Harris's first major gig was in 1939 with Tiny Bradshaw. He played with Earl Hines in 1941 and 1943, and worked the 52nd Street bebop circuit in New York City in the 1940s, where he collaborated with Benny Carter, John Kirby, Coleman Hawkins, Don Byas, and Thelonious Monk. He was with Boyd Raeburn from 1944-45 and Clyde Hart in 1944; he and Byas worked together again in 1945. He played less in the late 1940s, though he appeared with Dizzy Gillespie in 1949 and Charlie Parker in 1952; after this he quit music entirely.
Harris was never a well-known soloist, and is better known for his compositions, which include "Ornithology" (a signature Charlie Parker tune), "Crazeology", "Reets and I" (a Bud Powell favorite), and "Wahoo".