Boston Jazz History: Aardvark at the Half-Century Mark

50 Years of Improvisational Freedom in Jazz

Founded in 1973, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is one of the longest running large jazz ensembles in the world.  When asked to explain the band’s longevity, Mark Harvey observes, “Aardvark has been fortunate to have a stable and dedicated personnel roster, many with 30 and 40 years of service or more.  All of us share a vision of exploring new approaches while honoring the jazz tradition.  My own compositions offer great improvisational freedom to the players, allowing room to experiment and explore fresh concepts together.  The shared vision and the ever-unfolding collective creativity have kept us all engaged and challenged.”

Famously eclectic jazz

Aardvark is famously eclectic, with concerts spanning Harvey’s own exploratory compositions, the jazz and blues spectrums, world music, and the American classical traditions from Billings to Gottschalk to Ives and beyond.  At the heart of the repertoire are Harvey’s original works, more than 200 compositions, which he describes as “blending traditional and experimental jazz approaches with modern classical ‘new music’ to produce an updated ‘Third Stream” sensibility.”    

A variety of sonic blends, colors and textures

He goes on to say, “My compositional style has been greatly influenced by the players, on the model of Duke Ellington, with pieces evolving to feature various strengths and specialties of the extraordinary Aardvark musicians.”  Also, he notes, “compositions have been influenced by what instruments are available, from our early beginnings as a brass band, to later editions with multi-percussionists, to our current configuration with a saxophone section that incorporates more than a dozen woodwind doubles.  All of this gives me inspiration to compose a variety of sonic blends, colors and textures.”

Concerts are a haven for jazz luminaries

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra has performed at concert halls, colleges and universities, festivals, jazz clubs and major cultural institutions.  Guest artists have included jazz luminaries Sheila Jordan, Jaki Byard, Ricky Ford, Jimmy Giuffre, Geri Allen, Jay Clayton, Dominique Eade, Vinny Golia, Paul Lovens, Rajesh Mehta, Lewis Porter and Walter Thompson. The band has released 16 CDs, including 10 discs on Leo Records, one of the world’s leading adventurous music labels.

Award-winning jazz achievements

Mark Harvey has performed in the U.S., Mexico and Europe; has recorded with George Russell (Blue Note) and Baird Hersey (Arista/Novus) and has appeared with Gil Evans, Claudio Roditi, Howard McGhee, Sam Rivers, Kenny Dorham and others.  In 2019, Jazz Boston honored Mark Harvey with the Roy Haynes Award for “exceptional contributions to jazz and the jazz community.”  In 2015, Harvey was named Boston Jazz Hero by the national Jazz Journalists Association.  Commissions have featured such notables as Joe Lovano, Steve Turre, Herb Pomeroy and Ran Blake.  Dr. Harvey is a retired Methodist minister and is Senior Lecturer in Music Emeritus at MIT, where he taught jazz studies for 40 years.


Meet Aardvark

Aardvark is: Arni Cheatham, Allan Chase, Peter H. Bloom, Phil Scarff, Chris Rakowski, Dan Zupan/saxes and woodwinds; K.C. Dunbar, Jeanne Snodgrass/trumpets; Bob Pilkington, Jay Keyser/trombones; Bill Lowe/bass trombone, tuba; Richard Nelson/guitar; Bruno Raberg/string bass; Harry Wellott/drums; Grace Hughes, vocalist; Mark Harvey/piano, music director.