“Barry is one of the most important people in my life,” said Robert Nissim, who has been attending the workshop for 27 years. The teacher, he said, “is on a passionate search for beauty, and this he demands from his students.”
Isaac Raz, who has studied with Mr. Harris for eight years, likes the “chaotic nature” of the class. “I thought I knew everything,” he said, referring to his background at Berklee College of Music. “He’s pulling lessons out of his head. You have to be at the top of it to keep up.”
Michael Weiss, a pianist and composer, checks into class “maybe once every two years,” he said. When Mr. Weiss was 20, Dr. Harris offered him a piano lesson. They have been friends and colleagues now for 40 years. In the past, they’ve even exchanged musical ideas over the telephone. “Barry would call me and say: ‘Now just play me an F-major triad in the first inversion, now take it up to C, and move it up a half-step.’”
While Dr. Harris sat in a rehearsal room before that night’s workshop, he recited the names of bebop musicians as if he were repeating the Rosary.
“We believe in Bird, Dizz, Bud. We believe in Art Tatum. We believe in Cole Hawkins,” he said quietly. “These are the people we believe in. Nothing has swayed us.”
It was well after midnight when Mr. Harris left the building, surrounded by students trying to get one more word in and say a final goodbye. One young woman was so nervous that he grasped her wrists with both hands. “You’re shaking!” he said.
Mr. Harris said he felt secure in the knowledge that the people who need to know about his legacy, do. “Most of the musicians know,” he said. “The real musicians, they know. The piano players know. We even got church piano players,” he said, heading for his ride that would take him back to Weehawken. “’Cause they know.”