From two cities named Riverside on the North American continent, I sat with the Toronto jazziphile Harrison over a warm Zoom session, discussing dog health problems, the impact his late grandfather had on his music, and his latest album Birds, Bees, the Clouds & the Trees.
Five years is a long time, but luckily, the Toronto talent has been passing time occupying the music space fleshing out the many arms of his musical vision. In the time since 2018's Apricity, he’s been keeping busy.
As the man behind the keys and the reason classic '70s cartoons with chill jazz production have been appearing on your TikTok feed for the last few years, Harrison has painted a vibrant picture of his work in unique ways. But despite his work focusing more on the Hip Hop production realm, jazz continues to play a major role in the musician's craft and core.
His previous project Apricity was a demonstration of translating the definition into sound. Finding warmth of the sun during the winter, through Lo-Fi aesthetics and sequenced drum loops, Apricity was all about isolating one emotion through a wave of other strong musical segments.
Where Apricity was about isolating moments through a mosaic of vibrant, colorful sounds, his latest project Birds, Bees and The Clouds and The Bees is all about capturing personal, raw emotions and carrying them through the lens of one strong musical, acoustic identity.
Don’t get it twisted, though more acoustic instruments take center stage throughout the album, Harrison is still forwardly progressive in his song compositions and conceptualism. The project feels vividly more consistent in tone and nature while still exploring deeper themes of loss, finding joy in everyday objects and scenarios, and love.
With five years since his last definitive project under his belt, Harrison has done nothing but grow.
“In that time from 2018 to now I had a lot of time to practice an instrument I’m very passionate about, and I was really focused around that and centering an album around my love for this instrument”, he said.
“I’m at a point where I’m confident in what I do, I'm confident in my sound, and I'm confident in the music and my creative process as well. I’m super excited to have this music out and I’m proud of most things I do, honestly, I’m so excited to have music out and I’m happy- for anyone who listens to it and likes it, let’s go”.
In the time between both projects and working on his craft, Harrison expanded his musical outreach through different avenues. One was exploring sound in video game OSTs by soundtracking the popular indie game Beat Blast and one was exploring work through synch libraries and even starting his own.
Robinson Music House is the latest love project from Harrison dipping his feet in synch library work.
“I just thought it would be cool”, he said. The motivation behind the new company was growing up with Brutton Music.
"Brutton Music and the KPm libraries, they’d send out vinyl for music licensing and that was my dream for Rmusichouse and it still is. When I was e – crate digging, I use to go and vinyl dig for records. I had my little setup and every once in a while you’d come up on a KPm library and it felt like striking gold”, he mentioned.
After conquering these avenues, Harrison needed to touch back to base and get back to the next project: jazz.
“The album is really centered around acoustic instruments. There’s not a whole lot of synths, but I was confident enough to give it a try”
“I’ve just been practicing for so long. I don’t consider myself a jazz musician ( they are crazy but so wonderful)… scales whatever, but it was crucial for me in growing as a songwriter. I spent a lot of time learning how to play this stuff", he mentioned.
A major moment where this journey can be pinpointed to is the conception and release of 2020's "Around You".
“It was the first song I made on the album”, he revealed.
“That was me screwing around in a day, I was so grumpy and I took my frustrations out through music, and at the time, it was a big pivot for me being one of the songs since Apricity and it was really different in genre so the reception to it was so validating”.
“I was planning on making a diet jazz album but now it felt like more reason to do so".
There's a myriad of themes presented in the project, but the picture that the tunes paint is a sharp colorful painting of nature. Much akin to the album's actual cover art, Birds, Bees, The Clouds, and The Trees fully embraces the aesthetics of the time Harrison grew up. Growing up in Canada and being exposed to city landscapes and nature with familiar persons breathes the feeling of childlike wonder into the project.
“The name was a reflection of my mental well-being, with Apricity that word means a moment of sun in the winter but I think with this, my inspiration came from the joy from being with myself, nature, and how we connect with it", he said.
“Which is funny how I named this album 'cause I do not like camping", he laughed.
“I just love being outdoors, with trees and the moments of silence within the city are so beautiful”.
It's a jazz album, but Harrison's Hip Hop and R&B styles come out in the best of ways, especially when it comes to the features.
The musical contributions of MED, Guilty Simpson, and TOBI are heavy and add a strong emphasis to each song while singers such as Kadjha Bonet and Nana B meld with the instrumental beautifully.
From the strong conceptual themes layered throughout the project, one that is worn proudly on Harrisons' sleeve is the sense of nostalgia. The album strongly captures the emotions of Harrisons' childhood and one musical influence that is proudly present is that of Vince Guaraldi's Jazz Impressions of A Boy Named Charlie Brown.
"The Charlie Brown jazz album was thee center of my childhood”.
“ Around that time that album was rinsed around my house and I fell in love with this album because it was my first exposure to jazz”, he then ranted about the excellence of the album.
“It wasn’t a seasonal album, it’s so well made and one of those projects that brought jazz to the masses in an accessible way”, he exclaimed.
This was Harrison's introduction to jazz, but that connection was made by his late grandfather Bill who has a song dedicated to him on the project called "Honey Harbor (Bill's song)".
“Bill is my grandfather who passed a little bit ago. And Bill is an incredible guy. An incredible person, an incredible artist, and an incredible grandad. He was very interested in jazz music as well. Honey Harbor is in Georgia Bay and we’d go there and we’d get ice cream sandwiches”, he shared.
The memories shared between the two are showcased in "Honey Harbor". Without strictly mentioning his grandfather or their relationship, Harrison puts forth their same love of music in his own.
"He’d probably hate it honestly but I guess we’ll never know", he laughed.
Love comes and goes with the project. Songs like "Around You", "Like When We Were Kids" and "7PM" showcase this strong emotion of love played through the chords and this is due to his previous relationship. A relationship that unfortunately came to an end right before this interview.
Despite going through the mentions of a failing relationship, the pianist showed that the love and impact of that love is still very present.
“She’s still thanked on the credits on the sleeve”
"She supported me at my lowest and was patient with me at my lowest. The album is upbeat, it’s whimsical and she was there to support me to make me happy”.
"Around You" was the conceptual and physical start to this album and was birthed from a strong romantic relationship. With that relationship ending upon the album's release, this symbolizes a change of guard a new arc in Harrisons career.
Birds, Bees and the Clouds and The Trees creates an ambiance of textures that blend into one another to paint a picture of childhood while finding joy in the now.
This is a diet jazz album, but Harrisons' roots in soul, R&B, and Hip-Hop bleed brilliantly through the cracks to create a listening experience that truly feels golden.
Stream Birds, Bees and the Clouds and The Trees now