Eddie Harris, a tenor saxophone virtuoso who moved easily between jazz and pop music and was well known for his 1961 recording of the “Theme From Exodus,” has died. He was 62.
Harris, who suffered from bone cancer and kidney disease, died Tuesday at County-USC Medical Center.
The “Exodus” record sold more than 1 million copies but, ironically, earned Harris the wrath of jazz critics who felt that he had deserted the genre in favor of popular music. Because of the criticism, Harris refused to perform the song for several years. Eventually, critics mellowed and the song came to be considered the first jazz record to sell more than 1 million copies.
Harris’ other memorable recordings included his own composition, “Freedom Jazz Dance.” The piece has been recorded by more than 30 artists.
A native of Chicago, Harris was also known for fusing jazz and rock with a variety of invented electrical instruments. He called one, an electrical sax with a trombone mouthpiece, the “saxobone.”
“A lot of musicians are suspicious of electronics,” he once told the late Times jazz critic Leonard Feather. “They call it gimmickry, but I can understand that, because you always have opposition upon change. . . . (But) amplification will add 10 years to your life span, because you don’t have to exert yourself as much.”
As a teenager, Harris played piano backup for tenor saxophone giant Gene Ammons. Harris also toured Europe in the 1950s with the 7th Army Symphony Orchestra.
He wrote much of the music heard on “The Bill Cosby Show,” which ran from 1969 to 1971. His compositions also included “Please Let Me Go,” “Ten Minutes to Four” and “Eddie Sings the Blues.”
The versatile instrumentalist, composer and singer wrote several books on music theory, including “How to Play Reed Trumpet” and “The Intervalistic Concept for All Single Line Instruments.”
Harris moved to Los Angeles in 1974. Asked in 1995 if he continued to practice, Harris told The Times: “Are you kidding me? I practice eight hours a day. How do you think I can play all the things I play.”
Harris is survived by his wife, Sally, and two daughters.
* A REMEMBRANCE: Reflections on the enigmatic jazz artist’s career. F24