The fifth video in the Artists of Rappahannock series is different from the rest — for one, it’s a profile of a musician rather than visual artist: renowned jazz pianist Bill Harris, who shares a historic home in Flint Hill with his wife, Stella Liong, Rappahannock’s only resident dentist.
For another, the subject is actually the reason I was inspired a year and a half ago to buckle down and apply for the grant to make some videos on Rappahannock County’s considerable artist community, a grant that the Rappahannock Association for Art & Community’s Claudia Mitchell Fund saw fit in the spring of 2016 to award to me, after I’d — prematurely, as it turned out — retired from the post of editor of the Rappahannock News.
It was an interview with Bill in the fall of 2015, for a short feature I was writing for the paper in advance of a concert of his the following weekend. Though it was only going to be at most a 500-word feature, I wound up spending a couple of hours with Bill, and then with Bill and Stella, in their kitchen, which (as you’ll see in the video) shares a large, open, color- and light-filled room with Bill’s Steinway grand piano.
And, during the course of an interview that bounced from jazz standards of the 1930s to how Bill and Stella met in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the late 1990s, Bill kept getting up and going to the piano to illustrate things he was talking about by playing and singing them. Visually, musically and otherwise (Stella brought out some veggies and hummus at some point), the entire afternoon was a feast.
When it was finally time to leave, I realized how much of what I’d just seen would never get in the paper, and I said, “You know, this afternoon really should have been on video.”
Well, it’s not that afternoon but a couple of others more recent that are finally on video, a fast-moving eight minutes in which Bill talks about, plays and sings some Cole Porter — something he’ll be doing a lot more of during his 8 p.m. concert this Saturday (Oct. 21) at the Little Washington Theatre.
He also touches on DIY coffee grinding, how Bach invented the blues and why, after starting in recent years to sing the jazz standards that he’d mostly performed as a pianist for 40 years, he’s become even more committed to preserving, and performing in a more comprehensive way, the Great American Songbook.
In next week’s edition: Sperryville stained glass artist Patricia Brennan.
The Video: Bill Harris
The video on Flint Hill jazz pianist Bill Harris, the fifth in a series of short videos on the Artists of Rappahannock made possible with a grant from the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and Community’s Claudia Mitchell Fund, can be found online at Synergist Media’s YouTube channel, along with four others in the series. In all, six videos will be completed by the end of this month.