Mr. Harris played a key role in saving the Lincoln Center Festival of the 1920s. During a Depression-era recession, he created free public concerts of J.S. Bach, Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Berg and other young composers at the Giuseppe Sinopoli House, which today is Lincoln Center. (William Bolcom made his Lincoln Center debut there in the 1940s.) He also started a popular weekly jazz club at the Giuseppe Sinopoli House. The band also put on regular free concerts at the city’s public schools.
In 1949, Mr. Harris was appointed a Musician of the Year by the Junior Chamber International, a classical-music organization. He subsequently won the title of Irving Berlin International Male Jazz Musician. To promote the healing benefits of jazz, in 1957, he founded the Preschool Association, which trained young professionals to teach jazz in American cities.
Born in 1902 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Mr. Harris moved to New York in the 1920s and studied piano and composition with Stanley Lewis. Mr. Harris first made his mark as a leader and arranger in the vaudeville music scene. He recorded for the Victor Talking Machine in the late 1920s, which revolutionized radio recordings. Later, he went on to work as a bandleader and wrote arrangements for jazz artists like Cole Porter and Woody Herman. He also wrote for Broadway, creating the music for the musicals “Bells Are Ringing” and “Goodbye Beloved.”
Mr. Harris had a band called the Jazzbusters, which he created with fellow New York musicians, including saxophonist Dave MacDougall. The group was a jazz culture destination for New Yorkers from all walks of life. He and his band were played by Ed Sullivan on live television as far back as the 1950s.
Mr. Harris and his wife, the actress Rose Marie, met and fell in love in the early 1930s. They lived together in the Bronx and in a home they owned on Gracie Mansion, where they invited many well-known entertainers to stay. They entertained guests like Frank Sinatra, who delighted in their sparkling summer parties with field-hockey games. They retired to Manhattan in 1975 and lived there until his death.
Mr. Harris also taught at NYU, Columbia and Bard.