, Newburyport, MA

September 13, 2013

An evening to remember

Bill Plante's North Shore
Newburyport Daily News

---- — History of a special kind was made at the Unitarian Church on the night of Sept. 7.

Jonathan and Betsy Woodman celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary there by welcoming all comers to an evening of a jazz concert honoring Newburyport’s Les Harris for all he has done over half a century to entertain and to teach America’s ever-reaching music.

The unaware might have found the Woodmans’ choice of celebrating their anniversary extraordinary.

It certainly was.

In a brief welcome, Jonathan expressed their gratitude for a lifetime of cooperative endeavor marked by good will that made it possible for them and others to overcome hurdles and create what is broadly enjoyed as the Newburyport of today.

I was not at all surprised by their added choice for celebration because I was aware of how taken both had been with Les Harris, as both teacher and friend.

Betsy plays piano, and I forget just how it happened, but I had suggested that Les Harris might be helpful with broadening her skills.

Of course, he was, and so there we all were with the Woodmans doing what they have spent a lifetime doing — giving of themselves to others as husband and wife by honoring one who had done the same over and again.

I learned that about Les Harris a half century ago when he and I found each other as co-conspirators of the first of a series of jazz concerts that grew from the formation of the Newburyport Jazz Society.

He was already making his mark as drummer, but had yet to become a teacher of historic importance to students at Berklee College of Music.

That would evolve over time marked by events common to the lives of professional musicians. What was uncommon was his ability to help his students to reach beyond their perceptions.

Some of that would be buzzing in my inner self as Danny Harrington, eyes closed, late in the program plumbed the depth and caressed the upper range of his baritone sax to the swish, swish of Les Harris Jr.’s brushes, Jack Senier’s sensitive touch on the Steinway and Mark Carson’s gently roving bass.

Prior to that, Danny Harrington had spoken of all that Les had meant to him when he, as a young man with an exaggerated opinion of his ability, was set aright by Les as to how far he had to go and what it would take to get there.

Having made that extended journey by meeting Les’ goals, he too, would come to teach others at Berklee.

The program would have been incomplete if Les Senior hadn’t played, but topping even that was the performance of bassist Aubrey Harris, his 16-year-old granddaughter, who played a set with her father, Les Jr.

Both father and grandfather, mother Annie and grandmother Janet, and I suspect everyone else in addition to myself, was grinning ear to ear through the set, and exploded with applause when it ended.

Well they might have.

Aubury Harris will be a freshman at Berklee with a full scholarship a year from now.

Given what her father and grandfather brought to Berklee, as well as her current ability, she was welcomed with open arms.

What her grandfather has brought to Newburyport’s musicians, old and young, has resulted in an honoring plaque that will find its way to a suitable public setting.

That all of that could be an outcome of the celebration of Jonathan and Betsy Woodman’s 50th wedding anniversary gratifyingly is truly for the ages.


Bill Plante is a Newbury resident and staff columnist. His e-mail address is