For Dale Harris, the old adage “put pencils in a drummer’s hand and out comes a cadence” has roots in his boyhood and stays true today.
“When I was around 6 years old, I beat on a type of stool with straw interior nearly destroying it by my playing it like a drum to the music on the radio,” says the 86-year-old Salem father of four. “I got my first real drums in grade school and played in a grade school orchestra.”
In high school, Harris switched to prancing in front of the band as drum major at the Rose Festival Parade.
“I was a choir member instead of a band member during that period,” Harris says. “A group of us had a swing band, and we played for various prom dances at high schools in Portland and southern Washington. It had 16 members just like the ‘big bands’ and we played real arrangements of music.”
After graduating, Harris played in a small combo for dances in the Portland area. One of his most memorable gigs in those days was playing at the Cottonwoods dance hall in Jefferson, where many of the famous big bands played.
“We also played the Bungalow at Seaside and the armories in Salem and Woodburn,” Harris says. “But the best was at the Jantzen Beach Ballroom where all the famous bands played when they came to Portland.”
In between band stints, Harris was a salesman for many companies, including Redken, an American hair care brand owned by L’Oréal Group under the Professional Products division. He got very interested in hair coloring, “especially bleaching,” and followed the stylist convention trail to learn all he could on the subject.
“But my passion for music was always there, and eventually I returned to it,” Harris says.
Today, Harris still keeps the beat alive for the Keizer Big Band, made up of members of the Keizer Community Concert Band. The band plays for its own enjoyment and for events around the Willamette Valley, he says.
“I also have a little jazz band that plays at the IKE Box Coffee Shop in Salem,” he says. “We donate any monies collected for the troubled teen-agers they sponsor.”
Harris says playing drums gives him a “wonderful feeling of freedom and release.”
“I love rhythm and the pace of the movement,” he adds. “I think I was meant to be a natural drummer.”
During his musical career, Harris met and talked with Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, two well-known drummers of the day.
“I have been inspired by their encouraging comments that I have taken to heart,” he says. “I also feel that Mel Lewis was probably the finest big band drummer in this century. He has passed away, but he was marvelous!”
Harris expects to keep on playing as long as those proverbial “pencils” are in his hands. Age, he says, has nothing to do with.
“There are several musicians in the Salem area who are the same age as me or older who continue to play in several bands or orchestras,” he says. “After all, it’s not how old you are. It’s how well you can still play.”
Catch Harris and his jazz band on the first Tuesday of the month at the IKE Box, located on the ground floor of a 120-year-old building at 299 Cottage St. NE, in downtown Salem. The IKE Box offers coffee, catering and space rentals to fund Isaac’s Room, an outreach that “helps divested youth build the capacity to rise to the challenges of life.”
For more than six years, IKE Box has been offering a variety of live music, hosting musical performances by many bands, including Harris’s jazz group.
“For us, the purpose of hosting live music is to initiate and contribute to the health of Salem’s local music scene,” Mark and Tiffany Bulgin share on their website. “The main priority of IKE Concerts is to help our local musicians grow, thrive and learn the essentials of creating their art effectively and to their desired satisfaction.”
To find out more about the groups performing at IKE Box, visit its concert Facebook page. For more information on any of the venues, visit isaacsroom.org. n