RIP, jazz piano great Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern, a Memphis-raised pianist beloved for his soulfulness and energy on the keyboard and his reward of gab off the bandstand, has died, his file label Smoke Sessions Records introduced Thursday.

Mabern, who continued to tour, file and play in New York’s jazz golf equipment with gamers half his age, was 83. WBGO’s Nate Chinen studies here that Mabern died of a coronary heart assault, and that he’s survived by two kids and a granddaughter, whereas his spouse, Beatrice, died in 2010.

Word of Mabern’s passing prompted tributes all through the net jazz group.

Jazz at Lincoln Center is deeply saddened to study of the passing of veteran jazz pianist #HaroldMabern. In 2017, we requested Mabern to sit down down for an interview with @CamilleThurman. Read a few of the unforgettable moments from his many years on the scene. — Jazz at Lincoln Center (@jazzdotorg) September 20, 2019

At a loss to specific the ache I really feel studying in regards to the departure of my brother, Harold Mabern. We return to the early 1950s. Great pianist, sensible scholar of our historical past, insightful, hilarious, honest, deep, with intense, boundless power and inclusive together with his heat. — Charles Lloyd (@CharlesLloydSax) September 20, 2019

#HaroldMabern left us in the present day. One of my most favourite human beings ever, a sort and beneficiant one that, for those who requested him for five minutes, he’d provide you with an hour. A strolling encyclopedia of jazz requirements – I used to name… — Geoffrey Keezer (@88Keezer) September 20, 2019

Rest In Peace to the great Harold Mabern. I’ll miss operating into you at Smoke & your at all times humble, heat spirit. Going to hearken to Lee Morgan’s Last Session – certainly one of my favourite recordings that options you, proper now…. — Jaleel Shaw (@jaleelshaw) September 20, 2019

Guitarist Peter Bernstein wrote on Facebook: “Mr. Mabes I am having trouble finding words to say goodbye to you. It’s hard to imagine the world without you. A true master of music but also of giving, you are generosity personified. All we can do is remember you and try to be better people. R.I.P. Maestro Mabern.”

Born on March 20, 1936, the musically self-taught Mabern grew up below the affect of the stellar pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. and was quickly operating with such friends as Frank Strozier, Booker Little and George Coleman. Mabern and Coleman have been pals all through the pianist’s lifetime, and Mabern performs on Coleman’s upcoming album, The Quartet.

Mabern moved to Chicago in 1954, the place he performed with such elite saxophonists as  Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons and Clifford Jordan. Five years later, he moved to New York, the place he would be a part of the teams of Lionel Hampton and Art Farmer and Benny Golson’s Jazztet, Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery.

Mabern launched greater than 20 albums as a pacesetter. A favorite of mine is the trio album Straight Street, a Japanese recording that additionally options bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Mabern seems on nearly 100 albums as a sideman.

Mabern taught for greater than three many years at New Jersey’s William Paterson University, the place his college students included drummers Joe Farnsworth and saxophonist Eric Alexander, two youthful musicians who would be a part of him on innumerable performances after they graduated.

Until his passing, Mabern was the quintessential New York jazzman working within the trenches, taking part in previous midnight at Smalls Jazz Club or Smoke, two bastions of straight-ahead, swinging music.

Harold Mabern, hitting onerous at Smalls in September 2017

In latest years, Mabern developed extra connections with Canada’s jazz scene. He performed and recorded with saxophonists Kirk MacDonald and Cory Weeds, and is featured on two of MacDonald’s most up-to-date albums, together with the Juno-winning Vista Obscura.

Here are clips of Mabern with MacDonald (taking part in in Montreal) and Weeds (taking part in in Vancouver), throwing himself into some minor blues together with his driving, swirling method.


On Facebook, MacDonald wrote: “I used to be shocked and deeply saddened to listen to the devastating information of Harold Mabern’s passing. We have misplaced a musical large! Harold’s spirit and unconditional generosity together with his presents and knowledge was one thing to behold. Harold was a torchbearer who was an inspiration to his friends and a great mentor and inspiration to so many musicians of all generations world wide for many years.

“I really feel lucky to have identified Harold and honoured to have shared the bandstand with him quite a few occasions over the previous 5 years. My deepest condolences to the Mabern household and Harold’s prolonged musical household. Thank you Harold for the music and inspiration.”

Mabern performed with MacDonald in Ottawa in the summertime of 2015. I used to be lucky sufficient to interview him upfront of that gig, and beneath is the story that resulted.


Harold Mabern was a late starter when it got here to jazz piano, however he’s greater than made up for it together with his longevity.

The Brooklyn-based pianist, 79, didn’t begin taking part in his instrument till he was 15, rising up in Memphis, Tennessee. But inside a decade, the self-taught musician was accompanying the cream of the jazz crop in New York, proper as much as Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, in addition to singers Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter.

In the final decade, he’s solely grown busier, recording as a pacesetter and sideman and touring, regularly with former college students whom he taught at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

His attraction extends past the United States, such that Toronto saxophonist Kirk MacDonald enlisted Mabern to play on his most up-to-date file, Vista Obscura. This spring, that album gained a Juno Award for greatest jazz album of the 12 months.

