Jazz bagpipes? The one master is Rufus Harley, who does about all that can be done with that unpromising instrument. After all, once one blows a note, the sound is sustained until the air empties out. This well-conceived sampler draws its music from Harley's Atlantic albums (Scotch & Soul, Bagpipe Blues, and Deuces Wild), plus his guest spot on a Herbie Mann album. Harley, who also is heard playing a bit of soprano, tenor, and flute, performs such numbers as "Feeling Good" and "Pipin' the Blues," the latter teaming him with altoist Sonny Stitt. This sampler is worth exploring.
At the heart of Courage: The Atlantic Recordings (2006) are the four out-of-print LPs that multi-instrumentalist Rufus Harley (bagpipes/flute/sax) cut for the label during the mid- to late 1960s. Also featured are a previously unissued cover of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" as well as "Pipin' the Blues," a Harley/Stitt duet from Sonny Stitt's Deuces Wild (1967) platter. Although criminally dismissed by many as a novelty, Harley successfully integrated the seemingly limited B flat and F drone of the bagpipes into the realm of (concurrently) modern jazz. Harley's early life was a struggle with poverty, during which his alcoholic mother would often pawn his treasured C-melody sax for liquor money. Proving his sincerity to the music, Harley without fail would retrieve his instrument via odd jobs. However, his focus changed on November 25, 1963 as Harley – along with the rest of the free world – tuned in to the memorial of President John F. Kennedy. When Harley heard the pipers from the Black Watch of the Royal Highlanders Regiment during the funeral procession, the sound struck him as producing the same tonality that he had been unsuccessfully trying to coax out of his sax. It was then a matter of hooking up with Joel Dorn, a fellow Philly resident and local jazz disc jockey.