Harry Brisson’s fall semester is well underway, but he might still be thinking about the summer. He spent a lot of it on campus, in Burton Hall, with his saxophone, computer and keyboard, drenched in jazz. It was a magical and fulfilling time for the senior who is an economics and political science double major from Katy, Texas.
“I’ll probably never have the opportunity to spend this much time with my sax again,” said Brisson.
He has a deep appreciation for the instrument’s ability to resonate and connect with people during “wailing sax solos.” So when he had the opportunity to do research in college’s Summer Scholar Program, he naturally choose a subject that he wanted to spend a lot of time with—the tenor sax and its evolution in jazz.
Brission’s research, endowed by the Peterson Fund for Student Research Achievement at Denison, uncovered the first recorded example of early rhythm and blues jazz by the Lionel Hampton Orchestra with tenor sax soloist Illinois Jacquet. Further exploration led to the big, “honking” sound of Arnette Cobb, and on to Big Jay McNeely, the “king of the honking saxophone.”
That big brass sound, the music that you feel through your eardrums all the way down to your toes, is what Brisson captured on paper. He transcribed old recordings and was sometimes frustrated because, as he says, “You can’t write on paper the sounds that these icons created. It’s impossible to reproduce that unique sound they made by clamping on the reed and blowing as loud as they could.”
Brisson’s lyrical journey began at the age of six, when he was took his first piano lessons and developed a taste for music that would follow him through his family’s many moves—from the Bahamas to Connecticut, on to Texas and Singapore, and back to Texas again. Music was a constant in his life and, especially as he took up the sax in fifth grade and began joining school bands in middle and high school, it was a touchstone for him as he connected with new friends.
Since he’s been at Denison, Brisson has blown the sax with the college’s Latin Jazz Ensemble, the Balinese Gamelon Ensemble and the Bluegrass Ensemble, not to mention jam sessions in downtown Columbus at the Park Street Tavern with Denison Music Department sax instructor Pete Mills, Brisson’s adviser for his summer research and a widely known and much-respected jazz cat in his own right.