Harold Mabern

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn,” Eden Ahbez wrote in “Nature Boy,” his classic song, “is just to love and be loved in return.” That may not be something that pianist Harold Mabern has taught in the classroom during his decades as an influential educator, but it’s certainly a lesson that he’s passed on time and again by example. On his latest album, To Love and Be Loved, Mabern is joined by a multi-generational band that brings together one of his legendary peers with some of his most acclaimed former students – all of whom play with the same love and respect that Mabern has shared with them over the years.

Due out August 25 on Smoke Sessions Records, Mabern’s To Love and Be Loved reunites Mabern with 88-year-old drumming legend Jimmy Cobb, with whom he first played in Miles Davis’s band during a brief but memorable stint in 1963. The rhythm section is completed by the impeccably swinging bassist Nat Reeves, while the frontline features Mabern’s prize student and frequent collaborator Eric Alexander on tenor saxophone and, on three tracks, another Mabern protégé, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. Master percussionist Cyro Baptista completes the line-up with a performance on the opening track.

To Love and Be Loved takes its name not from the “Nature Boy” line quoted above (à propos as it may be), but from a rarely revived Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Cahn tune written for the classic 1958 film Some Came Running. Originally performed by Frank Sinatra in a lush Nelson Riddle arrangement, the song was nominated for an Oscar but hasn’t been a major part of the jazz songbook since. Long a fan of the song, Mabern was determined to record it, albeit with a completely different feel. In the rendition that opens the album, the sweeping ballad is transformed into an up-tempo number with a slight bossa nova feel.

While he learned most valuable lessons the old-fashioned way – on the bandstand – Mabern has endeavored to pass along similar experiences to his students during his remarkable 36-year tenure at William Paterson University. The results speak for themselves – a partial list of graduates who’ve come under his tutelage include, in addition to Alexander and Hendrix, Tyshawn Sorey, Joe Farnsworth, Bill Stewart, Johnathan Blake, Roxy Coss and Mark Guiliana.

“The way I teach, you have to learn by using your ears, the way Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie did,” Mabern explains. “This music didn’t come from the school; this music comes from the streets. School is just an enhancement.”

True to his determination not to draw a line between educational and practical experience, Mabern approached To Love and Be Loved in the same way. The recording date followed a weekend of performances at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club, the label’s namesake venue, with little planned in the way of repertoire and no music on the stands. The things that worked live, including Hendrix’s impromptu appearance with the band, were carried into the studio, though only the title track, Hendrix’s arrangement of Lee Morgan’s “The Gigolo,” and Mabern’s radically revised “I Get a Kick Out of You,” were decided on beforehand.

With musicians this skilled, little more is needed. The most important common element, Mabern notes, comes from yet another quotation, this one better known in jazz circles – “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing.”

“There’s two things you can’t teach in this business,” Mabern states. “You can’t teach people how to swing, and you can’t teach people how to play the blues. You can write notes down and you can demonstrate, but if they don’t have the internal instincts to do it, it’s not going to work. Jimmy Cobb likes to swing. Eric Alexander likes to swing. Nat Reeves has a beautiful, big beat, and he likes to swing. We’re what you might call traditionalists. That’s the thing that made it such a joy.”

Whether taken at a gentle, loping pace on “If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You” or a simmer on “The Gigolo,” whether blazing through McCoy Tyner’s fierce “Inner Glimpse” or strolling vigorously on Alexander’s “The Iron Man,” swing is the force that binds this album together. The on-the-spot repertoire spans an elegant “My Funny Valentine” and a blues-saturated version of Gene Ammons’ “Hittin’ the Jug.” Mabern takes a solo turn with Bobby Timmons’ “Dat Dere,” while he and Cobb reminisce on their Miles days on a welcome “So What.”

In discussing his reimaging of classic tunes and the inspiration for the album, Mabern quotes an unlikely mentor for a jazz musician: Albert Einstein. The famed physicist once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Mabern took that message to heart, letting his own imagination run free on his new release,

To Love and Be Loved.

