Anne Harris

When Anne Harris was a very young child her mother recounts her daughter being struck by the opening scene of a man playing a violin in the movie Fiddler on the Roof. She doesn’t recall the moment, but she did begin to take violin lessons at the age of eight. Now known for her artful violin playing, Harris says, “I want to be an ambassador for the violin. I never got to see women playing the violin on stage when I was growing up, and I want to be that woman for a little girl now.” Later Harris attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and after college moved to Chicago, acted and performed and then returned to her music in the late 1990s.

Harris has performed at the North by Northeast music festival in Toronto, Canada. During 2009 to 2018, Harris hit the road and recorded with trace-blues innovator, and in 2009 she was the Blues Music Award winner, Otis Taylor according to her website and Wikipedia. To date she has seven records to her credit which mix Afrobeat, soul, Celtic music and folk rock. In this emailed interview Harris talks about what is essential in her music.

Jupiter Index: I read your music has been described as “conscious music.” In what ways would you say that was true and why?

Anne Harris: I’m not sure exactly how my music came to be described as “conscious music”, or what that even means exactly. I think at some point a while back there may have been a review that used that description about some of my lyrics, and for some reason it stuck and seems to still appear from time to time. I certainly make music with consciousness, intention, and authenticity to the best of my ability. My goal in creating music is to be as true to myself as I possibly can. I work from my heart and try to be of service to the muse, as well as the music, at all times. Creating art, for me, is mostly about trying to get out of my own way by not second guessing things. So it’s about being present and committed to the moment. This is essential for me in live performances, and it’s at the root of all improvised music. Music is meditation, and presence is the key. The work for me always has been about release, and about being as forgiving as I can of all of my mistakes and blunders, so I don’t get stuck in the past. This active intention is at the root of consciousness. It is the work of process.

What has been you inspiration for playing the violin and pulling different aspects of music from Funk to chamber music in your playing?

My mother tells me that when I was 3 years old, she took me and my sister to see the movie version of the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and that I sat rapt during the opening sequence where Issac Stern plays the overture in silhouette on a rooftop, and that I pointed and said, “Mommy, that’s what I want to do!” And I kept bugging her about it until finally, a few years later I began taking private lessons. I studied classical music, and in the early years I was trained in the Suzuki Method. This is a method that emphasizes learning by ear and total immersion in music.

grew up in a household full of music. My parent’s vinyl collection was huge and varied and had everything from classical, blues, folk, jazz, pop, rock, musical theater and beyond. I also listened to the radio a lot, primarily funk and R&B. Additionally, I was fortunate to grow up in a small town that was extremely liberal and progressive, and supportive of the arts. There was a strong emphasis on music in the public school, with a very impressive program. So music was supported in the larger cultural context of my environment as well as within my family culture.

I think this is the reason that I can easily access so many genres of music on an emotional level. For me, musical genres are sort of irrelevant, because when it comes to feeling, all that matters is that it resonates with your heart. The through line of what is going to resonate for me as a listener, and as a musician, is on vibrational level that transcends the constructs and defining boarders of genre. Soul is soul, whether it’s Buddy Guy or Beethoven.

Talk about how you create the melodies of your music such as on the recent song “Over?”

The process of songwriting for me is kind of elusive. I’m not the sort of person who has a disciplined and structured practice of showing up every day to dedicate time for writing. But that would probably be of great benefit!! I’m a lot more loose and unstructured. Melodic ideas and snippets of lyrics usually hit me when I least expect it and am looking the other way, doing something completely different like driving, or first thing in the morning when I’m just waking up. Sometimes ideas come to me in dreams. So I record whatever bits float to me from the ethers on my phone, or I write down ideas in little notebooks and return to develop these ideas at a later time. It’s a mysterious thing to me, how songs come about. There are songs that have presented themselves fully formed, all at once, and ideas that have taken weeks, months, or even years to fully form. I try to hold the vision of a sculptor chiseling away every bit of unnecessary stone to reveal the finished statue within the rock.

Again, I can’t stress enough the importance of trying to stay out of my own way so that I don’t squash something too quickly that needs time to germinate. Openness and availability are so key for me.

The collaborative process is always so much fun because you’re able to work with the energy and innovation of others who bring fresh ideas that would never occur to me. On my recent single release, the song ‘Over’ was written for me by Markus James, whom I’ve been collaborating with for a couple of years. When he played me a demo of the tune and I read the lyrics, I immediately heard this as a duet between the vocal and my fiddle. The call and response between the two set the emotional context for what the song is about. It feels like a modern day folk song about spiritual longing. I improvised the fiddle part in just a few takes because it was so clear and insistent.

What music (project) are you working on now that combines your violin and singing?

I have several projects that I am working on right now. One is the aforementioned collaboration with Markus James. That project is an American Roots based sound that is steeped in Blues, but fuses those influences with rock, and folk resulting in a futuristic, trance-like sound.

I have several projects that I am working on right now. One is the aforementioned collaboration with Markus James. That project is an American Roots based sound that is steeped in Blues, but fuses those influences with rock, and folk resulting in a futuristic, trance-like sound. We’ll be releasing an EP later this year and will begin to resume some limited touring this summer.

Another project is called Gumbo Grits, and Gravy and it is an acoustic folk trio consisting of Marcella Simien, an incredible Memphis based singer/songwriter who plays accordion, keys, and frottoir, and Guy Davis, who is a legendary Grammy nominated acoustic Folk and Blues artist, and myself on fiddle and vocals. We have some limited summer touring on the horizon as well as plans for a second release.

I am also working on music of my own, and look forward to releasing more singles in the coming months.

Which emerging artists are you listening to now? And what makes their music artful for you?

A few of the emerging artists I am listening to right now:

-Marcella Simien
I mentioned her above. An incredible singer/songwriter, pianist and accordion player who has an energy and vibe all her own. A true original.

-Cedric Burnside
A legendary Mississippi Hill Country Blues artist who is Blues royalty (his grandfather is RL Burnside). His roots are deep but he’s spreading his wings towards a fascinating futuristic vibe. The definition of timelessness.

-Leyla McCalla
American Roots singer/songwriter and cellist who seamlessly weaves Old Time and folk traditions, with a fresh, contemporary approach. Beautiful voice, powerful messages.

Which three concerts/performances have you attended, in the past, that moved you for the musical ability and skill of the artist/ or band? What was it about the show that still stays with you?

Three memorable concerts I’ve been moved by:

1. Ruthie Foster
She is a force of nature, and to witness her and her incredible band open up their hearts and souls on stage, is spell binding.

2. Christone “Kingfish” Ingram
Blues musician and singer/songwriter who is wise beyond his years. An old soul breathing youth and inspiration into his art.

3. Mavis Staples
She moves me to tears and goose bumps every time I see her. Her emotional fortitude is unparalleled. MMFHarris3

by G.M. Burns