“He’s just such a great personality,” MacDonald says of Mabern. “His energy is infectious. It can be overwhelming … just his love for life and music. He’s really one of the sweetest people you would ever meet.”

MacDonald and Mabern are touring this week and subsequent, taking part in gigs from Sydney, N.S., to Toronto. In Ottawa, the duo performs Salt Dining Lounge on Preston Street Saturday night time.

Mabern, an effusive talker and storyteller who lately returned from a two-week tour in Japan, fortunately mentioned his life as a jazzman; an edited transcript of our dialog follows.

How did you get began taking part in piano?

I’m utterly self-taught. No disgrace in my sport. When I used to be 15, I lastly received a piano for about $50, however I nonetheless actually didn’t know what I used to be doing. At the time, I feel I knew about 4 songs. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the posh of taking part in Chopin Etudes.

Do you play classical music now?

Oh no. Most jazz piano gamers play classical music however I don’t idiot with it. I do love classical music. Chopin is my favorite and Ravel and Debussy, and Gustav Mahler. But perhaps at some point I’ll sit down and decide some notes out and see what I can do.

How did you progress so shortly as a jazz pianist?

When I moved to Chicago, that’s once I began placing time into it. In ’54, I moved to Chicago. Music was being performed in Chicago 24/7.  That’s once I actually realized the way to play music. Music was on each nook. You had great pianists on each nook who may play. The camaraderie was excellent.

Chicago, it’s very numerous. You needed to play all types of music. You needed to play blues. You needed to play for singers. I inform college students the easiest way to be a great jazz pianist is to play for singers. That will educate you the way to be an excellent accompanist.

In Memphis, we needed to play rhythm ‘n’ blues. We didn’t need to play rhythm ‘n’ blues. We wished to play bebop. And then as you look again, you say, “Oh boy, what a pleasure,” as a result of as you already know all people can’t play the blues. You can’t educate that. It’s one thing you are able to do or can’t do and it has to do with the atmosphere.

In Chicago, all of the musicians may play anyone’s music. How did that occur? I don’t know. We simply listened. If Dizzy [Gillespie] got here and Wynton Kelly, my hero, couldn’t make it, I may go in and play the entire e-book with out the music. If Bobby Timmons couldn’t end the gig with Art Blakey, I may play that music.

We have been taking part in and practising music 12 hours a day. I had quite a bit to do to prepare for New York. I’m nonetheless preparing for New York. You by no means cease studying. The day you cease being a pupil, you may as properly pack it in.

How did you begin making a mark in New York?

My first gig was with Harry “Sweets” Edison. One night time (saxophonist) Cannonball Adderley mentioned, “Hey, Big Hands, you want a gig?” He took me right down to Birdland. Tuesday night time, the place was packed. Must have been 15 piano gamers in Birdland that night time. Cannonball launched me to “Sweets” and “Sweets” says, “You want to play?” I say “yeah.” I’m nervous.

I inform younger college students now, the old-timers assumed for those who’re a musician, you knew the whole lot. They didn’t ask you what you knew. So “Sweets” checked out me and he mentioned, “Habit. Eight-bar introduction. In A-flat.” I believed, what’s “Habit?”

The tune was You’re Getting To Be A Habit To Me. I fumbled the primary refrain. The second refrain, I had it. He employed me on the spot. That was the primary tune I performed in New York City.

What was it prefer to play with Miles Davis within the early 1960s?

I can’t consider that the six weeks I labored with Miles no one had a tape recorder there to file!

It was a beautiful expertise for me taking part in with Miles. He was very inspirational to me. He was saying (imitates Davis’ raspy voice): “You sure can swing.” If Miles Davis was saying I can swing, that’s all I wanted to know.

You’re coming to Canada proper after a two-week tour of Japan. How was that?

We name New York the Big Apple, however so far as we’re involved, my pals and I, we are saying Tokyo, Japan, kicks New York’s butt. First of all, there’s 14 million folks there. But the factor is, the folks over there are so sincere. Their mindset is that they’re so honourable, they take such great satisfaction of their work. They deal with you want a super-duper human being. I at all times inform folks, in Japan they’ve received cash for 2 issues: tall buildings and jazz.

I’ve been over there 27 occasions. I like me some Tokyo, Japan, and after we come again to the United States, I get depressed.

How are you having fun with taking part in with Kirk MacDonald?

Oh, find it irresistible.

This date I did with him, that’s most likely the toughest file date that I’ve ever completed. He wrote some music, man. He’s received one tune … I believed, “If I can’t hear this song, I can read it.” I used to be up all night time. It was solely this one tune, with a few bars I simply couldn’t get. Finally (bassist) Neil Swainson advised me how to take a look at it and we have been capable of get two takes. I mentioned, “Sshh, don’t nobody say a word because I don’t want to have to do another.”

He’s a really difficult participant. Excellent tenor participant. It’s undoubtedly an satisfying second to play with him.

You’ll flip 80 subsequent 12 months. Do you anticipate you’ll decelerate?

The solely time I get drained is once I’m not taking part in. I’m blessed. I’m booked up for essentially the most half till April 2016. As lengthy as I really feel I can work, let me work.


Rest in peace, Harold Mabern.

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