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All Music Guide:
A greatly undervalued drummer easily on a level with many of his more famous contemporaries, Beaver Harris was one of the avant-garde's most well-rounded musicians. He was accomplished in any and all jazz styles, yet as a bandleader favored the more progressive facets of the music. Harris began playing drums at the age of 20. After his discharge from the Army in 1957, he returned to Pittsburgh, where he jammed with famous musicians like Horace Silver and Benny Golson as they passed through town. Harris moved to New York in 1962 and fell in with many of the major figures in the nascent free jazz movement. From 1966 on, Harris recorded with Marion Brown, Albert Ayler, Gato Barbieri, Roswell Rudd, and Archie Shepp. In 1968, Harris, trombonist Grachan Moncur III, and pianist Dave Burrell formed 360 Degree Music Experience, a cooperative group that served in various guises as Harris' primary creative vehicle for the rest of his life. Harris eventually assumed the group's leadership; members in the '70s and '80s included saxophonists Ken McIntyre, Hamiet Bluiett, and Ricky Ford, steel drummer Francis Brown, bassist Cameron Brown, and pianists Rahn Burton and Don Pullen. Harris worked with Cecil Taylor in the '70s. During his career, Harris also played with a good many straight-ahead jazzers, including Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Rouse, and Al Cohn. As can be inferred from his group's name, Harris made a conscious attempt to transcend stylistic limitations. Though he was best-known as an avant-gardist, Harris' multi-faceted style was rooted in jazz's core values, as was evidenced by his work with so many top-rank mainstream players.
William Godvin "Beaver" Harris (b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 20, 1936; d. New York, New York, December 22, 1991) was an American jazz drummer, who worked extensively with Archie Shepp.
Harris was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Harris came from an athletic family. He played baseball as a teenager for the Kansas City Monarchs (then part of the Negro American League) and was scouted by major league teams Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
It was only after he was in the army that he began playing drums. After his national service ended in 1963 he moved to New York City and was encouraged to pursue a musical career by Max Roach. While in New York he worked and/or toured with Marion Brown, Dexter Gordon, Albert Ayler, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Clifford Jordan, Howard Johnson, Sheila Jordan, Lee Konitz, Thelonious Monk, Roswell Rudd, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, Chet Baker, Doc Cheatham and Larry Coryell among other musicians.
In addition, Harris founded a "world music" band and called it "The 360 Degree Music Experience". The band included some of the most significant artists of the time, including Buster Williams, Hamiet Bluiett, Don Pullen, Jimmy Garrison, Ron Carter, Ricky Ford, Titos Sompa and many others.
Harris died of prostate cancer at the age of 55.