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Wes Montgomery and Harold Mabern

Wes Montgomery and Harold Mabern

Date Posted: April 09 2010

Written By: tim fitzgerald

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The Artistry of Wes Montgomery by Tim Fitzgerald

For the second column in this series, I'd like to talk about the part of the book that's been getting a lot of attention lately from musicians and non-musicians alike: the interview with Harold Mabern.

Harold Mabern joined Wes' quartet at the end of 1964 and is the pianist on the Jazz 625 concert. In 2006, I interviewed Mabes about his time with Wes. The following are several excerpts from the conversation. The complete interview can be found at
Visit Wes Montgomery Book for details on the book and to see transcriptions

Tim Fitzgerald: Did you join Wes’ group just for the tour or were you already in the band?
Harold Mabern: No, we were in the band for about two years off and on before the tour came up. You see, during that time, nobody flew. Wes didn’t fly. Buddy didn’t fly. Monk didn’t fly, you know? No, we had been working all over what they call the “chitlin’ circuit”, two years before the tour happened, more or less, in his Cadillac, two in the front, two in the back.

TF: In one car? With all the gear?
HM: Everything was in the trunk: drums, suitcase, everything. You couldn’t believe that. Those trunks were large trunks. I still don’t know how we did it. And we had the bass inside the car. Yeah, man… It was me and Arthur Harper and Jimmy Lovelace and at some point it was Killer Ray Appleton playing drums.

TF: Who did the driving of you four?
HM: Wes did. Wes did all the driving.

TF: Why, did he love to drive.?
HM: Wes always stayed with his car, you know? He loved to drive, yeah, but it was his car, you know?

TF: How did you four get along as people?
HM: Very well. Never any problems. I think that was the only band, one of the few bands, where there were never any problems about anything, music or anything. Everybody got along very well.

TF:: That's great because it seems like every group has got some problems.
HM: Every group has got some problems, but as I think about it, we didn’t have any problems, man, because on the bandstand, if I made a mistake, musically speaking, Wes wouldn’t holler and scream at you, he’d just look at you and smile. His thing was like, “If you don’t know you just made a mistake, that’s up to you,” you know? He’d just turn around and smile, like, “I heard that. Did you hear it?” It wasn’t a big thing to him.

TF: What if he made a mistake? What would his reaction be?
HM: Well, I didn’t hear any mistakes, as far as I’m concerned. If he made them, only he knew it. I didn’t hear it.

Now that band, now that I think about it, was also problem-free because he was very generous with the money. He paid very well, not to go in to specifics, but he paid very well when the tour started. He was not greedy at all. He was not greedy money-wise. He was not greedy musically speaking. He was a great, great human being. So that’s why when you see that tape, those things we did, that’s why the music probably sounds so good because everybody was on the same page trying to do the right thing, and it comes through the music. There a respect for each other.

Visit Wes Montgomery Book for details on the book and to see transcriptions

TF: Wes also looks so joyful on the video
HM: That was the real him. That’s the way he was. That was him. He wasn’t putting on. You know, music made him feel that way. He always said, “Mabern, you’re a bad cat.” And I’d say, “Oh, I’m just trying to keep up with you.” Those were his exact words.

You see, the music was challenging. See, it was about the music. It wasn’t about anything else. Everything he threw at me, I tried to meet the challenge. It was a challenge, too, because of the fact that keys didn’t matter to him. F# minor, F# major, Db. You’d be surprised… a lot of cats don’t play in Db even now. Or A major.

TF: So how did he show you the tunes?
HM: He’d just start playing. He’d say “Mabern, play this with me.” Now, if he had a specific thing he wanted me to play, like say maybe he wanted me to play a figure with him in unison, ok, and I’d pick it right up because of the fact that I’m self taught, always had to use my ears anyway. So I was able to pick it up. Then there’d be times when he’d say, “Mabern, you play this with me,” it might be the harmony part to what he’s playing. Sometimes he’d just play it and I’d just pick it up on my own. If he wanted unison or if he wanted harmony…whatever way, it was always a challenge.

From the book 625 Alive: The Wes Montgomery BBC Performance Transcribed by Tim Fitzgerald. The complete interview is available Visit Wes Montgomery Book for details on the book and to see transcriptions

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