Harold Mabern (born March 20, 1936 in Memphis, Tennessee) is a hard bop, post-bop and soul jazz pianist and composer.[1] He is described in The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings as "one of the great post-bop pianists".[2]



Mabern initially started learning drums, before switching to piano.[1] He attended Douglass High School,[3] before transferring to Manassas High School;[4] he played with Frank Strozier, George Coleman and Booker Little at this time, but was most influenced by pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr.[5] In 1954, after graduating, Mabern moved to Chicago,[5] where, unable to afford to attend music college because of a change in his parents' financial circumstances, he developed by listening to Ahmad Jamal and others in clubs,[6] but remained self-taught as a pianist.[3] Mabern went on to play with Walter Perkins' MJT + 3 and others in Chicago.[7]

Life from 1959Edit

Mabern moved to New York in 1959. According to his own account, he moved there with saxophonist Frank Strozier on November 21, 1959, checked in at a hotel and then went to Birdland, where he met Cannonball Adderley, who asked him if he wanted a gig. Mabern accepted, and was shown inside, where trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, who was looking for a pianist to replace the soon-to-depart Tommy Flanagan, auditioned him and offered him the place.[5] A few weeks later, most of the members of this band then joined Jimmy Forrest for a recording in Chicago that resulted in the albums All the Gin is Gone and Black Forrest, which were also the debut recordings for guitarist Grant Green.[8][9] Mabern steadily built a reputation in New York as a sideman, playing with, among others, the Jazztet for 18 months in the period 1961–1962, Lionel Hampton's big band, and Roy Haynes; after completing a 1963 tour with Haynes, he had a six-week engagement at the Black Hawk in San Francisco with Miles Davis.[4][5] Mabern went on to spend time with J. J. Johnson in 1963–1965. In 1965 he also played with Lee Morgan, an association that continued on and off until the night in February 1972 that Morgan was shot dead at Slug's Saloon, with Mabern present.[3] Mabern toured in Europe with Wes Montgomery later in 1965 as part of a band that had been together for around two years before the European tour, traveling as a quartet from gig to gig in one car.[10] Mabern later worked with Hank Mobley (1965), Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Sarah Vaughan, and Joe Williams (1966–1967).[7]

Mabern's recording career as a leader began in 1968, after he signed for Prestige Records early that year.[11] His first album, A Few Miles from Memphis, featured several of his own originals.[4] Further dates for Prestige were released, and Mabern has gone on to record approximately 20 albums as leader, for a variety of labels. Mabern has worked intermittently over a period of four decades with George Coleman, beginning in the 1960s, and including an appearance at the 1976 Newport Jazz Festival.[12][13] Among other musicians Mabern played with around this period were Milt Jackson in 1977,[14] Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1981[15] and James Moody the following year.[16] There have also been performances and recordings with innumerable other musicians, both as leader and sideman. Mabern has also worked with two piano-based groups: the Piano Choir, formed and led by Stanley Cowell from the early 1970s and featuring at least six pianists/keyboardists, and the four-player Contemporary Piano Ensemble, the latter being formed in the early 1990s to pay tribute to Phineas Newborn, Jr. and touring extensively, including at the Montreal (1991) and Monterey Jazz Festivals (1996).[17][5] He also went to Japan in 1990 as a member of a ten-pianist group that toured together but played and recorded separately.[18] In later years, he recorded extensively with his former William Paterson University student, the tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander.[19] Mabern's popularity in Japan is reflected in his signing for the Japanese label Venus, which has resulted in six albums from 2002; Mabern stated in 2004 that his 2002 recording for Venus, Kiss of Fire, featuring Alexander as a guest, was his best seller.[5] A longtime faculty member at William Paterson University, Mabern is a frequent instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Mabern's stated piano preference is "naturally the Steinway D, but if you can't get a D, any Steinway".[5]

Playing styleEdit

Mabern's piano style has been described as being "aggressive, very positive, crashing out chords that drop like pile drivers and warming up and down the keyboard with huge, whooping bursts of action", while, at the same time, he shows "a keen sensitivity" as "an extremely perceptive accompanist".[20] Critic Gary Giddins has identified some of the characteristics of Mabern's playing as being "blues glisses, [...] tremolos and dissonant block chords", that help to create a style "that marries McCoy Tyner's clustering modality with rippling asides that stem from [Art] Tatum".[21]


Years refer to the date of recording, unless an asterisk (*) is next to the year; this indicates that it is the date of initial release.

