October 26

Joel Harrison Musician and Composer


Joel Harrison is one of the first artists to have bridged the worlds of jazz, classical, Americana, and traditions from India and Africa. Born in Washington D.C. the guitarist, composer, arranger, lyricist, vocalist, and songwriter began his search for new sounds in the early 1980’s with stints in Boston and the Bay Area.

Named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2010, Joel has long been recognized as a risk taker, someone who never stands still. Harrison is a two-time winner of the Jazz Composer’s Alliance Composition Competition and has received support and awards from Chamber Music America, Meet the Composer, the Flagler Cary Trust, NYSCA, New Music USA, and the Jerome Foundation.  He has released 17 CDs since 1995 as a leader and has appeared high up on the “Rising Star” Downbeat Magazine poll for many years.

Podcast Highlights:

  • Being authentic gives you access to your most powerful self
  • Always be learning, that's how you get better
  • Get a mentor it's that fastest way to improve your craft

Contact Joel:

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:06
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone. This is Umar Hameed, your host and welcome to the No Limits Selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how to make you better, stronger, faster. Get ready for another episode.

Umar Hameed 0:34
Today I'm privileged to have Joel Harrison, musician, artists creator, sitting down with me, Joe, welcome to the program.

Joel Harrison 0:40
Thanks, Umar.

Umar Hameed 0:42
So you had your CD release party last night I went to it. It's the CD is Angel band free country? volume three. Correct. This is CD number 1920.

Joel Harrison 0:55
Yeah, I've lost track, which is a good thing.

Umar Hameed 0:58
Tell me about the transition because I met you a gazillion years ago in the days of Shambala. It was more of a pop kind of I'm not sure pops the right word. But popular music.

Joel Harrison 1:08
Yes. Dance music, dance music African r&b.

Umar Hameed 1:14
Yeah, very cool. So tell me why stick with this artform because, you know, it's brilliant in the movies, but living it day to day and creating, bringing your soul out letting other people share it, and some people embrace it, some people don't. Why continue on the journey? Like what's the passion for you?

Joel Harrison 1:35
Well, the music I make now is more jazz oriented, which is non commercial music by any metric. And so as compared to what I was doing, when we met, it's even further along that path of creative music that's outside of what most people listen to. And I love the jazz tradition. I love the idea of improvising. And I've always been one to embrace that culture, the African American jazz history, and then everything that it's become today. And why do I stick with it? It's a very deep question. And I'm gonna try to articulate it as simply as I can, because I don't really think there is a simple answer. That is that I feel like an artist is born and made, but certainly born because you come into the world, somehow, with a sense of mission, that right only way that you can express your view of the world is through art. That that is a more true thing than daily life. That In other words, your perception of what's real, right is your art. And so, when you have that sense of mission, and I say mission, because it really is kind of a priesthood, because you have to stick with it. Despite all uncertainty, economic and unrest. The reason that you stick with it is sometimes unconscious, and sometimes purely for the type of love, that might be the same type of thing that attracts you to another human being.

Umar Hameed 3:42
Joe, one of the things you said was that, you know, art is a maybe a truer representation of what's going on inside. Yeah, so let me give you a data point, then I'll ask the question. Scientists cannot see black holes, but they can see light bend around it. And so that gives them a true representation of what's out there. What about the artistic expression, do you think brings the truth out, as opposed to other endeavors like building a business or a family? Because they're also representations, but art somehow has a pure connection? What do you think that is?

Joel Harrison 4:16
I don't think that it's necessarily more pure. That that's a that would be difficult to argue. I think that in the physical world, yes, building a business is full of the same type of challenges and insights that the artists world is because you can be an artist and build a business. You can be a businessman and be an artist. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I don't think everybody looks at it that way, but I think the most creative ones do.

Umar Hameed 4:54
So we all have a different canvas.

Joel Harrison 4:56
Yeah, but aren't happy As a way of penetrating in deep into the emotions in the spiritual world, which I think is not always involved with creating a business.

Umar Hameed 5:10
So last night, I was talking to your bass player, what was me his name, Jerome Jerome. And the question I was asking was, when you have someone that's dancing, you can get two dancers dancing, and one dancer is somehow tapping into the emotion of what they're experiencing. And that reflects out into what they create in the world. And because there's a true connection between what they're feeling and what they're expressing that connects with other human beings. But when you're playing an instrument, how much does emotion play? have an impact? Can emotion comes through the instrument? Or does it basically attenuate emotions?

Joel Harrison 5:51
I think it depends on the performer. And I think that, that we all have the experience of listening to certain performers, and having them perhaps move us to tears, because of their transparency and ability to connect to the deeper world of feeling. So as speaking for myself, I know that when I'm relaxed and tuned in, and just acting as a channel of something bigger than myself, then I can feel something bigger than myself coming through me.

