Obituary of Harold Mabern Jr.
September 17, 2019
HAROLD MABERN JR, WAS BORN IN AMERICA'S JAZZ CAPITAL, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE, ON MARCH 20TH, 1936, TO PARENTS HAROLD MABERN SR. AND ELNORA SMITH.
HIS MUSICAL JOURNEY STARTED WITH PLAYING BARITONE HORN IN THE DOUGLASS HIGH SCHOOL MARCHING BAND; AT AGE FIFTEEN, HE HEARD A YOUNG LADY PLAY A SONG ON THE PIANO FROM MEMORY AFTER LISTENING TO IT ONCE, JUMPSTARTING HIS INTEREST IN IMPROVISATION.
TRANSFERRING TO MEMPHIS' ACCLAIMED MANASSAS HIGH SCHOOL, MABERN STUDIED PIANO BY DAY, CONSUMED THE MUSIC OF CHARLES THOMAS AND PHINEAS NEWBORN JR. AFTER SCHOOL, AND GIGGED WITH CHILDHOOD FRIENDS AND MEMPHIS JAZZ ICONS GEORGE COLEMAN, FRANK STROZIER, AND CHARLES LLOYD FOR A DOLLAR A NIGHT.
AWARDED A FULL MUSIC SCHOLASHIP TO TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY, MABERN INSTEAD OPTED TO ATTEND CHICAGO'S PRESTIGIOUS AMERICAN CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC. WHEN LACK OF FUNDS PREVENTED HIM FROM ENROLLING, HE ATTENDED "THE UNIVERSITY OF THE CLUBS" GETTING ON THE CITY'S VIBRANT JAZZ SCENE, LEARNING FROM LUMINARIES SUCH AS AHMAD JAMAL AND BILL LEE, EVENTUALLY BECOMING A MEMBER OF THE MJT+3 WITH WALTER PERKINS, FRANK STROZIER AND BOB CRANSHAW.
HE CONSIDERED THE CHICAGO MOVE THE BEST DECISION OF HIS LIFE, NOT ONLY FOR THE MUSIC, BUT FOR MEETING THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE, BEATRICE OWENS MABERN, WHO HE WAS MARRIED TO FOR ALMOST FORTY YEARS UNTIL HER UNTIMELY PASSING IN 2010.
ARRIVING 60 YEARS AGO IN NEW YORK CITY IN 1959, HE CHECKED INTO A LOW RENT HOTEL, WENT IMMEDIATELY TO THE LEGENDARY CLUB BIRDLAND, OUTSIDE OF WHICH HE MET SAX MASTER "CANNONBALL" ADDERLY, WHO SAID "HEY BIG HANDS, WANNA GIG?" HE WAS TAKEN TO AUDITION FOR HARRY "SWEETS" EDISON'S BAND; "SWEETS" CALLED A TUNE, MABERN PLAYED IT, WAS HIRED ON THE SPOT, AND AN ICON WAS BORN.
MABERN QUICKLY ESTABLISHED A REP AS GO-TO SIDEMAN AND ACCOMPANIST, TOURING WITH LIONEL HAMPTON AND VOCALIST JOE WILLIAMS, RECORDING A LANDMARK ALBUM WITH THE GREAT BETTY CARTER, AND BEING PART OF A LEGENDARY MID 60'S CALIFORNIA TOUR WITH THE MILES DAVIS QUINTET.
HE APPEARED ON MANY ALBUMS DURING THE CLASSIC 1960'S "BLUE NOTE RECORDS" ERA, INCLUDING AN ALMOST TEN YEAR COLLABORATION WITH TRUMPET GENIUS LEE MORGAN, UNTIL HIS UNTIMELY PASSING IN 1972.
MABERN TRULY SHINED AS A LEADER AND COMPOSER WITH HIS OWN ALBUMS, INCLUDING THE "CLASSIC FOUR" ON PRESTIGE RECORDS,
A FEW MILES FROM MEMPHIS, RAKIN' AND SCRAPIN', WORKIN' AND WAILIN', AND GREASY KID STUFF; AND CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED WORKS IN THE 90'S,
THE LEADING MAN, STRAIGHT STREET AND TO MAYA WITH LOVE, FEATURING A WHO'S WHO OF PLAYERS SUCH AS RON CARTER, CHRISTIAN MACBRIDE, ERIC ALEXANDER, JOE FARNSWORTH, AND JOHN WEBBER.
WHILE SOME MUSIC FIGURES RETIRE, "BIG HANDS" HAD NO QUIT,
RE-ESTABLISHING HIMSELF AS A FORCE TO RECKONED WITH IN HIS 80'S, RELEASING A STRING OF CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED, COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL ALBUMS WITH SMOKE SESSIONS RECORDS, INCLUDING THE IRON MAN, A TWO DISC LIVE SET AT SMOKE JAZZ & SUPPER CLUB, AND HIS MAGNUM OPUS, AFRO BLUE, FEATURING TOP TIER VOCALISTS GREGORY PORTER, KURT ELLING, JANE MONHEIT AND NORAH JONES. BOTH ALBUMS SAT AT NUMBER ONE ATOP THE JAZZ CHARTS FOR SEVERAL WEEKS.
