Harold Mabern is one jazz’s greatest pianists. He was born in Memphis,and studied along saxophonists such as George Coleman and Charles Lloyd, pianist Phineas Newborn Jr. and trumpeter Booker Little. He is one of the top pianists of the 1960s hard bop scene, performing and recording with many of its finest artists. Including Wayne Shorter, Miles Davis, Hubert Laws, Art Farmer, Ron Carter, Jackie McLean, Blue Mitchel, Hank Mobley and Lee Morgan.
He first met and played with Lee Morgan in 1965. It was an association that continued on and off until the night in February 1972 when Morgan was shot dead at Slug’s Saloon by his common law wife Helen Moore. Mabern was present at Slugs that night.
The song “Edward Lee” is a powerful tribute to his friendship with Morgan. One of the most amazing things about this piece is that it was written and recorded when Mabern was 82 years old, just a year before his passing in 2019. Unlike many great jazz musicians where the aging process deletes passion from their younger years (my favorite jazz musician McCoy Tyner comes to mind) the piece “Edward Lee” is evidence this never happened to Mabern. The music charges forward sounding much like something from Horace Silver in his prime. RIP Harold.
(John Fraim is the author of Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane.)
Watch a 2012 interview with Mabern by jazz bassist Jonah Jonathan.
New York Times article on Mabern.