As leaderEdit

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1968 A Few Miles from Memphis Prestige Mabern's first release as leader
1968 Rakin' and Scrapin' Prestige Mabern also plays electric piano
1969 Workin' & Wailin' Prestige Mabern also plays electric piano
1970 Greasy Kid Stuff! Prestige Sextet, with Lee Morgan (trumpet), Hubert Laws (flute, tenor sax), Buster Williams (bass), Idris Muhammad (drums), Joe Jones (guitar; 1 track)
1978 Pisces Calling InterPlay Trio, with Jamil Nasser (bass), Walter Bolden (drums)
1984–1985 Joy Spring Sackville Solo piano, in concert
1989 Straight Street DIW Trio, with Ron Carter (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)
1991–1992 Philadelphia Bound Sackville Duo, with Kieran Overs (bass)
1993 Lookin' on the Bright Side DIW Trio, with Christian McBride (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums)
1995 For Phineas Sackville Duo, with Geoff Keezer (piano), in concert
1992–1993 The Leading Man Disk Union Trio, with Christian McBride & Ron Carter (bass; separately), Jack DeJohnette (drums)
1996 Mabern's Grooveyard DIW Trio, with Tony Reedus (drums)
1999 Maya with Love DIW Trio, with Christian McBride (bass), Tony Reedus (drums)
2001 Kiss of Fire Venus Trio, with Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums); Eric Alexander as guest
2003 Falling in Love with Love Venus Trio, with George Mraz (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)
2003 Don't Know Why Venus Trio, with Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)
2004 Fantasy Venus Trio, with Dwayne Burno (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)
2005 Somewhere Over the Rainbow Venus Trio, with Dwayne Burno (bass), Willie Jones III (drums)
2006 Misty Venus Solo piano
2012 Mr. Lucky HighNote Quartet, with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), John Webber (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums)

