Winard Harper was born in Baltimore in 1962, a child prodigy. Although his parents were not musicians they were full of encouragment as they noticed him beating on cans when he was three or four years old. At five years old Winard would sometimes sit in and play his drums in older brother Danny's rock n roll band after the family moved to Washington D.C. When Winards younger brother Philip took to playing the trumpet, the two of them would busk in the streets of George Town, jam with a few bands, and help out with Danny's various bands. Listening to Clifford Brown and Max Roach playing "Jordu" had fascinated Winard so greatly it showed him his direction ~ jazz. Subsequently, his father took him to all the local jazz scenes to listen and meet the best in the world of jazz. This is how Winard met up with pianist Reuben Brown, who brought into play a great deal of influence on Winard, since the two worked together for more than a year in a trio with Steve Novel. Also by 1981 Winard had put together the forerunner of of his future band (The Harper Brothers Band) ~ this band was the 'D.C. Jazz Quintet.' Reuben Brown played piano, the bass player was Pepe Gonzalez and James King on bass, his younger brother Philip on trumpet and Winard on drums. In 1983, Winard received a scholarship for the University of Hartford, Soon though New York was calling.
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 as drummer with Ms. Carter's band, also working as a sideman to such jazz legends as Ray Bryant, Abdullah Ibrahim, Pharoah Sanders and Clifford Jordan, yet still keeping his own band working on his days off . This was the early days of The Harper Brothers. "With Betty I learned consistency and persistence" Harper recalls. "Working with her prepared me to become a bandleader; I learned a lot about the business from her". By 1988 Winard's hard work and dedication to jazz paid dividends with a Harper Brother record deal from PolyGram.
At 27 Winard was already playing like a veteran, a virtuoso on the cymbals as well as the drums. "The Harper Brothers" was one of the hottest groups of the post-bop era of the late '80s, early '90s. If you were lucky enough to see The Harper Brothers live, you might have thought you'd been transported back in time, when bebop wizards were the toast of the town.
In the early 1990's Winard changed direction. Further inspired by the musician- and leadership of Dr. Billy Taylor and Billy Higgins, he went on to record a number of albums featuring collaboratorations with an ever surprising range of jazz greats, while building a strong sextet. Of Billy Higgins he says: Higgins played with such joy, the joy and the passion and his love of playing really made an impact on me. I could see similarities between myself and him, and then we became such great friends. He saw jazz as spiritual and social work and walked the talk. A lot of the concept of my band was inspired by Billy. A lot of the African influences and different instruments I use in the band, Billy was always exploring as well.
Constantly in reverence of his predecessors while remaining innovative in his own right, Harper has been among the celebrated drummers in jazz for many years. He is a virtuoso on the drum set and the balafon, the West African equivalent of the marimba, he is a sought after collaborator at home and abroad, a band leader of his quartet, his quintet and his exciting band the Jeli Posse, a regular with the legendary New York clubs, an educator of future jazz professionals, an educator through his kids programs, an events organizer - successfully running the weekly Fish Fry Jazz Jam and the Sunday "Meet the Artist" Series at Moore's Lounge in Jersey City. Bringing Jazz to the community from which it originated, relating the story of The Great American Art Form, the only music that is 100% "made in America", spreading the joy that Jazz brings is the quest to which Winard Harper is dedicating himself.