Paul Harris

Volume 118, No. 10October, 2018

Paul Harris (1953-2018). Photo: Fred Stucker

Paul Harris, 64, a bassist and a member of Local 802 since 1976, died on Sept. 2. Before his death, Mr. Harris had written his own obituary and requested that Allegro publish it in its entirety, which we do below.

Paul Harris, double bassist, passed away on Sept. 2 after a brief illness. He was born on Nov. 20, 1953 to a very musical family. His mother Wanda, despite having five children to care for, was a classical pianist and displayed extraordinary musical gifts. His father Paul had a superb aesthetic sense and made available the finest classical music to all of his children, not only via recordings but by regular attendance to classical music concerts.

Excelling academically from his earliest youth, Paul had piano and cello lessons as well, but did not discover his true career passion until he tried a double bass at an instrument shop at the age of 11. It was from this experience that a door opened up to a world of imagination in which he knew he would unflinchingly endure any hardship or disappointment in order to use this broad and sensuous sound as light, shadow and pulse in the great symphonic canvases.

He considered throughout his 42-year career that he had a responsibility to apply himself to his fullest, to set an example to others, and to always recognize the great privilege that fortune had bestowed in allowing him to make his living in this world playing the great classical masterworks.

Paul was principal bassist for 28 years with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Zdnek Macal, Neeme Jarvi, Jacques Lacombe and Xian Zhang. He also played and toured with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, Pierre Boulez and Zubin Mehta. He taught for many years at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, lectured for the Manhattan School of Music’s Masters in Orchestral Performance Program and performed and gave master classes at a number of noted music festivals.

Paul’s deep sense of wonder about music and people led him to read biographies of dozens of performers, composers, luthiers and archetiers. These all inspired him to learn about all of the instruments of the orchestra as expressions of the human psyche and condition. Not only through study, but by association with individual musicians was it revealed to him the extent to which hidden sensual desires, combined with a compulsion to engineer a means to satisfy them in sound, are what drives the musician to continually seek to perfect his craft.

One of Paul’s richest experiences in this regard came in an opportunity to perform Giovanni Bottesini’s “Grand Duo Concertante” for violin and double bass with the great Erick Friedman, whose virtuosity, lyricism and rich coloratura sound contributed to a performance that was wonderfully received by all present; a cherished memory, especially for a double bassist!

The plays and sonnets of William Shakespeare, the music dramas of Richard Wagner and the works of numerous philosophers from Plato to Descartes and from Kant to Foucault were also passions for Paul. He was a devoted autodidact as much as he could be, leaving no stones unturned in the quest for enlightenment. He was also a cover-to-cover philological reader.

Nearly 30 years ago, he chose to live an ascetic life, giving up television and light entertainment for a voracious consumption of timeless works. He designed, furnished and decorated a castle in his mind, a happy place of refuge from the paradoxes of normal human experience.

Paul left this world with gratitude, not only for the good fortune it bestowed upon him, but for many devoted friends, including Dennis James, Karen Purpura, Tom DiCarlo, Benjamin Moylen, Mitchell Estrin, Lawrence Tamburri, Leo Grinhauz, Mischa Braitberg, Jean Adelhardt and Mark Perlman. He thanks all of you for your genuineness and hoped that you would understand that he would have done his best for any and all of you were the tables turned. All of these friends, though they were not acquainted with one another, Paul regarded as his real family.

Paul’s immediate kin, though possessing considerable talents and virtues, he has been estranged from for years, and by this estrangement discovered more refined and humanitarian qualities in himself. For his parents, Paul and Wanda of Dayton, his oldest sister Karen of Atlanta, sister Joy of New York, sister Marianne of Dayton and brother David of New York, Paul wishes you peace and many more years of active personal discovery.