ANYONE WHO frequented jazz clubs around town in the early '80s had to take a certain pleasure in seeing the Harper Brothers' latest album, "Remembrance -- Live at the Village Vanguard," top the Billboard jazz charts last spring.

From 1981 until he teamed up with Betty Carter in 1984, drummer Winard Harper was a mainstay on the club circuit, especially at One Step Down, playing and learning alongside Lawrence Wheatley, Reuben Brown, Shirley Horn, Buck Hill, Carl and Julie Moore Turner and other area pros.

"D.C. was a great training ground for us," says Winard, who will bring the sextet he co-leads with his brother Philip to Fort Dupont Friday and Saturday nights. "I spent a lot of quality time playing there. Before that, when I was in Atlanta, {veteran drummer} Billy Hart told me that I should check Washington out. I have a lot of relatives in the Baltimore-D.C. area, so I came to town and just started playing with everyone Billy had played with. Back then, there were a lot of clubs happening so I kept pretty busy."

Although Winard also attended Howard University briefly, forming his own group was his primary concern. "I always had in my head that there should be more bands," the 28-year-old drummer explains. "Not just locally but nationally. It keeps the music popping . . . . The whole idea was to create a kind of institution like Blakey's or Betty Carter's band, where guys could come in, spend some time playing with us, grow and develop, help us grow and develop, and move on."

And it appears to be working out that way. In addition to 25-year-old Philip on trumpet, Winard will be joined this weekend by saxophonists Justin Robinson and Jovan Jackson, bassist Eric Lemon and pianist Kevin Hayes. The personnel differs somewhat from that on the band's two widely acclaimed recordings. Much of the music is inspired by the uncompromised jazz and hard bop of the '50s, but Winard insists that the group's philosophy remains the same.

"One of my favorite bands, still and always, was Cannonball Adderley's group," he volunteers. "That was really a live band and most of its greatest recordings were done live. That band just had this feeling for playing in front of an audience. And that's our concept. We want to entertain, to be fun to listen to and watch, but still play hard, straight-ahead jazz."

One of five children, Winard grew up in Baltimore and was encouraged by his late father to play drums. ("Remembrance" is dedicated to his dad, who lived long enough to see his sons get signed by a major label and release their first, self-titled album in l988).

"My older brother had played R&B and Top 40 stuff," Winard recalls, "but when we moved to Atlanta, he started getting into jazz and turned me onto it. It took some time but what really turned me on was hearing the Clifford Brown-Max Roach album, 'Jordu.' Hearing them play 'Parisian Thoroughfare' and imitating the traffic with Max playing mallets. You know, in a lot of R&B and other stuff, you don't hear guys playing with mallets and brushes. It was that creative thing that hooked me . . . .Because both of my brothers played trumpet, I heard the drummers that played on a lot of trumpet records -- Max and Billy Higgins, especially. I think I grew up with Billy Higgins in my ears."

More than a few critics have noticed the lessons Winard has learned from his elders, comparisons which he finds both flattering and, to a certain degree, challenging.

"We are always going to keep a respect for tradition in this band," he insists. "That's one of the things I think is wrong with this country. We don't respect tradition, where other countries who are kicking our butts, like Japan, are traditional countries. We have to keep our ancestors in mind. It's always nice to be compared to a great jazz musician, but it's also something that you have to live up to. These guys laid down the foundation for all of us."