John Harmonís life as composer and performer since he graduated cum laude as a composition major from Lawrence University in 1957 has been both exciting and varied. First came a summer of study with the legendary Oscar Peterson, then extensive experience as a pianist and arranger in New York City and as the leader of a jazz trio that toured Europe in 1963. On his return to the United States, he recorded the LP album Lost in Sound with jazz saxophonist Yusef Lateef, and soon after returned to school at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he studied with Belgian composer Henri Pousseur. He received the masterís degree in composition in 1968. From 1971 to 1974, Harmon was director of jazz studies, a program he founded at Lawrence University and, in 1974, was co-founder of the critically acclaimed, contemporary nonet, "Matrix," with whom he has recorded five albums: Matrix with Ultra Nova; Matrix with RCA Victor; Tale of the Whale and Wizard with Warner Bros.; and Harvest with Pablo Records. In addition to recordings, two works for orchestra and "Matrix," "Ulysses" and "Childman of Ortelga" were written and performed in 1975 and 1977, respectively, by the Milwaukee Symphony. In 1979, Harmon was commissioned by the Foundation of New American Music to write Suite for Flora, a full-length work for Brazilian singer Flora Purim and orchestra, performed in 1979 by The Orchestra of Los Angeles. 1980 saw a commission by the Duluth Symphony to write a tone poem for orchestra and Bobby Shew, great jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player; "Wolf River" was the result, and the work was premiered in the summer of that year and again in 1985 with Shew as soloist with the Santa Fe Chamber Orchestra before the International Trumpet Guild convention in New Mexico.
Additional Wisconsin high school residencies followed in Fond du Lac, Stevens Point, Two Rivers, Hilbert, Verona, Oconomowoc, and Fish Creek. Similar guest composer visitations occurred in Akron (Ohio), Foxboro (Massachusetts) and for the Red Lodge Summer Music Festival (Montana) where he has been composer-in-residence each year since 1991.
New works for jazz ensemble included "Night of the August Moon"for the Boston based Either/Orchestra group, "Chicken George" for the 1986 Wisconsin State Honors jazz ensemble, "Earth, Sun and Eagle" for Ripon College, and "Georings" for Central Michigan University. In Fall 1992 Harmon directed the State Honors Jazz Ensemble in his home state and composed "East St. Louis" and "Lady in Satin" for the occasion.
Throughout this active period composer Harmon remained committed to performing. In 1981 the group Fire and Ice was formed and produced two recordings, Island Dancer in 1983 and Sweet Thunder (featuring vocalist Janet Planet) in 1986. A still available cassette, Sundowner, preceded his current quartet, "Wolf River" which includes John Kirchberger, woodwinds, John Gibson, bass, and Dane Richeson, drums. In summer 1992 after more than ten years, the Matrix ensemble reunited for a series of concerts in the Milwaukee area which featured a tribute to Miles Davis as Harmon composed "Pround Flesh".
John Harmonís titles reflect his love for animals and the outdoors, native American Indian folklore, innocence, and a gentle, graceful, simple persona. His future plans include composing music for the very young, a "Small Fry Series," which grew out of his experience during several school residencies where small string trios, a flute quintet, his "Balloon Dance" and "Little Flower Song" were created for young school children. People have little idea of the diversity of composer John Harmon and his many musical worlds: songs (lyrics too!), jazz, chamber music, strings, orchestra, band, chorus, sacred music, solo piano, and music for young children.
Few composers have explored as many musical directions as passionately. John Harmon, as composer and pianist, has reached the lives of thousands. Now, after many years his music is available from some ten publishers.