WITHOUT QUESTION, THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THE MABERN LEGACY WAS HIS BUOYANT PERSONALITY, AND UNENDING LOVE AND GENEROSITY TO HIS FAMILY AND FRIENDS. HE LIVED FOR MAKING SURE LOVED ONES WERE WELL TAKEN CARE OF, TELLING STORIES TO ENTERTAIN HIS PEERS OVER BARBEQUE DINNERS AT HILLSTONE'S, AND ALWAYS TAKING THE TIME TO BE A MENTOR TO HUNDREDS OF MUSICIANS OVER FIVE DECADES.
IT'S FITTING THAT HE SPENT HIS LAST DAY CONTINUING HIS FORTY YEAR STINT AS A JAZZ INSTRUCTOR AT NEW JERSEY'S WILLIAM PATERSON UNIVERSITY, PUTTING A NEW CROP OF INCOMING STUDENTS THROUGH THEIR PACES ON THEIR FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.
HAROLD MABERN IS SURVIVED BY HIS DAUGHTER ROXANNE AND HER HUSBAND MICHAEL, HIS SON MICHAEL AND HIS WIFE JUDI, AND HIS GRANDDAUGHTER MAYA GLENNE.
TO HAROLD WITH LOVE.
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So sorry for your loss Roxanne. Please let us know if you need anything. We are thinking of you.
Posted by: Cathy Hickling - Farmingdale, NY - September 20, 2019
Wonderful, nice, thoughtful person,who I allways injoyed playing with and talking to when we were not on the Bandstand.John Gillmore ,Horald and myself had so much fun all the time laughting at the local dope guys. I was glad we had a chance to connect after over 25 years when he came to Denver with his group. so much fun.Maney people(the ones that are left) George Coleman, Jack D and so maney others all over the country where he played will remember him as upstanding person,even if he had not been a musician with incrediable skills he would have been enjoyed as just a person,because of the way he was. Eugene O Bass drummer,From Chicago Now in Denver Co.
Posted by: Eugene O Bass - Denver, CO - September 21, 2019
Posted by: Giovanna Giberti - , - September 21, 2019
Posted by: Ellen Cantarow - , - September 22, 2019
He was my mentor, my teacher. I like to think he was my friend of 33 years; I started studying with him in around 1988. He was one of the kindest, most generous human beings I have ever known. He was modest to a fault, always crediting others - especially Phineas Newborn - for his own accomplishments. He had the biggest hands of any pianist! His style was unmistakable. You had only to listen to a few bars and know it was Mabern. The last time I saw him was at Smoke. He was sitting in the back at the bar. I think it was at Smoke, anyway. Might have been at Small's but no difference really. I said, "You know so much about the history of this music, suppose perhaps I sit down with you and we can start to write it out?" He said that could happen. I had been listening to Phineas Newborn and Chris Anderson, having bought some CDs and I told him Phineas was truly the genius he, Harold, had always said he was. Harold said that yes, he certainly was. I also praised Anderson but I can't remember Harold's reply. I treasure his words. Many, many years ago I made a demo CD and got a phone call: "Is this the young lady who sounds like Tommy Flanagan?" I am grieving daily for him; I will never know his like again. I shall miss him for the rest of my life. I truly loved him and still do.
Posted by: Ellen Cantarow - New York, NY - September 22, 2019
I saw you at the Jazz Foundation of America Jam Session many times. I learned how to play better piano behind vocalists by watching you at the Union in the club room. I hope you are up there with Ray Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Walter Perkins, and rest in peace. God Bless.
Stuart H. Tresser. CEO
90 East 46th Street
Brooklyn, New York 11203-1815
Posted by: Hank Johnson - , NY - September 22, 2019
The Young Men from Memphis, a generation of musicians who added so much to Jazz from the 1950s forward are now either aged or no longer with us. Sadly, the number still on the scene has been diminished by one and the bell tolls for all and for art: HAROLD MABERN has died at the age of 83 on September 17th (born March 20, 1936).
Within The Young Men from Memphis, Harold Mabern came to be known as the crews' historian; but for all, Harold was an ever swinging presence on piano blessed with virtuosity and harmonic depth. "Mabs" was one of those precious players who, in a battle of music, could flip victory or defeat from one aggregation to another simply by changing bandstands.
I was with Harold Mabern frequently at The West End where he gigged with the likes of Eddie Durham, Russell Procope, Franc Willaims, and, on occasion, with the Swing To Bop Quintet. While he he had his own perspective on Jazz, when accompanying, Harold Mabern treated all as equals.
I also recall that by 1974, Harold Mabern joined the listening parties of the Brooklyn BeBoppers, gatherings that I had played DJ for since my teens and was now also administering when gatherings were held at or near The West End as opposed to Brooklyn.
