July 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hank Mobley!

Soul StationHank Mobley, born on this date in 1930, was a hard bop tenor saxophonist with a relaxed and melodic style. Instead of the hard-edged playing tone common at the time, he had a more sinewy sound, at least in the early and middle part of his career. Mobley himself described it thus: “not a big sound, not a small sound, just a round sound.” But he was a consistently interesting and inventive saxophonist with an assured ebullience in his playing. Despite a prolific recording career, his somewhat laid-back playing made him an under-appreciated musician and an underrated saxophone player compared to many of his peers.
     He was born in Georgia but grew up near Newark, New Jersey. Early on, he worked with Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie, and he also appeared on the landmark recording Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (1955). Other appearances as a sideman in the 1950s included dates with Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Curtis Fuller, and Sonny Clark.
     Mobley is mainly remembered for his twenty or so albums for Blue Note Records as a leader, starting in 1955. These included some classic dates that epitomized the Blue Note sound of the era, including Soul Station and Roll Call (1960), Workout and Another Workout (1961), and The Turnaround and Dippin’ (1965). One of my favorite tunes from the period is “Dig Dis” from Soul Station, which displays the kind of tasty, cool groove that Mobley could achieve. He stopped playing in the 1970s because of lung problems and he died of pneumonia in 1986.

1 comment:

  1. Love Mobley; one of the tenor players whose tone is recognizable right away. I have to disagree with you about his tone, which I think was on the hard-edged end of the spectrum. And his playing was assured, yes, but not relaxed. That's how I hear him.