Bill Harris, who has been heard too little since the demise of his principal forum, his own Pig Foot club, demonstrated to an admiring audience at Blues Alley Monday night that he is a virtuoso guitarist, verbal wit and as comfortable with the European classics as with the down-home blues.
His program was built around such features as an Ellington medley, John Lewis' "Django," Bach's "Prelude Allemande," recitations of Sterling Brown's "Maw Rainey" and the anonymous "The Man Who Knows" (in tribute to the late Sonny Stitt, whose wake Harris had attended earlier in the evening). But he returned again and again to his country roots with convincing vocalizations-cum-instrumental commentary on that most basic of classic American idioms, the blues.
Harris adapted his acoustic instrument and classical fingering technique to the idiosyncratic rhythms of the great be-bop pianist on his original "Intaglio Monk" and lent an orchestral quality with riffs, breaks and piano-like bridge to the Duke's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." His singing persona was as many-voiced as his guitar's as he dropped to barrel-bottom base and resonated falsetto whines that approached yodel, plink-plank-plunked vocalese or mellowed on "A Prelude to a Kiss." Harris is a Washington monument. Better catch him while you can, folks--he's moving fast.