Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern Jr. (March 20, 1936 – September 17, 2019) was an American jazz pianist and composer, principally in the hard bop, post-bop, and soul jazz fields. He is described in The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings as “one of the great post-bop pianists”.

Mabern was born in Memphis, Tennessee on March 20, 1936. He initially started learning drums before switching to learning piano. He had access to a piano from his teens, after his father, who worked in a lumber yard, saved to buy him one. Mabern learned by watching and emulating pianists Charles Thomas and Phineas Newborn Jr. Mabern attended Douglass High School, before transferring to Manassas High School; he played with saxophonists Frank Strozier, George Coleman and trumpeter Booker Little at this time, but was most influenced by Newborn, Jr. In 1954, after graduating, Mabern moved to Chicago, intending to attend the American Conservatory of Music. He was unable to afford to attend music college because of a change in his parents’ financial circumstances, but had private lessons there for six months and developed his reading ability by playing with trombonist Morris Ellis’ big band. He also developed by listening to Ahmad Jamal and others in clubs, and “playing and practicing 12 hours a day” for the next five years, but he remained self-taught as a pianist. Mabern went on to play with Walter Perkins‘ MJT + 3 and others in Chicago.

Mabern learned orchestration techniques from bassist Bill Lee, and comping and chord voicing from pianists Chris Anderson and Billy Wallace.

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