Harold Mabern says students of jazz have to start at the beginning, and that means listening back to the genre’s most influential pioneers.
“You can’t go somewhere if you don’t know where you came from. You got to know where the music started,” the jazz pianist said.
“And that’s what I find, I mean, consistently. Everywhere I go, if I do a clinic or we do a workshop, and ask a question, ‘Who do you like on trombone?’ they’ll call everybody but J.J. Johnson. That should be the first name that comes out of your mouth.”
Mabern got his start as a jazz sideman in Chicago in the late 1950s. He soon moved to New York City where he backed up some of the greats of the modern era, like Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Johnson. He has been recording and playing music almost non-stop for the past 60 years.
On May 25, Mabern will be joined by renowned American jazz trumpeter Terell Stafford at the 12th annual Jazz Affair hosted by the Friends of Nanaimo Jazz Society at the Coast Bastion Hotel.
Society president Sue Dawson said it’s her group’s biggest fundraiser of year. She said she hopes to bring in $25,000 to support jazz education in the Nanaimo school district, including post-secondary scholarships, clinics with visiting musicians and travel to music festivals.
Mabern is self-taught, but he regrets not paying attention in music class. He said it would have given him the foundational knowledge in music theory to help find commercial work, like writing and playing TV jingles.
Instead, Mabern learned by doing. Working as an accompanist in Chicago he learned how to adjust his playing to suit different rhythm sections and band leaders.
“You learn everything,” he said.
“You learn how to be sensitive to whats going on, you learn how to not jump ahed of the beat or how to get lost in the progression of the song. So there’s a lot to do. It’s a lot of on-the-job training, as thy say. And you still learn.”
WHAT’S ON … Jazz Affair on the Coast comes to the Coast Bastion Hotel on Friday, May 25 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $65, available at the Port Theatre box office.