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Smoke Sessions Records Releases Harold Mabern’s
Afro Blue as Limited Edition 180 Gram Double LP 
to Celebrate Esteemed Pianist’s 80th Birthday

Three Nights of Performances at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club
to Celebrate Vinyl Release and Landmark Birthday:
Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20

“…an endlessly soulful hard-bopper…” – The New York Times

Smoke Sessions Records is set to release Harold Mabern’s latest album, Afro Blue, as a limited edition 180 gram double LP on Friday, March 11. This special release, which was mastered by renowned mastering engineer Kevin Gray, was pressed at Memphis Record Pressing and includes a tip-on gatefold album jacket. 
Three nights at Smoke Jazz & Supper Club will support the release and celebrate the esteemed pianist’s 80th birthday from Friday, March 18 through Sunday, March 20 with a rotating lineup of special guests. On Friday, Mabern will be joined by vocalist Kurt Elling, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Strasser; Saturday will feature guitarist Russell Malone, bassist John Webber and drummer Jimmy Cobb; and on Sunday by he will be joined by tenor saxophonist George Coleman, bassist Bob Cranshaw and drummer Joe Farnsworth.  
With Afro Blue, his second album for Smoke Sessions Records, Harold Mabern has taken a compelling new angle on his exceptionally creative musical vision. But for those who are truly familiar with this extraordinary pianist’s talents, it is a project that is long overdue. While he may be best known for his powerful playing while soloing or driving so many of jazz’ finest hornmen to spectacular heights of fire and thunder, Mabern has enjoyed a reputation among vocalists as one of the music’s most sensitive and stimulating accompanists for more than 50 years – ever since his early days playing with the unparalleled Betty Carter.
On this album, Mabern has selected five of his favorite vocalists — who also just happen to be some of the most popular and respected singers on today’s scene — and is featuring them as special guests in the company of his own outstanding ensemble. Gregory Porter, Norah Jones, Jane Monheit, Kurt Elling and Alexis Cole perform individually alongside Mabern’s regular ensemble of Eric Alexander on tenor sax and the bass/drums tandem of John Webber and Joe Farnsworth; plus additional guests, trombonist Steve Turre and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on four and six tracks respectively, and eminent guitarist Peter Bernstein on one track as well.
“I love to play for singers,” explains the pianist. “I feel honored and flattered that these wonderful vocalists would want to be part of my little project. I feel good when singers say they love the way you play. That’s a very special compliment.”

Despite the wide variety of personnel, the album is fully cohesive and artfully conceived, with Mabern’s soulful, blues-rooted style of piano expression as its radiant nucleus. The repertoire of 14 pieces is a fascinating assemblage of standards, jazz classics, Mabern originals and a couple of unexpected contemporary hit songs – all performed in captivating fashion and constructed upon marvelous arrangements. Of the four Mabern originals, three are dedications to jazz immortals.
Dazzling vocal artistry, impeccable musicianship, imaginative soloing, and that elusive substance of true synergy focused by the singular vision of a brilliant artist make Afro Blue a truly special experience. For Harold Mabern, whose enormous accomplishments as a leader are sometimes eclipsed by his reputation for helping so many Jazz heavyweights realize their own musical visions, Afro Blue is further testimony to his own legend.
“Afro Blue” was recorded live in New York at Sear Sound’s Studio C on a Sear-Avalon
custom console at 96KHz/24bit and mixed to ½” analog tape using a 
tuder mastering deck. Available in audiophile HD format. 

Harold Mabern · Afro Blue (limited edition double LP)
Smoke Sessions Records  ·  Release Date: March 11, 2016

For more information on Harold Mabern, please visit HaroldMabern.JazzGiants.net
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“Mabern’s soulful, blues-driven style is the constant highlight.” – WBGO

“Even without the wind at his back, Mabern, if true to form, will sound like an ocean roar as he performs…” – Owen McNally, WNPR

“Mabern is at the top of his game. His solos are rich and filled with wit.” – Jack Goodstein, Seattlepi

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