Austin Jazz Pianist Rich Harney

by Gary Powell, Austin Vocal Producer

richRich Harney is a small man by physical stature, but you’ll think again when when hearing him play piano.


I have known Rich for a couple of decades just from both of us being in the Austin music scene. He knows I specialize in working with studio singers and studio choral recordings are a mainstay of my production business. I am honored that Rich sought me out for the recording of “Jesus, Lamb of God”, which is Rich’s new choral composition. The piece is haunting and healing largely from the beautiful colors drawn from Rich’s harmonic personal library.

You can hear pianists thinking as they play. Some are linear players always headed to the next line or melodic improvisation. I’m almost sure I can hear Rich Harney thinking vertically. He has a wonderful command of the jazz harmonic idiom and improvises in every vertical moment with great acumen and sense of sonority adventure. Wow, that was a mouthful and probably only made sense to music composition majors!

Rich composed his choral piece, “Jesus, Lamb of God”, with a piano accompaniment which we decided to record first. I have two Yamaha pianos. In the studio is a Yamaha C7 (7’4″) and in the screening room is a much more mellow Yamaha G5 (6’5′). The G5 was manufactured in Japan with a slightly different cabinet and design seemingly voiced for the classical pianist’s ear. Rich preferred the G5 for its softer tone.

Both Yamaha pianos are meticulously maintained by Brian Henselman, owner of Music Masters Piano Service here in Austin, Texas. I purchased the G5 from Brian who is a great source for people who are serious about locating the perfect instrument.

Click Piano Photo to Enlarge

When I want to record the G5, which is not in the studio proper, I record on my Apple G4 powerbook using MOTU’s Traveler interface with a pair of AT-4033’s at 24bit 44.1k . Rich gave an incredible performance which included a solo before recapping the main theme. A couple of takes for microphone placement and a couple of takes for creative decisions and we were done. Studios can certainly mask the marginal skills of musicians. This is mostly not true for the jazz community who do not hide behind technology and navel rings. Rich Harney, from among the best, is a very consistent and deliberate player and this piece proves it.

To prepare for the choir, I took Rich’s piano performance into the studio and built a click track from his rubato performance. I do this just in case we need a click for the singers, but also for good “housekeeping” which makes locating much faster during subseqeunt sessions. This kind of preparation makes for a much smoother and enjoyable session for our Austin studio vocalists.

I am proud to have been a part of this project. I’ll write about the choral recording session soon and introduce those singers.

Rich Harney gigs and records with Austin’s best. In 2003, Rich and saxophonist/flutist Alex Coke released “Soul Prayers”. Rich Harney has also recorded with jazz vocalist Beth Ullmann which you can find at “Heart Music”.

2 thoughts on “Austin Jazz Pianist Rich Harney”

  1. I loved reading the blog of yours about Rich Harney. Last Wednesday, I finished up the last of four lessons with him. He is amazing and it was great to get back into playing the piano and writing songs. He helped me write a great song that I’m planning on recording this summer. I’ll send you a copy when it’s all finished. Other than that, I’m just getting started on finals and getting ready to move back to Dallas. I also had an audition for a TV show coming out this summer called ABC music project. I’ll know in June how that all turned out, so I’ll be sure to let you know! I just wanted to check back in with you and see how things were going. Also, thank you for referring me to Rich. It has been a pleasure getting to know and working with him. Talk to you soon!
    *Christina Brehm*

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