Harold Mabern R.I.P.

Harold Mabern’s name ended up being slightly incorrect on his birth certificate. It actually was “Harold Will Burn.”

A major legacy. Just a few things that come to mind:

I wish I had seen at least one of the early ’80s nights at the Village Vanguard with George Coleman and Mabern, when these two master Memphis musicians were at their peak of ferocious virtuosity and they were playing to a small group of select NYC initiates…

…Still, three summers ago I saw Mabern play “Just One of Those Things” with Eric Alexander in Chicago as fast as you could count it, and Mabern could still swamp the rhythm section with cascades of perfectly organized sound.

The best Mabern-led record I know is Straight Street, a fantastic trio date from 1989 with Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette that gets the most out of all three players.

One of Mabern’s best compositions is “The Beehive,” immortalized in a smoking rendition with the Lee Morgan Quintet Live at the Lighthouse with Bennie Maupin, Jymie Merritt, and Mickey Roker. (Off on a tangent: There is current amount of handwringing about the participation of African-Americans in “Classical Music,” for example a viral think piece by Joseph Horowitz, “New World Prophecy.” I’m sympathetic to Horowitz’s perspective here (I also admire Horowitz’s criticism in general), but I also wonder why the best American music academics and music students don’t seem to spend more time deciphering what the hell goes into the profound intellectual and virtuosic elements of something like this performance of “The Beehive.” In a way, if Live at the Lighthouse isn’t “classical music,” then nothing is “classical music.”)

The lore goes that Mabern knew every standard and many pop tunes after 1970, including most of Stevie Wonder.

His teaching at William Paterson made a profound impression on several of my peers and friends. The truth will set you free.

I hosted a lively roundtable with Joanne Brackeen, Kenny Barron, and Mabern at the 2018 Jazz Congress. Many people have told me this was an unusually successful panel, and perhaps it was. Mabern was in fine form and played a soulful blues in G at the end. The event starts 25 minutes in.