Umar Hameed 6:28
So at that moment, can you think of a specific time that happened to you when you were on stage performance for yourself or for an audience? So think about a specific time when you have that memory? Let me know. Sure. So go back to that moment, and I want you to see what you saw back then see the audience where you were gay here. What have you heard? Are you an observer watching this? Almost like an out of body experience watching this happen? Or are you deeply within? Like, what's the experience like versus just playing?

Joel Harrison 7:00
Well, good question. there's a, there's a grid, sometimes you're a little bit outside yourself, and you're feeling Wow, I'm a little bit tapped in here,

Joel Harrison 7:12

Joel Harrison 7:12
You're aware of it. Some. Sometimes very rarely, you're utterly lost in it, and you really become one with the music. And of course, those moments are a treasure and can compel you to keep going for five more years, even when you were ready to give up one,

Umar Hameed 7:35
Golfer one good stroking.

Joel Harrison 7:38
It's almost like a mystical experience when it happens. But that's a that's very rare, it's more that you you just feel it for me, you feel it a little bit, or maybe a little more or not at all. So I'm just kind of struggling with the instrument and just trying to make things happen.

Umar Hameed 7:56
I was listening to this interview with a really famous author, I don't remember who was a thriller writer. And he was talking to another writer, and he was saying, you know, when I get stuck, what I do is I pick up a Robert Ludlum book, anyone just start reading it, and just inspires me to figure out how to get unstuck in the writing place that I'm at? What do I do with my hero here? As a musician that's creating? How important is it for you to continually feed yourself this language of music from other performers that informs what you do inspires you? Like, a lot of writers read a lot. Hmm. Is that the same for you? When it comes to music? I do listen a lot.

Joel Harrison 8:37
Yes. It's hugely important. I all my life, I've listened to every different kind of music. And sometimes when you're stuck on a piece, it's the same thing. You might put it aside and be listening to something else and go, "Oh, my God, there's my answer." So I think for all of us that that type of creative feedback from the world at large, is, is critical. There are also times when you have to shut it out and not listen to anything so that you don't get unduly influenced. And many writers will say that while they're working on a novel, for instance, there might be a time period where they just can't read anything else other than for instance, on vacation. Yeah.

Umar Hameed 9:20
Yeah. That's a so this podcast is about the human experience, primarily in sales and leadership. The reason I wanted to have this conversation is you taught me a valuable lesson probably about 25 years ago, and this was, by the way, Joe's my brother in law. So when we first moved to the US, we lived with you for about a month, and I heard you practice and rehearse every day. And it was like, okay, what's the big deal? So musically, I'm challenged, but I heard a difference in your performances that were live that this rehearsal led you to improve what you were doing?

Joel Harrison 10:02

Umar Hameed 10:03
So talk to me about how important rehearsal is and, and sticking with this career that you've chosen without superstardom. But to keep on going that tenacity is a critical element of success. And a lot of bands are overnight successes, that'll tell you it was 15 years of playing worse bars. So talk to me about your relationship with rehearsing and the tenacity, and how you'd recommend other artists, as well as business people to stick with it. Keep on going.

Joel Harrison 10:33
Yeah, I think this is true across the spectrum for anybody trying to actualize a vision in life and starting a business is certainly that, that if you're sure of what you want, and I was, and I felt that I had lost a little bit of time, in my younger years that I needed to make up for size, particularly driven at the time we met, then you need to set a regimen for yourself, you need this stay incredibly focused, disciplined, disciplined, I think you sometimes need a mentor. And at least in the arts, you might need to two times Yeah. And there's really no rest, even when you're not doing it, you're thinking about it. And that's this period might last a few years, or it might last 20 years. But it's a sense of obsession, that can even border on the unhealthy for for people. And I think when it's working well, it means that all the parts of you are firing towards this one goal. And in a sense, you're a little bit blinded in a good way, by the possibility of failure.

Umar Hameed 11:58
So can you give me a particular moment in time for you? Where things aren't working out as well as they could? Because you know, sometimes when you're doing a performance, that could be 100 people in the room? And at other times, they could be more people in the band and the audience? Can you tell me about one of those times? Where you were like, What the frick am I doing? like one of those I should give up? If I was the same person? Did you ever have one of those? Or did you have one of those where you kind of talked yourself out of it, where it's like one of those, I have to laugh because I think most artists except those who have attained some sort of stardom, will say this happens every other day. Many writers will, will be tearing their hair out in the middle of a book, and musicians because we have to practice every day to kind of keep keep up and get better. We are just so often feeling like, I'm terrible.

