All in a day's work

The hats of trumpeter Danny Harper

Those who don't live the musician's life might envision it as carefree and hedonistic — stay out late, sleep all day, indulge each whim and vice at will.

As with much of life, though, fantasy is one thing, reality another. Consider, for example, trumpeter Danny Harper, who has hosted the Tuesday night jazz jam session at Churchill Grounds since January. Any given Tuesday — and into the wee small hours of Wednesday morning — Harper juggles the dual hats of performer and organizer, leading the host band through a sharp set and subsequently shepherding an eager assortment of players through the "jam" process.

A few hours later, Harper, 47, is on the clock at Atlanta's W.L. Parks Middle School, where he teaches beginning band. A full-time musician for years, Harper now balances his musical ambitions with a whole other set of hats: as teacher, husband and father.

At Parks Middle, Harper says administrators have discussed allowing him to create a jazz piano program at the school, but this year, he's working on the basics. "I inherited a situation where the band director was missing in action," Harper says, in an early a.m. phone interview between classes, "so they have me teaching sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade band, primarily concert band. I'm hoping to get them elevated to the level where we can have some jazz band participation."

In addition to hosting the jam, Harper performs a few nights a month, sometimes in a duo or quintet with his wife, Terry, herself a gifted pianist and vocalist. The quintet will perform at Churchill Grounds May 11.

A Baltimore native, Harper moved to Atlanta in 1972, working toward an undergraduate degree before opting to play music full time. It's been "a struggle to survive," he says, despite working extensively as both trumpeter and pianist in the club setting and for private events.

In the late '80s, Harper spent a year or so in New York, where his younger brothers, drummer Winard and trumpeter Philip, had formed the Harper Brothers, a hard-bop lineup of Young Lions who would land a Blue Note record deal and score a wealth of media coverage. Returning to Atlanta, the elder Harper formed a quintet and focused on writing music. His composition, "Remembrance," written as a requiem for his father, is the title track of the Harper Brothers' 1989 CD, Remembrance: Live at the Village Vanguard.

Harper also toured Europe with his brothers, playing piano and flugelhorn, before completing his undergraduate degree at Morris Brown in 1998 and his master's degree at Georgia State in 1999.

Harper sees both music and music education in his future. He plans to record and also has long-term hopes of teaching jazz improvisation on a college level. "It's a challenge, Harper says, "but I'm willing to do whatever needs to be done."

Dan Harper hosts Churchill Grounds jam session every Tuesday night beginning at 9:30 p.m. $5. Call 404-876-3030.

Small World Dept.: Danny Harper's younger brother, Winard, headlines the April 27 main event of the Cingular Twilight Jazz festival in Athens. The festival raises money for Athens-based Nuci's Space, which provides local musicians with rehearsal space, support groups, counseling sessions and other needs. The festival takes place April 13, 20 and 27. For information, visit www.twilightjazz.com.

The Ken Watters Group returns to Churchill Grounds this Friday, celebrating the release of the band's third CD, Southern Exposure. The Birmingham, Ala.-based quartet plays modern acoustic jazz, says bandleader/trumpeter Watters, but always looks for a twist. For example, the band often takes a jazz approach to material from other genres, such as "Pure Imagination," an elegant ballad that Gene Wilder sang in the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or the Allman Brothers' "Jessica."

Watters cites Woody Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Wheeler, Tim Hagens and Wynton Marsalis as influences. Watters lived in the Big Apple for seven years and studied with Marsalis while he was there. He left New York for his native Alabama four years ago, however, in order to get treatment for alcoholism.

The band is beginning to broaden its scope, receiving airplay in Australia, Europe and Canada as well as the U.S. and with tour plans this year as far-flung as Minneapolis and New York.

Take Five is a monthly column on jazz and related subjects, with an emphasis on local artists, venues and events. E-mail, or send jazz news to: Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045-3156.??