Jim Harrison Credit: Kevin Harrison photo

Jim Harrison, the pioneer jazz promoter, jazz publisher, advocate and mentor to musicians and many others in the jazz community, died January 19, at St. John’s Hospital in Queens, New York. He was 88.

His daughter-in-law Rene Harrison confirmed his death and stated heart complications as the cause.

During his esteemed six-decade career Harrison received many awards some of which included: in 2019, he was awarded with Jazzmobile’s Jazzy Award; that same year he was honored as a Jazz Hero by the Jazz Journalists Association. In 2018 Harrison had a choice client list with jazz vocalist Antoinette Montague, pianist Lisle Atkinson and Jazzmobile. During an interview with the Amsterdam News he laughed, “Over the years I had an extensive client list but at 86 years old, I have cut back the fast-paced life for something a little more manageable.”

Harrison’s dedication to presenting and promoting jazz in a swift and professional manner became a staple for many jazz greats. In some instances, his contacts helped advance some careers while he was the personal promoter for Art Blakely, Betty Carter, Jackie McLean, Charles Tolliver, Billy Taylor, Barry Harris, Frank Foster, Mary Lou Williams, Jimmy Heath, Hank Mobley, Irene Reid, Chris Anderson, Frank Foster, Houston Person & Etta Jones. He is featured in Maxine Gordon’s biography “Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon” (University of California Press, 2018).

As an effective promoter during the 1950s and ’60s, Harrison got the word out with flyers and posters. He handed out flyers to people on the street and used selected locations for drop-offs such as Showman’s Café, Lenox Lounge, lobbies of The Lenox Terrace, restaurants, Penn Station and Grand Central Station.

“Jim Harrison: the heart, mind, body & soul of our music. Jazz. He brought to Sistas’ Place in the latter part of his life his presence. We were rewarded, we were recognized, by Jim. Speak his name; jazz lives,” said Viola Plummer, Sista’s Place, owner.

James Thomas Harrison Jr. was born Sept. 11, 1932, in Queens, New York. His father was James Harrison Sr. and his mother Emma Mitchell Harrison was a hospitality consultant. After graduating from City College in 1956, he joined the U.S. Army and was honorably discharged in 1958. He then went into the retail business as a salesman. Listening to the music of Count Basie, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker gave him the bug to get actively involved in jazz.

In 1961, Harrison started a fan club for saxophonist Jackie McLean. He promoted McLean in non-traditional jazz settings where a cabaret card was not needed, he promoted a McLean concert at Judson Hall (originally across the street from Carnegie Hall). That was the same year he met “Fannie” Henderson; they married shortly after and enjoyed 44 years of bliss before her transition in 2006. After leaving his Queens retail job, in 1962, it was apparent promotion was his entrée into the jazz world. He quickly moved to Harlem to become a full-time jazz promoter.

He went on to promote McLean’s concert at Town Hall in 1963 and continued working with him until 1965. McLean connected Harrison with the management at Slug’s jazz club, where he was the promoter from 1965-1972. He also promoted concerts for trumpeter Lee Morgan in Staten Island and the Bronx before the trumpeter was fatally shot at Slugs in 1972. “Jim was a real stalwart fan, promoter and supporter of the musicians, the music and culture,” noted saxophonist and composer Rene McLean. “He used his own resources to promote many events long before there were any kind of grants or support from the establishment. His contributions will forever be remembered.”

He was trombonist Benny Powell’s promotion man in 1963. Harrison stated during an interview for the Amsterdam News, “I wanted to get a full-time job but Benny said, ‘We need you out here.’” For Powell’s Ben G Enterprises, Harrison did concert productions at Club Ruby in Queens. “Jim has done a lot for musicians,” said Powell. “He’s the greatest underground publicist I’ve ever met. He would go out at night and put-up posters. If you stood still long enough, he would put a poster on your back. He was very effective.”

The pianist, composer, and educator Dr. Billy Taylor co-founded Jazzmobile in 1965, to bring live jazz to the city’s five boroughs. He hired Harrison, who was a consultant to Jazzmobile for 55 years. He only retired two years ago.

“Fortunately, when I joined the Jazzmobile team, I was able to work with Jim and see firsthand how much the musicians respected him and the incredible impact he had on them,” stated Robin Bell-Stevens, director, Jazzmobile, Inc. “After a life well lived, I know my dear friend is resting in peace and joy—with Fannie!”

Maxine Gordon and Hattie Gossett’s Ms. Management hired Harrison, and he was the promoter of record for then popular jazz clubs Boomer’s and Sweet Basil’s (1976-1981). He became a publisher (1979-1982) with his jazz publication Spotlight News that included listings, reviews and features. “Black writers weren’t getting published in Down Beat Magazine [the jazz magazine of record at the time],” said Harrison. “After reading a concert review by The New York Times and other dailies it was the great review by John Sanders, jazz writer for the Amsterdam News, that made it clear we needed Black writers to have a voice in jazz, our music, so I started ‘Jazz Spotlight News.’ The paper started with 12 pages and before it closed boasted 144 pages and 60 Black freelance writers. The closest resemblance to Spotlight News is today’s Hot House and All About Jazz.”

Harrison ran an ad in the paper thanking his wife Fannie for her support; paraphrased, it read: “Thank you Fannie Harrison for allowing me to blow the rent money, food money and everything to allow me to become a jazz promoter.” She worked at the door for his many jazz events and helped type up the flyers.

“I met Jim around 1996 after I began emceeing the Jazzmobile, Grant’s tomb concerts. He was the heart and soul of the jazz community. A humble man and a generous man who shared his knowledge of the business to us young folk coming along,” stated Sheila Anderson, WBGO-FM radio host. “However, the love and commitment Jim showed to his wife and family impressed me the most.”

