Zach Harmon has toured the world, playing drums in countries as far afield as India, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam, but in 2015 he and his girlfriend decided to settle in Shelburne. The long-time player of improvised music has already integrated himself into the community and the local music scene.
Harmon comes from a family of musicians. He started studying classical piano at the age of three, and after 13 years he shifted to the drums. “It was actually a very smooth transition,” he said. “A lot of people forget that the piano is a percussion instrument. People also overlook the amount of coordination involved using both feet, both hands, and reading the music. For me, there has always been a close knit relationship between the two.”
Given his background with melodies, Harmon says he tries to recreate his piano music on the drums. “It’s a beautiful challenge and I think it makes for more interesting drumming,” he said. “I think there’s a big future in melodic drumming.”
Harmon considers himself fortunate to have collaborated with a number of famous musicians. He met Herbie Hancock during his studies at the Thelonious Monk School of Jazz and subsequently toured with both Hancock and Wayne Shorter. “It was quite surreal to be spending time with them,” he said.
Another collaboration found Harmon working with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Kris Kristofferson and John Doe for an album incorporating Civil War-era music with spoken word in the form of letters from those who served our country at war. In 2008, Harmon won a Grammy Award in the Large Ensemble category for “A Tale of God’s Will”, a record inspired by Hurricane Katrina which was released by composer/trumpeter Terence Blanchard.
Harmon is still touring and traveling, but he is also trying to establish himself as a local drum teacher. He has set up a studio at his home and enjoys working with people of all abilities. “I love working with any age because you can see the light of inspiration in their eyes,” he said. “It’s a moment that can’t be exchanged for anything.”
Harmon has also done workshops at South Burlington High School with Dave Grippo, helping to get the school jazz band ready for the Vermont Jazz Festival. Showing his love for his new community, Harmon played drums for some spinning classes at the Shelburne Field House to raise money for the Shelburne Food Shelf. “It’s not the most obvious choice for an improvising musician,” he said, “but it was a beautiful scene and it was really fun to be involved in that.” In August and September, he will be the maker-in-residence at the Generator in Burlington.
This spring, Harmon returned from South Korea in time to fly to Indiana, and then home for a few days before heading to an annual music festival in Montana. While he enjoys the traveling, he is also looking forward to spending more time at his new home studio. “I really enjoy the space we’ve set up,” he said. Harmon continues to use the piano while teaching drums, and students seem to enjoy that exchange. “The beauty of teaching,” he said “is finding a million different ways to say the same thing.”