Savannah Harris on growing up in a home where Donny Hathaway, John Coltrane and Marvin Gaye were played – News24

Thursday, 15 December
14 Dec
What two-year-old wouldn’t be irresistibly drawn to drums?
It’s the boom, the clang, the reverberating boing they produce that all make toddlers love them. 
But Savannah Harris wasn’t just any other tot. When she picked up a drumstick and tentatively tapped on the tom toms, then hit the resonant bass drum head, it was evident to her musical parents that their two-year-old had an affinity for sound and rhythm.
They filled the next 15 years of her life with music until she left to go study journalism at Howard University.
But as soon as she had obtained her journalism degree, Savannah left Washington DC for New York, where she already had a community of musicians waiting to welcome her to the East Coast jazz scene.
“Justin Brown, Kendrick Scott, Justin Tyson . . . Tain! They just took me places. 
“They’d call me up and say, ‘We’re here. Come here. I’d just say, ‘Okay!’ [laughs] There were so many nights in those years that were incredible,” she told Modern Drummer. 
“Randomly, every drummer I love would be hanging in the same bar. With lil’ ol’ me.”
It’s fun, surreal but can get intimidating too when you share a stage with people you’ve admired from afar for years, Savannah tells Drum.
“I was definitely most intimidated when I was working with Geri Allen because it was my first gig in New York, and Ms. Geri was so iconic, so serious, so deeply excellent that I knew how far I had to go to even approach being able to play with her.”
There are many ways in which her early years prepared her for these moments.
Growing up in the Bay Area in California, and in the ’90s and early 2000s really shaped who she is today, the drummer shares.
“There was a strong culture of live music. My parents were active members of the jazz scene, so I grew up listening, studying and working with them. 
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“At that time, the Bay Area was known for its diversity and that was really reflected in the scene, so I grew up listening to a lot of funk, blues, Afro Cuban music, West African music. All of those sounds have a shared rhythmic language that I was really intrigued by as a child. In the years since, I have focused on integrating all of those sounds into my approach.”
These musical influences are evident in her playing, which she has previously described as “the grease” that makes the centre hold.
If syncopation is the primary identifying characteristic of jazz, then drums are what give each melody that the various instruments make together a base, a foundation. They are, as Savannah says, the grease.
It all comes with commitment to practice and perfection – a sometimes elusive goal.
“The thing that has surprised me most in my career so far, is that the more you develop, the more you need to develop. There are infinite levels to this craft, and you’ll never be done getting better if that’s what’s driving you.”
Her biggest musical influences in terms of taste and exposure when she was younger were the likes of Donny Hathaway, Buddy Miles, John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ornette Coleman, Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, Funkadelic, Sly & the Family Stone, Buika, Marvin Gaye, Dexter Gordon, Lee Morgan.
Small wonder then that as a toddler, she was already playing drums. 
When Drum asks her what song she first remembers falling in love with, she says, “Honestly, I think it was maybe On a Plain by Nirvana. I still love that song, but there have been many more since.
“I started playing at age two, and I played all the way through my teens. Around 17, I quit for two years and thought that I would pursue another career path, but in college, I was invited into the music scene in DC and that really reinvigorated my love for the drums.”

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While it may seem she’s had an easy time of it, Savannah does realise that being a woman in the space she’s in and with her chosen instrument is not the norm.
“The culture the jazz comes from is complicated, and gender relations and sexuality present challenging dynamics to confront in our community,” she tells Drum. 
“For the most part, I feel acknowledged and seen regardless of my presentation as a woman. But, of course, there are times when I have to manage dynamics that are really specific to being a woman in a male-dominated space.”
She’s also had collaborations that just felt surreal.
“Anytime I work with Jason Moran, it feels surreal. I’m a super huge fan of his, and it’s always really significant for me when I get to work with him or around him. 
Although she’s a versatile drummer – at ease with experimenting with many different genres – jazz will always remain her mother tongue.

“Single Petal of a Rose by Duke Ellington, Acknowledgment by John Coltrane, the version of Body and Soul on the John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders Live in Seattle recording, the version of Monk’s Mood with Trane on it: these are some examples of classic jazz recordings that really impacted me and that I still use to help me process,” she says when reflecting on the classic jazz pieces that move her beyond description.
A post shared by SAVVYSABÉ (@savvyknows)
Even though she has worked with the likes of Terence Blanchard, José James, Ambrose Akinmusire, Billy Childs, Christian Scott and Kenny Barron, Savannah still has a few more icons in the game she wants to perform with.
“I would love to work with Tim Reaper, who is an incredible jungle and drum and bass producer in the UK,” she says. 
“I would love to work with Rosalía. I would love to work with Wayne Shorter, if I ever get the opportunity, and I would love to work with Israel Fernández, who is an amazing flamenco cantaor.”
Vocalist Vuyo Sotashe is one young name in jazz the drummer believes the world had better start paying attention to.
A post shared by Vuyo Sotashe (@vuyosotashe)
“He is one of the greatest vocalists of our time, and a dear friend of mine. He is from South Africa and has been based in New York for some time. 
“He’s definitely regarded by everyone in the scene as one of the best to do it.” 
As for visiting SA, Sahara says she hopes she can “come to South Africa as soon as possible”. 
“I’ve been wanting to come for a really long time.”
Savannah is featured in an episode of the new ALL ARTS series Generational Anxiety, a talk show hosted by cultural commentator Bianca Vivion.  

That episode is now streaming for free on the ALL ARTS app and AllArts.org/GenerationalAnxiety below: 

14 Dec
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