The Smoke Sessions label has just announced the passing of Memphis-born pianist Harold Mabern at the age of 83 on 19 September.
A list of just some of the people in whose bands he worked speaks for itself: Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Wes Montgomery, Harry Edison (who gave him his first job), Archie Shepp, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, J. J. Johnson, Hank Mobley, Max Roach, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean,…
I did a 2014 interview I did with him prior to an appearance at Ronnie Scott’s. He talked through his time playing with Wes Montgomery, and also some of the albums he played on that were of significance to him.
What I remember above all from that conversation, however, was his essential modesty. Although his was the name on the bill, he insisted that the trio was drummer Joe Farnsworth’s. And when I tried to get him to talk about his extraordinary, rhythmically strong, percussive touch, he deflected. “Your touch on the piano is like no one else’s,” his response was: “That’s because I listened to the right people, I listened Phineas Newborn Jr. and Ahmad Jamal, plus perhaps God-given talent. If I have a touch…. I appreciate the compliment but I never think about it like that . I just play the best way I can whenever I play.”
He taught for decades at William Patterson College but would describe himself, as ever self-effacingly, as an “advanced student” rather than a teacher. It has been a very great privilege to have heard him live in the past few years. In sadness.
Obituary from Memphis Commercial Appeal
An extraordinary talent and a wonderful human being. May he rest in peace, as we remember him.
Very sad news about Harold Mabern’s passing. Anyone who made it into Ben Sidran’s song ‘Piano Players’ was very much a key figure in jazz. I reviewed one of his last recordings from November 2017 on this site, the New York All-Stars Burnin’ In London, recorded live at Pizza Express. https://londonjazznews.com/2018/08/10/cd-review-new-york-all-stars-featuring-eric-alexander-and-harold-mabern-burnin-in-london/
He was my beloved, treasured teacher and, I like to think, my friend for 33 years. His passing leaves us all bereft. We will not see his like again.
He was my teacher for many years. He was the most generous man, and perhaps the kindest, I have ever known. He was unfailingly modest. He was a prince of a human being. I am sunk in grief.
A great heart. And that touch! – he had the softest hands. When you shook hands with him, it was such an enveloping warmth that you just wanted to stay there. And yet, what he did to those keyboards!
Where is a New York Times obituary?????!!!!!
Heard him in several contexts.
However, above all it is uncanny how he made the piano sometimes sound like a vibraphone in his collaborations with Wes Montgomery, who had come from a sibling partnership with his brother Monk, the vibraphonist.