Rufus Harley, the Jazz Bagpipe Player
May 31, 2008 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Rufus Harley is generally best known for being a Jazz Bagpipe player. He promoted peace and an appreciation of the United States. A native of Philadelphia, he gave out replicas of the liberty bell to famous celebrities including Bill Cosby. A documentary of his life, which includes an extended interview of Rufus in his home, was recently released: Pipes of Peace [Trailer].

I only found out about Rufus because his documentary was being shown on a Philly access cable station and I came across it while channel surfing. I saw a man wailing on a sax and waxing philosophical. I thought it was kinda weird, but when he whipped out his bagpipes, I knew this was important. Rufus Harley has been mentioned on the blue before.
posted by Deathalicious (12 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
My dad turned me on to Rufus Harley when I was a kid. He had seen him play by accident in Philly back in the 60s and was a fan ever since. After hearing the stories I somehow tracked down a phone number that you could call to order tapes of his. If I remember correctly, his son picked up the phone, we talked a bit and he took my order. I received a package in the mail with a few home made cassette tapes and an autographed photo. It was a really cool interaction.

I also remember a massive old record shop in Hollywood on Melrose (A-1 Record Finders, now closed). This place was packed with records, more records than I have ever seen in my life. My dad and I were talking to the crazy old owner about a few obscure artists which seemed to interest him. He was being really friendly and showing us rooms full of records that were closed to the public (you could tell the guy normally treated people like shit, so we were eating this up). In the front of the shop my dad saw a Rufus Harley record on the wall and asked how much it was. He told him, "oh, you can't afford that".

Cool post, can't wait to see the documentary!
posted by crawfishpopsicle at 8:38 PM on May 31, 2008

Oh shit, I didn't know he was dead.

posted by crawfishpopsicle at 8:42 PM on May 31, 2008

Man, nothing swings like a jazz bagpipe! Why, if it weren't for the bagpipes, hell, there'd probably BE no jazz. We owe a tremendous debt to that noble instrument for liberating America's swingingest music from the stiff shackles of clumsy instruments like the saxophone and the trumpet.

And thanks for the post, Deathalicious.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:02 PM on May 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm also a not-Scots-or-Srish bagppiper and Rufus was always legendary among us. Every time two pipers would meet somebody would eventually bring up Rufus' work. He was really quite good. I never understood his loyalty to the Highland Scottish pipes, hopwever, when so many other forms exist to explore... like the Bulgarian gaida in particular. Thracian Greek gaida... Greek Island tsambouna... Eastern Black Sea turkish tulum... Hungarian Duda...which is down to its last elder master player.... Slovak gajdy... Estonian sealskin torupill...(Youtube links!) Man... Rufus... you left the building too soon!
posted by zaelic at 1:54 AM on June 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sorry... not Scottish or Irish bagpiper... or French...
posted by zaelic at 2:16 AM on June 1, 2008

Some hellacious links there, zaelic! Hendrix on the gaida indeed!

Anyone wanting more bagpipery of the non-Scots sort might wanna check out a post I made on the gaida back in September of last year.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 2:41 AM on June 1, 2008

I met Rufus Harley when he played at a brewpub in Philly several years back. I just went in for the beer, then they announced that Rufus Harley, the one and only jazz bagpiper, was going to play, so I had to stick around to hear what jazz bagpiping sounded like. It was a great experience, and Rufus turned out to be a great guy, very funny and accessible.
posted by Mister_A at 6:22 AM on June 1, 2008

I've been a fan of Rufus Harley's music for a long time; cool post.
posted by ornate insect at 6:29 AM on June 1, 2008

This is kind of weird, because I'd never heard of Rufus before, but two nights ago I had an extremely vivid dream that I invented the Jazz Bagpipes musical genre.

Of course, in my dream, the bagpipes were operated by a foot-pump and I had to blow into a strange fuzzy tartan tennis ball thing. The pipes themselves sounded exactly like a saxophone, and I remember playing the theme from Cagney and Lacey as part of my set...
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 10:05 AM on June 1, 2008

Sweet. One of his albums is on Emusic.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:27 AM on June 1, 2008

Ha ha. I just started playing a Youtube clip of someone playing the gaida and my Lab huffed, glared at me and stomped out of the room. She's got sensitive ears.
posted by etaoin at 11:49 AM on June 1, 2008

Thanks for this post, Deathalicious. I discovered Harley in a record store back in the mid-60s, struck by the unusual cover of his first LP Bagpipe Blues. Then when I noticed on the back that we shared the same birthday (he was 13 years older), I had to buy it. And I must say, Rufus's jazz bagpipe version of Chim Chim Cheree might be the most... well, I don't know what, but it’s the most something of the tens of thousands of tunes in my record collection. A true classic.

I only got to see him once (or was it twice?) — the key date was a concert in D.C. about 20 years ago, on a stage set up in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, where his son Messiah played trumpet in his quartet, and they opened for Sun Ra's Arkestra.
posted by LeLiLo at 7:29 PM on June 1, 2008

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