There is busy and then there is New York busy. Camille Harris is New York busy. She does a lot, and all at once. She teaches music, writes, acts, performs stand-up comedy and is working on a one-woman show. You can almost hear the hum created by her frenetic energy. Oh, and last week she just released her third jazz album, Where I Go, just in time for her 30th birthday.
“Boom, boom, boom,” she says of making the album, which was recorded in just one day. “I have very specific plans,” she says. “I have a set of goals and I reach them. I have the dream and then I do it.”
Harris was born and raised in Boulder, but left for the East Coast right after graduating from Fairview High School to attend Emerson College in Boston. After earning a bachelor’s degree in musical theater she was off to New York where she recorded her first two EP’s, Silly Jazz and Beneath the Moon.
Where I Go is her third EP, and where her last two records were playful and endearing, this one is personal, a glimpse into the woman behind all the busyness. It is Harris’ expression of herself, here and now — of this Colorado girl who threw herself into the heart of the New York jazz scene and grew up in the process. There is vulnerability in the new music that wasn’t present in her previous work, and it adds a sense of soul and sophistication to the album.
“Everything on this CD is just special to me and that’s why I wanted to release it and promote it,” she says. “I am proud of these songs, and I want people to hear them.”
Feeling pride in her work is a benchmark in Harris’ career. Like so many artists, she hasn’t always been sure of her creative path, at times questioning the utility of a life dedicated to art.
“By now though I have had enough experiences to understand that art and music are important,” Harris says. “I find myself having this need to create and if I don’t, I feel lost. But I also think art is valuable beyond that … For me, I try to find value in the silly. It is easy to be sad, the challenge is being happy. So that’s what I try to do with my arts — try to help other people be happy.”
Even when the subject matter in her songs is sweet or sad, the music on her new album is peppy and upbeat, making it hard not to wiggle or tap your feet.
Take “Little Place” for example, a song about a recent difficult time for Harris, when life was brimming with loss. The sadness of the song builds in a crescendo as Harris almost desperately repeats the lyric “where I go” as a trumpet playfully undulates underneath her vocals. The juxtaposition of sounds expresses the complexity of her sadness by revealing an enduring optimism.
“Jazz is the genre of mixed emotions,” Harris says. “Since the beginnings of the genre it has been a really important way to express what is happening in the world. In the 1920s Jazz Age the music defiantly expressed post war tensions in underground music clubs. In the ’40s and ’50s the fresh wounds of World War II inspired the likes of Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. And in the ’60s civil rights and jazz were so intertwined the music would just make people dance like crazy.”
Harris lives in one of the most vibrant places in the world for jazz and is immersed in the scene, regularly playing at small jazz clubs, jam sessions and intimate stage shows. She says she feels a surge of energy in New York jazz that she imagines is similar to the times that fueled the historic eras of the genre.
“Maybe it’s because the world is so messed up right now,” she muses.
Whatever the reason, she feels a sense of excitement as young musicians flock to the genre and the music picks up its pace to feed an audience that seems hell bent on dancing.
One such energetic jazz tune is the last track on her new album, written for her sister’s wedding last summer, in Lafayette, Colorado. Although for the first dance, traditionally a slow song sure to jerk tears from the crowd, Harris’ song is fun and upbeat. After all, life is too short not to dance like crazy.
With Where I Go recorded and released, Harris is already moving on to her next round of projects, but throughout all that, you can still be sure to find Harris playing jazz at her standby clubs and venues in New York.
“These jam sessions are important to me, almost like how school is important,” Harris says. “I find myself working on what I am shooting for by working on what I am doing. I love this jazz community for supporting that.”