Hearing Harold Mabern analyze Charlie Parker was taking a lesson in Arts Appreciation and Harold, himself, came to appreciate the Brooklyn BeBoppers insistence on declaring one take superior when there were multiples.
As to multiples: there will never be another HAROLD MABERN. Rest In Peace.
Posted by: Phil Schaap - New York, NY - September 23, 2019
Thank you so much for the many times you came to play, sing, and testify at events at the Shrine of the Masters Jazz Gallery/Lee Morgan Legacy Exhibit. You were just here last year (2018) for the Lee Morgan 80th Birthday Celebration, thrilling all in attendance with your beautiful music.
You will be sorely missed.
But. I am confident that you are now with loved ones who preceded you; and that you are having a ball with departed colleagues, making much more heavenly music.
Lena Sherrod, Director
SOM Jazz Gallery/Lee Morgan Legacy Exhibit
Posted by: Lena Sherrod - Harlem, New York City, NY - September 23, 2019
You were a welcoming gentlemen as you allowed me to film you at the Monday Jam Sessions. Every time you came we knew something spectacular and unforgettable was about to take place and it sure did. You shared a special piece of you with us, with every note that you played and today every piece lives on in each one us and thus your message is in good hands. Thank you for making a difference.
Posted by: ANTHONY WEEKS - BRONX, NY - September 24, 2019
Posted by: Jeffrey Nussbaum - , - September 25, 2019
Harold was so supportive and encouraging to me about my piano playing. Sam Baum
Posted by: Sam Baum - New York, NY - September 25, 2019
Posted by: Wendell Thomas - , - September 25, 2019
Posted by: Bill Mobley - , - September 26, 2019
Harold Mabern's spirit will live on.It won't just dissipate into space because we all shared a piece of it and it will just keep going. It doesn't even need a name, as it is a part of all of us now. It will burn like an eternal flame, everlasting,
with great energy and soul and love.
Posted by: Bill Mobley - Bergenfield, NJ - September 26, 2019
I would like to offer my deepest felt condolences to the Mabern family, on behalf of myself, Lucie and Virginia. Harold was a dear friend, mentor and frequent collaborator. I was shocked and saddened to hear of Harold's passing. We have lost a musical giant. Harold's spirit and unconditional generosity was something to behold, something I witnessed often. He was a torchbearer who was an inspiration to his peers and to musicians of all generations across the globe. I was fortunate to have shared time with Harold on and off the bandstand, and have fond memories that I will always cherish. Harold was a great story teller - it was always a positive and uplifting experience to be in his presence. Harold treated everyone with deep respect and was a great example of how one should go through life, full of love and passion. I will miss him dearly. Rest in peace.
Posted by: Kirk MacDonald - Toronto, - September 26, 2019
Harold Mabern's powerful and distinctive piano playing was perhaps even surpassed by his graciousness, generosity of spirit and dedication to preserving the roots of the music and educating younger generations. I am honored to have gotten to know him in some small way.
Posted by: Daralyn Jay - NEW YORK, NY - September 26, 2019
My condolences to the family
Posted by: Steve Shaw - Bx, NY - September 27, 2019
I'm sorry that recovering from illness prevented me from saying goodbye to Harold in person this morning at his funeral. He will rest forever in my heart as an outstanding musician and warm human presence. I can see why students adored him because he liked to say that he wasn't a teacher but "an advanced student."
His sense of adventure in music and life is one of his greatest legacies. Deep condolences to his family especially his son Michael Mabern who used to be my colleague at WBAI Pacifica Radio in NYC during the 1980s.
Posted by: Lee Lowenfish - New York, NY - September 27, 2019
I had always admired Harold's playing through the years, studying at Betklee, them Rutgers. I never had the privilege of formal study under Mr. Mabern, but had run into him at various gigs, most especially at Smoke. Somehow he found out I was a piano player and whenever we saw each other, he always greeted me with what are you working on?
We would then proceed to discussion that turned into mini-lessons and my thanking him profusely for his time, to which his reply was always My pleasure. We have to always pass on the knowledge
I learned more in those conversations than in any formal schooling!
Thank you, Mr. Mabern- Harold, for your generosity and kindness. I will always endeavor to further your legacy as a musician and, most importantly, as a man!
Posted by: Jim Kost Kost - New York, NY - September 27, 2019
Peace Be Upon Harold my dear piano
Posted by: juini booth - New York City, NY - September 27, 2019
With Deepest Sympathy!!!
Posted by: Myron Jones - Memphis, TN - September 28, 2019
I am very sorry for your loss. Harold was a true musical icon and who will be missed by all who knew him.
Posted by: Mary Mclaurine - Richmond Hill, NY - September 30, 2019
On behalf of myself and The Adams Family (relatives of George Coleman, Sr),
we wish to express our deep sympathy, prayers and love to each of you.
Mr. Mabern's incredible and lasting legacy shall live with us forever.
May God bless you all!
Posted by: Joycelyn Adams - Long Beach, CA - October 26, 2019
Great Teacher, Great Human
Posted by: Richard Levy - Randolph, NJ - October 27, 2019