2015 Spring Concert: Memphis Jazz Giants

Spring 2015: "Memphis Jazz Giants," with George Coleman and Harold Mabern

George Coleman & Harold Mabern


Tenor saxophonist George Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern will be featured in "Memphis Jazz Giants," a concert with the Harvard Jazz Bands, on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8 PM at Sanders Theatre.

Emceed by Memphis native and WGBH radio and television journalist Callie Crossley, "Memphis Jazz Giants" will feature compositions by Coleman and Mabern, who have been named Harvard University Jazz Masters in Residence. The concert will also include repertory by leading artists associated with the city’s legendary and varied music scene.

Friday, April 17, 2015 at 4 PM: A Conversation with Coleman and Mabern, moderated by Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music, at Barker Center for the Humanities.

Saturday, April 18, 2015 at 8 PM: "Memphis Jazz Giants," concert featuring the Harvard Jazz bands, tenor saxophonist George Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern sponsored by the Office for the Arts at Harvard and Harvard Jazz Bands (Mark Olson and Don Braden ’85, conductors). Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St., Cambridge, MA.

George Coleman and Harold Mabern grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and attended Manassas High School, along with Booker Little, Frank Strozier, and Hank Crawford. Their distinctive performance style, “hard bop,” a subgenre of jazz that is an extension of bebop (or “bop”) music, incorporated influences from blues, rhythm and blues, and gospel. Bassist Jamil Nasser, piano great Phineas Newborn Jr., and blues immortal B.B. King were also part of the city’s rich musical environment in the late 1940s and early 50s.

Coleman got his first big break touring and recording with guitarist B.B. King for several years, and in 1956 he moved to Chicago and joined Walter Perkins’ group MJT+3. Two years later he attracted the attention of drummer Max Roach and was offered a position in his band, and in 1959 he signed on with trombonist Slide Hampton’s octet. Four years later Miles Davis tapped him for his groundbreaking quintet that initially included schoolmates Mabern and Strozier, and later Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums).

After leaving Davis’ group, Coleman freelanced from 1964-74 as a composer and arranger, then began to focus on his own groups, working in quartet, quintet, and octet settings, and adding the soprano saxophone to his instrument repertoire. Coleman has played at festivals, prestigious concert halls, and top clubs around the United States and Europe. During the past 30 years, he has held teaching positions at Mannes College The New School for Music, Long Island University, and New York University, in addition to conducting master classes at universities nationwide. In 1997 he received the Jazz Foundation of America’s Life Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Coleman will become a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master, the nation’s highest honor in jazz, the day after his Harvard residency.

Harold Mabern moved to Chicago in 1954 where he soon found work backing up tenor sax players Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons and Clifford Jordon. He gained further influence from studying with pianist Ahmad Jamal and, like George Coleman, played in the hardbop group MJT + 3 before going on to New York City in 1959. One of Mabern’s 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, and Donald Byrd, and did a brief stint with Miles Davis in 1963. He also worked with J.J. Johnson, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Williams and Wes Montgomery.

Between 1968-70 Mabern led four albums for Prestige, the first being “A Few Miles From Memphis” with a line-up that featured George Coleman. As the 1970s began, Mabern became a key member of Lee Morgan’s working group and appeared on several live and studio recordings made by the trumpeter before his death in 1972. In 1971 he played on Stanley Turrentine’s “The Sugar Man” and, in 1973, “Don’t Mess With Mr. T.” In 1972 he recorded with Stanley Cowell’s Piano Choir. In more recent years, Mabern has toured and recorded extensively with his former William Paterson University student, tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. A faculty member at William Paterson University since 1981, Mabern is also a frequent instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.