As sidemanEdit

Year recorded Leader Title Label
1997 Template:Sortname Mode For Mabes Delmark
1999 Template:Sortname The First Milestone Milestone
2000 Template:Sortname The Second Milestone Milestone
2001 Template:Sortname Summit Meeting Milestone
2002 Template:Sortname Nightlife In Tokyo Milestone
2004 Template:Sortname Dead Center HighNote
2005 Template:Sortname It's All In The Game HighNote
1999 Template:Sortname Live at the Keynote Video Arts
2009 Template:Sortname Revival of the Fittest HighNote
2009 Template:Sortname Chim Chim Cheree Venus
2010 Template:Sortname Don't Follow the Crowd HighNote
2013* Template:Sortname Touching HighNote
1970 Template:Sortname The Black Cat! Prestige
1973 Template:Sortname Body Talk CTI
1978 Template:Sortname Walt Bolden Nemperor
1964 Template:Sortname Inside Betty Carter United Artistis
1985* Template:Sortname Manhattan Panorama Theresa
1987 Template:Sortname At Yoshi's Theresa
1998 Template:Sortname I Could Write a Book: The Music of Richard Rogers Telarc
1989 Template:Sortname Four Pianos for Phineas Evidence
1993 Template:Sortname The Key Players Sony
1997 Template:Sortname Crossfire Criss Cross
2006 Template:Sortname New York Accent Cellar Live
1961 Template:Sortname Perception Argo
1962 Template:Sortname Here and Now Mercury
1962 Template:Sortname Another Git Together Mercury
2004* Template:Sortname It's Prime Time Village
2011 Template:Sortname Super Prime Time Sony
1959 Template:Sortname All the Gin is Gone Delmark
1959 Template:Sortname Black Forrest Delmark
1974* Template:Sortname Man & Woman Groove Merchant
1996 Template:Sortname Motherless Child Delmark
1979* Template:Sortname Variety is the Spice Gryphon
1963 Template:Sortname Swamp Seed Riverside
1970 Template:Sortname Alone Together Columbia
2000 Template:Sortname Into the Heaven Columbia
1965 Template:Sortname The Night of the Cookers Blue Note
1965 Template:Sortname Blue Spirits Blue Note
1990 Template:Sortname Piano Playhouse 1990 Absord Music Japan
1964 Template:Sortname Proof Positive Impulse!
1968 Template:Sortname My Fire! Prestige
1963 Template:Sortname Reeds & Deeds Mercury
1963 Template:Sortname The Roland Kirk Quartet Meets the Benny Golson Orchestra Mercury
1965 Template:Sortname Consequence Blue Note
1966 Template:Sortname Bring It Home to Me Blue Note
1965 Template:Sortname Dippin' Blue Note
1965 Template:Sortname The Gigolo Blue Note
1970 Template:Sortname Live at the Lighthouse Blue Note
1971 Template:Sortname The Last Session Blue Note
1970 Template:Sortname Black Rhythm Revolution! Prestige
2004 Template:Sortname Powder Keg Two & Four
1993 Template:Sortname Cerupa Delmark
1996 Template:Sortname Scotch and Milk Delmark
1998 Template:Sortname Payne's Window Delmark
2000 Template:Sortname Chic Boom Live at the Jazz Showcase Delmark
1973 Template:Sortname Handscapes Strata-East
1975 Template:Sortname Handscapes 2 Strata-East
1997 Template:Sortname Jim's Bop Criss Cross
2003 Template:Sortname Deja Vu Venus
1960 Template:Sortname MJT + 3 Vee-Jay
1962 Template:Sortname March of the Siamese Children Jazzland
1976 Template:Sortname Remember Me Steeplechase
1977 Template:Sortname What's Goin' On Steeplechase
1967 Template:Sortname Electric Soul! Prestige
1971 Template:Sortname The Sugar Man CTI
1973 Template:Sortname Don't Mess with Mister T. CTI
1983 Template:Sortname First Venture Big Tampa
1965 Template:Sortname Kings Of The Guitar Beppo
1965 Template:Sortname Jazz 625 Vap
1965 Template:Sortname Solitude BYG
1965 Template:Sortname Belgium 1965 Rounder Vestapool

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Feather, Leonard & Gitler, Ira (2007) The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz, p. 425. Oxford University Press.
  2. Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008) The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.) Penguin. p. 1136.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jonah Jonathan's video interview with Harold Mabern.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Johnson, David Brent (March 18, 2011) "A Few Miles From Memphis: Harold Mabern, the Early Years" Indiana Public Media.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 Shanley, Mike (April 2003) "Harold Mabern: The Accompanist" Jazz Times.
  6. Gilbert, Andrew (December 2006) "Harold Mabern and Eric Alexander: Getting Schooled" Jazz Times.
  7. 7.0 7.1 MJT + 3 at allmusic
  8. "Jimmy Forrest – All the Gin is Gone: review" AllMusic review.
  9. "Grant Green Catalog" Jazzdisco Grant Green discography.
  10. Fitzgerald, Tim "625 Alive: The Wes Montgomery BBC Performance Transcribed" pp. vii–ix.
  11. Billboard (April 06, 1968) "Signings". Billboard, p. 14.
  12. Balliett, Whitney (2000) Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954–2000. Granta Books. p. 473.
  13. Friedwald, Will (August 13, 2010) "August Sounds Embrace the Sweltering City" Wall Street Journal [online edition].
  14. Ford, Robert (March 26, 1977) "Talent in Action" Billboard.
  15. Wilson, John S. (August 08, 1981) "Jazz 4: Eddie Vinson" New York Times p. 28.
  16. Stokes, W. Royal (May 15, 1982) "Moody's Sizzling Saxophone & Flute" The Washington Post.
  17. "Contemporary Piano Ensemble" AllMusic.
  18. "100 Gold Fingers: Piano Playhouse 1990" AllMusic.
  19. All About Jazz: Harold Mabern and Eric Alexander: The Art of Duo (May 4, 2005).
  20. Wilson, John S. (March 03, 1977) "Jazz: Quartet With Keen Pianist" New York Times p. 29.
  21. Giddins, Gary (January 20, 1998) "Beale Street Talks" The Village Voice.

External linksEdit


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