selected discography of Harold Land albums.
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