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Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern (born March 20, 1936 in Memphis, Tennessee) is a hard bop and soul jazz pianist.

Mabern was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee – a city that’s a capital of 20th century American music. Like fellow Memphis jazz artists George Coleman, Booker Little, and Frank Strozier, Mabern attended Manassas High School, and after an early attempt at playing the drums, he taught himself piano and fell under the spell of pianist Phineas Newborn Jr., an influence that would shape and linger with Mabern for the rest of his life.

Along with some other Memphis musicians, Mabern moved to Chicago in in 1954 where he soon found work backing up tenor sax players Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons and Clifford Jordon. He also gained further influence from studying with pianist Ahmad Jamal and played in the hardbop group MJT + 3 before going on to New York City in 1959. “Chicago gave me the stuff I needed—and the confidence,” he recalled in 1987. “New York refined my stuff and it’s still doing it.”

One of his earliest significant gigs was an 18-month stay with Art Farmer and Benny Golson’s Jazztet. After the Jazztet disbanded, Mabern worked with Jimmy Forrest, Lionel Hampton, Donald Byrd and did a brief stint with Miles Davis in 1963. He worked with J.J. Johnson (1963-65), Lee Morgan (1965) and Hank Mobley - recording the album Dippin’ - Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, and Joe Williams (1966-67). Mabern also played in a quartet with guitarist Wes Montgomery.

In more recent years, he has toured and recorded extensively with his former William Paterson University student, the tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. To date, Mabern and Alexander have appeared on over twenty CDs together. A longtime faculty member at William Paterson University since 1981, Mabern is also a frequent instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.

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