Remembering Harold Mabern

March 20, 1936 – September 19, 2019

 

A tribute to the great hard bop pianist

Pianist Harold Mabern passed away on September 17, 2019 at the age of 83 from a heart attack.

Born March 20, 1936 in Memphis, Tennessee, Mabern grew up as part of a fertile local jazz scene that included George Coleman, Charles Lloyd, Hank Crawford and Booker Little.

After moving to Chicago in 1954, he worked with Johnny Griffin and Gene Ammons, and became a member of the MJT+3 Quintet.

Mabern moved to New York in 1959 and was immediately busy, working with Lionel Hampton, the Jazztet, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Mobley and, for a brief time in 1963, Miles Davis, also touring Europe with Wes Montgomery in 1965.

Mabern started leading his own records in 1968 (there would be over 20 as a leader and 100 as a sideman) and was frequently heard at the head of his trio.

He taught at William Paterson University during 1981-2017 and among his students were Roxy Coss, Freddie Hendrix, Tyshawn Sorey, and tenor-saxophonist Eric Alexander who often performed and recorded with Mabern.

Harold Mabern, who had a modern mainstream style that was sometimes reminiscent of his contemporary McCoy Tyner (they had similar influences), was active and still playing at his prime up until the time of his death.

Here is Harold Mabern performing at Smalls in New York on January 18, 2017 with bassist Paolo Benedettini and drummer Joe Farnsworth.

-Scott Yanow

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