Joel Harrison 12:59
Or this is just pointless, or why you have this this sometimes agonizing and sometimes humorous conversation with yourself all the time, but you learn not to take it too seriously.

Umar Hameed 13:12
So I guess what I'm looking for is what's your strategy for transcending those moments? So somebody else in another discipline would go, Okay, here are the three steps I need to do in whatever profession I've got just to keep going like, what's your strategy? Can you articulate that?

Joel Harrison 13:25
I think this has to do with modern modern monitoring your own mindset is, so when you have these moments, you you just kind of let them slip away, and you go, I see the bigger picture. And I'm not going to take this part of myself too seriously. Number one, number two, I if I'm feeling that I'm drifting, or working on something and not getting it, then this, this more negative mindset is going to compel me to just work harder and be more focused, rather than drag me backwards.

Umar Hameed 14:11
So you use that negative kind of stuff as the fuel to move forward.

Joel Harrison 14:16
On my good days, yes, we all have bad days, but but then we just as an artist, you just set the instrument down or, or you set the pen down and you go enough, I'm not going to do this anymore. Today, I'm just gonna let it go. And maybe, depending on your craft, you you take two or three weeks off on a on a particular in a particular year or so. But generally, this is more akin to say a Buddhist meditator where you have your practice and you show up to your practice every day. You have to you don't Always want to. But you, you realize that this isn't about necessarily those momentary feelings of weakness, or lack of discipline, or laziness. It's about just showing up, and you do it. And when it's done, you always feel better.

Umar Hameed 15:21
Brillaint. In the business you're in, it is a business. So I'm holding a CD in my hand right now. So talk to me about the relationship between art and commerce, like, what does that like for you?

Joel Harrison 15:32
Well, I have a peculiar relationship to it, because the music I do is non non commercial, right? jazz sales nationwide are smaller than any other kind of music, including classical music. So I sort of do what I do in spite of the lack of commerce. And of course, the music business has gotten worse and worse since I was a young man, in terms of CD sales, etc. What many people do, including myself is we do what we're passionate about make our own music, but we also look for other income streams, film scores, your lucrative teaching.

Umar Hameed 16:15
And so one of your films that you did score for went to the Oscars, right?

Joel Harrison 16:19

Umar Hameed 16:20
Tell me about that.

Joel Harrison 16:20
It was pretty comical, actually, me being at the Oscars, because I was definitely kind of a fish out of water. But I would say that, what was the movie? Oh, it was called traffic stop. You know, I looked at it all as a kind of a comedy show that I was attending, and I got to have a good laugh at. And seeing Jimmy Kimmel was was hilarious. And I don't really take stuff like that seriously, I guess, because I've spent so many years outside of that commercial framework that I just don't, even if that movie had won, I would have felt like an imposter in that setting. And so I just looked at it as a delightful excursion into another world of fame and riches. That was nice to visit, but I'll never live there.

Umar Hameed 17:27
So you've done some collaborations with some prominent people.

Joel Harrison 17:33
A couple. Yeah.

Umar Hameed 17:34
So tell me what that experience is like when you've got people coming in that are very talented. How do you collaborate? How do you create something that's larger than the sum of the parts?

Joel Harrison 17:44
Hmm. I think for all of us, creating as a team, which is what you're asking,

Umar Hameed 17:52

Joel Harrison 17:52
Is some sort of mixture of driving forward with your own vision and giving up your ego and realizing that you, you don't have all the answers, and you need this person to fill in your weak spots, right. And I think that's a great thing when it can happen. You notice it a lot of the Greatest Songs of our arrow are many of them were written by two people songwriting teams,

Umar Hameed 18:23

Joel Harrison 18:24
Lennon and McCartney seemed to fill each other's weak spots with their strengths and create something that was better than the sum of the parts. And when that can happen in art, or business, I think it can be extremely powerful, however, often, people's lives. Apple, being a great example, with the great businesses are driven by one powerful individual who is so you might say monomaniacal that, that they must have their vision met. Along the way, they're probably going to have to learn to work with others. And I see that as a lifelong process.

Umar Hameed 19:09
Brilliant. Before we part company today. What's next on the horizon for you?

Joel Harrison 19:14
I've got a new movie that I worked on coming out on HBO called, Say Her Name, The Life and Death of Sandra Bland. I've got a big band recording I'm going to be doing and for jazz, Big Band, and I'm trying to finish a book, which has something to do with the creative process, the theme of the book so I can title my beautiful enemies.

Joel Harrison 19:40
That is brilliant. Thanks Joe.

Umar Hameed 19:42
Thank you Umar.

Umar Hameed 19:44
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.


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