The Bill Harris Day celebration started an hour late Saturday afternoon. Waiting for Harris to arrive, the small group of mainly young and middle-aged adults shifted in and out of the Pigfoot Restaurant at 18th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE, most trying to escape the mist and chill in the silver gray sky.
Harris, an acclaimed local jazz guitaris, finally arrived in a 10-car motorcade that had brought him from the District Building, where the City Council had proclaimed Nov. 4 as Bill Harris "Pigfoot" Day. As he stepped from a convertible trimmed in crepe paper and ribbon, Harris beamed. And the crowd, including many who claimed Harris as a good personal friend, beamed back.
"I'm exhailarated beyond expression," Harris said. "I don't even mind the rain, we need rain. We need everything we can get."
Despite the dark clouds, a group of yound musicians took the stage in front of the Pigfoot and improvised on "Satin Doll," "Blue Bossa," "Misty" and "How High the Moon."
"This day is the greatest accolade ever paid a local musician since Duke Ellington," said Van Perry, a string bass plyer who said he has been jamming with Harris for at least 20 years. "And it is rightfully deserved," he shouted over a blazing saxophone solo.
Ward 5 Councilman William R. Spaulding, who introduced the Bill Harris Day resolution, commended Harris for his contributions to the Norteast community. "As a resident of Ward 5 and an owner of a jazz nightclub called the Pigfoot Restaurant, Bill used the club to introduce new or little known talent to the community and this has certainly helped others launch their careers in the arts," Spaulding said.
Mayor Walter E. Washington, in a statement read by an aide, said, "Bill Harris has brought honor to himself and the District of Columbia through his world-renowned artistry as a jazz guitarist, composer and musician . . . and has freely shared of his rich musical talents as a scholar, teacher and mentor of countless young people."
"It's not what I've done for Washington, but what the city has done for me," Harris said. "Washington has given me the self-confidence and opportunity to get some of my ideas over musically and business-wise."
Harris has lived in the District 33 years while developing a national reputation for his unamplified, unaccompanied jazz performances on the classical guitar. For 30 years, he has been teaching his techniques to young people at his small studio at Mills and Rhode Island avenues or at his home three blocks away.
In 1975, he opened the Pigfoot Restaurant, a showcase for new talent.
Harris' wife Fannie and the rest of the family, friends, neighbors, business associates, old jamming buddies and Harris' former students filled the restaurant when rain finally forced the mini-festival inside.
"This is my hangout," said Drapher pagan, vice president of the Industrial Bank of Washington. Pagan said he came to the celebration because "Bill is a good friend and just a hell of a guy." Samuel Ackerman, whose Hamlin Liquor Store is next to the Pigfoot brought his family.
Several local musicians were there, including saxophonist Hershel McGinnis, drummer Joe Jackson and gosped singer Geraldine Smith, who teamed with pianist Shirley Horn on "Lift E'vry Voice and Sing."
Later, Noble Jolley picked out a knee-slapping rendition of "Sonny" as a musical tribute to the man he said taught him how to hold the guitar when he was 12. Jolley was graduated in 1977 with the first degree in jazz from Howard University.
Carole Johnson, who lives in Silver Spring, said she did not know Harris personally but had come because she loves "pure jazz, and this is one of the few places where you can get it." Nodding as the combo onstage tuned up for their next number Johnson added. "It's home talent. But it's good talent."