Harrison stopped publishing the paper when he joined Barry Harris and Larry Ridley at the Jazz Cultural Theater (1982-1987). He promoted the Barry Harris Ensemble and worked with Ridley at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. promoting concerts. “Jim has been like a big brother to me,” said Ridley during an interview. “I can’t think of anyone that has been more dedicated to jazz who’s not a musician.”

Jim Harrison was a jazz promoter extraordinaire. He should have instructed a course in “The art of jazz promotion: its history and significance.” Even technology with its email, social media and iphones didn’t depreciate the importance of Harrison’s job or discourage musicians who sought out his crucial promotion savvy. I will miss our conversations, his encouragement, his words of wisdom, and those birthday and Christmas cards every year. Your mark will forever be in the annals of jazz. Still hoping for an NEA Jazz Master honor.

“It’s been a very interesting life and delightful journey,” said Harrison, during an Amsterdam News interview.
Harrison is survived by his sons Kevin and Gregory Harrison, Dr. James E. Chambers III, Michael Chambers, Kenneth Chambers, and daughter Denise Chambers Robinson; over 22 grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.

Harrison will be cremated on Feb. 4. A memorial for him will be announced at a later date.

Tulivu Donna-Cumberbatch, a song stylist and bandleader, who mesmerized audiences with pieces of gospel harmony for over three decades, died at home in Brooklyn surrounded by her family on January 17.

No cause of death was given by her daughter Ayana Kone-Tulivu.

Cumberbatch was a complete song stylist whose ballads warmed hearts. She infused a whole lotta spirit swinging with the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra. Her voicing added another dimension of harmonic classical swing during her performances fronting The Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra. She was an exceptional vocalist, who was greatly underrated while receiving multiple accolades from around the world. Her last CD, “Seasoned Elegance” covered her eclectic repertoire of gospel inspiration, blues spirits, jazz and Latin rhythms. Her previous CDs all self-produced on the independent Ki-Ki Records label include “Daughters of the Dust” (1999), “Lullabies in the Key of Life- For the Child in All of Us” (1997) and “Harmony” (1990). While she had her own distinguished style, she revealed voicings of Abbey Lincoln, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. Mostly known for singing, she was an exceptional pianist, who at times did a splendid job of accompanying herself. A few years ago, she started her own Youtube channel called TULIVU JAZZ.

To explore her various creative vocal paths Cumberbatch regularly worked with The Baritone Saxophones, The Ray Abrams Big Band, The Brooklyn Repertory Ensemble, and her own long standing Magnificent Trio, who she performed with just prior to her transition. They included drummer Mark Johnson, bassist Rachiim Ausar-Sahu and pianist Rod Williams (who replaced Donald Smith some years ago). “Tulivu was the first artist I began gigging with on my arrival to New York in 1984,” stated Williams. “She was an adventurous singer, she looked at the music differently regardless of how many times we played it and allowed us to explore different concepts.”

In her native homeland of Brooklyn, her name was a household word, having performed regularly at the jazz club Sista’s Place. “Tulivu was a songbird at Sistas’ Place since 1998,” said the club’s owner Viola Plummer. “She wrote a song for us, ‘Daughters of the Nile.’ Reminding us of our regality, our homeland, and our music. Beautiful Tulivu, her spirit and music in song will always be at Sistas’ Place because we are daughters of the Nile, as she was.” Her loyal fan base followed her to such venues as the Williamsburg Music Center, Nuyorician Café, Lenox Lounge and Bill’s Place in Harlem. During the late 1990s when St. Nick’s Pub was the place to be for celebrities and all-star jam sessions,
Cumberbatch was there jamming with pianist Donald Smith. The legendary pianist and composer Randy Weston noted, “She has beautiful phrasing and the spirit of our ancestors in her sound past, present and future.”

Tulivu-Donna Lynn Cumberbatch was born on July 28, 1950, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father Harold Cumberbatch, the baritone saxophonist, named her Donna Lynn after Miles Davis’ composition “Donna Lee.” Her African name “Tulivu” translates from Swahili to “beautiful.” As a youngster, Cumberbatch was a member of the church choir and later a member of the prestigious All-City High School Chorus. She studied at Lehman College before venturing out to start her solo career.

She earned a reputation for her work with the Japanese composer and arranger Yoko Kanno on the album ”Song to Fly” and on her soundtracks for the animated television series “Cowboy Bebop” (hailed as one of the greatest animated television series of all time). She recorded a jazz version of the noir song “Lullaby” for the Japanese composer, arranger and record producer Yuki Kajiura for her solo album “Fiction.”

Cumberbatch worked extensively with trumpeter Hannibal Loukumbe as the featured vocalist in two of his symphonies “Children of the Fire” and “Flames of South Africa,” and “Love Poems to God” with dancer/choreographer Dianne McIntyre and her ensemble. In 2019 she performed “A Suite for Malcolm: The Resurrection Tone Poems” composed by Rachiim Ausar-Sahuat. She has performed with a variety of musicians such as John Hicks, Diedre Murray, Lonnie Plaxico, Onaje-Alan Gumbs, Andy Bey, Cecil Payne, and Romero Lubambo. She toured Europe, West Africa, Austria, Russia and the Caribbean.

“As we know, music is a healing force,” said Cumberbatch during an interview. “I believe musicians are God’s special messengers of healing and I strive to be one of those messengers.” Her warm, caring spirit, compassion and thoughtful words for others will be greatly missed.

Cumberbatch is also survived by her son Atiba Henry; son-in-law in-law Boubacar Kone; and two grandsons.

A memorial for Cumberbatch will be held sometime in July 2022; more details will follow.

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