Born in Baltimore in 1962, Winard seemed to have a natural affinity for drumming. He was encouraged to play the drums by his father, who noticed him beating on cans when he was three or four years old. At the age of five, Winard was developing his skills and making guest appearances with his older brother Danny's nightclub band.
A turning point was reached in Winard's musical career when he was eleven and he heard a recording of Clifford Brown and Max Roach. It was then that he was irreversibly inspired to play jazz. "I was fascinated hearing Max do the things he did playing with mallets and everything," he remembers.
Constantly in reverence of his predecessors while remaining innovative in his own right. Harper has become one of the most celebrated drummers in jazz. He is a virtuoso on the drum set as well as the balafon, the West African equivalent to the marimba. The critics have written that he is as pleasing and entertaining to watch as he is to hear. "As tasteful a drummer as one could ask for," according to Jeff Kaliss of JazzTimes. Franz Matzner recently wrote in All About Jazz that sextet's performance "culminated, line an evening of fireworks, with a sustained display of percussive pyrotechnics by Harper so rapid fire, so mind bogglingly dexterous, and so expressively diverse, as to be truly awe-inspiring." And in a Washington Post review from late 2004, Mike Joyce said, "Winard Harper's wonderfully orchestrated solos alone might have forced a corpse to grin!"
Harper's first major gig was with Dexter Gordon in 1982, and shortly thereafter with Johnny Griffin. It wasn't long before his drumming skills captured the attention of Betty Carter. He spent four years working with Ms. Carter's band, inevitably honing his jazz-as-entertainment sense of showmanship.
During the early 1980's when Winard worked as a sideman to some of the greatest living jazz artists, he also laid down the foundation of what would eventually become The Harper Brothers band. He and his brother Philip began playing gigs in their new home town of Washington. DC. What evolved was the band that would blaze a brilliant trail both on the charts and on the international touring circuit.
"Man for man, The Harper Brothers Quintet, a group formed four years ago by drummer Winard Harper. 27...introduced Tuesday evening at Catalina's, is the most brilliant new jazz group of the new decade," declared Leonard Feather in his review of the band's performance in Los Angeles in April of 1990. And so they were. Remembrance, the band's second album, recorded live at New York City's legendary Village Vanguard, went to #1 on Billboard's jazz chart in 1991. And it stayed at #1 for two months. "On Artistry, an inviting follow-up to the superb Remembrance, the group again delivers memorable compositions, solid swinging and tasteful solos," wrote JazzTimes. "The band is tight...musicians who listen and breathe as one."
Winard Harper, Savant recording artist, has become one of the hardest working drummers in jazz today, not only leading the very exciting and hard-swinging sextet, but also continuing as one of the most in-demand sidemen. When not on the bandstand with this sextet, Harper works with the Dr. Billy Taylor, Ray Bryant, Wycliffe Gordon, Frank Wess and Jimmy Heath. His newest CD, Come IntoThe Light, has received rave reviews from critics and fans alike.
The new year has seen the Winard Harper Sextet move to a new level of success. Not only is the band gaining increased air play around the globe, they were recently a featured artist on the popular NPR syndicated radio show, JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater. With regular appearances in festivals, on jazz cruises, in concert halls and in top jazz clubs, the Winard Harper Sextet is doing their part to bring the power of jazz to audiences everywhere. The response has been nothing short of remarkable. But then again, so is Winard Harper.