Presented By Learning From Performers
Tenor saxophonist George Coleman and pianist Harold Mabern natives of Memphis, Tennessee, whose distinctive hard bop sound incorporates influences from rhythm and blues, gospel and blues will discuss their careers during a public conversation moderated by Ingrid Monson, Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music. Co-sponsored by the Harvard Jazz Bands. Coleman and Mabern are the guest performers in Memphis Giants, a tribute concert featuring the Harvard Jazz Bands on Saturday, April 18 at 8 pm, Sanders Theatre. Visit the OFA's Jazz Program page [http://ofa.fas.harvard.edu/music/memphisgiants.php] for more information.
GEORGE COLEMAN taught himself to play the alto saxophone and in 1952, at the age of 17, he got his first big break with blues guitarist B.B. King, touring and recording with him for several years. In 1956, Coleman 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, requiring Coleman to relocate to New York City. In 1959, he signed on with trombonist Slide Hampton's octet, which afforded Coleman opportunities to tour Europe for the first time and develop his composing and arranging skills. In 1963, Miles Davis tapped him for his ground-breaking quintet that included Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (bass), and Tony Williams (drums). In addition to the group's four classic albums, Coleman also played on Hancock's landmark Blue Note recording, Maiden Voyage.
After leaving Davis group, from 1964-74 Coleman freelanced as a composer and arranger for various musicians, such as Betty Carter, Chet Baker, Lionel Hampton, Lee Morgan, Elvin Jones, Charles Mingus, and Cedar Walton. He 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 and in prestigious concert halls and top clubs around the United States and in Europe. He continues to perform, usually with his son George, Jr. on drums.
During the past 30 years, Coleman also has made a name for himself as a jazz educator, holding 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. A winner of numerous honors and awards, Coleman has twice been presented the Key to the City of Memphis. In 1997, he received the Jazz Foundation of America's Life Achievement Award, and in 2012, he was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame. Last year, Coleman was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts.
HAROLD MABERN attended Manassas High School with fellow Memphis jazz artists George Coleman, Booker Little, and Frank Strozier, and after an early attempt at playing the drums, he taught himself piano and fell under the spell of pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. Along with several other Memphis musicians, Mabern moved to Chicago 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 (which also featured George Coleman), 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, 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 with whom he recorded the classic album, Dippin (1965) and also Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, and Joe Williams (1966-67). Mabern also played in a quartet with guitarist 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, 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.
Photo Credit: Mabern photo (below) by Alan Nahigian