Monday, May 14, 2018

"Looking East: Hank Mobley in Europe, 1968 - 1970" by Simon Spillett

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

This is a second in a series of postings about Hank Mobley, the tenor saxophonist, composer-arranger and bandleader-sideman who lived from 1930-1986.

The essay focuses on Hank’s transition to Europe where he like so many of his Jazz contemporaries would go to “live” after the American public turned away from Jazz and toward the music of the Beatles, and the classic Hard Rock era of both British and American bands and vocalists that came into vogue in the mid -1960s.

It appeared in the January 2004 edition of Jazz Journal International [JJI] and its author, Simon Spillett is himself a recognized Jazz tenor saxophonist and an authority on many of the Great Britain based players of the instrument who blossomed during the second half of the 20th century, most especially Tubby Hayes and Ronnie Scott. You can locate more information about JJI by going here.

In addition to fronting his own quartet, Simon has won several awards for his music, including the tenor saxophone category of the British Jazz Awards (2011), Jazz Journal magazine, Critic's Choice CD of the Year (2009) and Rising Star in the BBC Jazz Awards (2007).

Simon has his own website which you can visit via this link.
© -  Simon Spillett, copyright protected; all rights reserved, used with the author’s permission.

2018 introduction
The following piece was published in its original form in the English monthly magazine Jazz Journal in 2004 and has since been reproduced on the Organissimo jazz forum.
Since it first appeared, more information on Hank Mobley's European sojourn has come to light, principally through the discovery and issue of recordings made early on during his stay, taped in Holland (released on the album To One So Sweet Stay That Way, 2017). Information gleaned from this recently issued album has enabled me to amend and correct certain “facts” which were stated in my original piece. Other Mobley in Europe recordings have also recently surfaced, including an official commercial release of tapes from the Monmartre in Copenhagen, which were discussed in the course of this essay, and which we now know date to March and not April 1968 as initially thought (Hank Mobley and the Kenny Drew Trio – Blue Bossa).
YouTube is also currently featuring a live radio broadcast pairing Mobley with another American ex-pat tenor legend, Johnny Griffin, recorded in Cologne, again dating to 1968. Equally as important in fleshing out the background to Mobley's move to Europe – and his experiences away from home – John Litweiler's indispensable interview with Hank, dating to 1973, first published in DownBeat, has been uploaded to the internet. I would recommend that readers check out all the above listed “discoveries” alongside the recordings discussed in this article.
This piece was among my first published essays on jazz and, several years on, having written over a 100 sleeve notes, many other magazine articles and one full-length jazz biography, it now strikes me as a somewhat gawky early effort. Nevertheless, I've tried to resist the urge to amend too much of the original text, save  for instances where I now know I got things badly wrong or – worse still – my use of grammar and syntax was shown to be woefully underdeveloped. To this end, I'm grateful to Steven Cerra for allowing me to do what every published writer would love to do, given half the chance – go back and try to add a bit more spit and polish.
Simon Spillett
May 2018

"Lookin' East: Hank Mobley In Europe 1968-70
Simon Spillett
The circumstances of Hank Mobley's arrival in Britain in the spring of 1968 were very far from dignified. Writer John Fordham has recounted how the saxophonist had telephoned UK club owner and fellow musician Ronnie Scott - one of Mobley's most ardent admirers - from London Airport in the small hours; 'Mobley was sick, broke and physically worn out,' Fordham recounts in his biography of Scott (Jazz Man, Kyle Cathie, 1994) 'and had come to London to seek help from people that he believed appreciated him and his work'.
Shortly afterwards, in an interview with Val Wilmer, Mobley was accurately described as 'the daddy of the hard bop tenor' in recognition of the ubiquity of his influence upon many modern jazz saxophonists who had emerged since the mid-1950s. Praise for Hank's skills was not only forthcoming from fellow saxophonists. Indeed trumpeter Donald Byrd, a regular partner of Mobley's in the original Jazz Messengers co-op venture, and subsequently a frequent collaborator, spoke for many when he summed up Mobley's importance thus - 'He for me, is just as much a personality as Sonny Rollins. I mean he has so definitely established his own sound and style.'
So how had a musician once widely regarded as 'the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone', reached a point where his talent was so under-valued that he was willing to risk everything on a whimsical flee from his home country to Europe?
Mobley's experiences in the mid 1960s, as was so often the case in his foreshortened life, tell a story which is an everyman example of the circumstances in which jazz musicians so often have to live and work. They also reveal the beginnings of a tragedy, which is as sickening as any of those within the music that are better known. Late in his life, Mobley said " It's hard for me to think of what could be and what should have been. I lived with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk. I walked with them up and down the street. I did not know what it meant to when I listened to them cry - until it happened to me."
The irony of this remark is that Powell and Parker - to pick just two of jazz's prematurely departed geniuses - died as they had lived: celebrated but isolated. Mobley's demise is all the more saddening when one realises that he too died as he had lived for most of his life  - undervalued and un-appreciated, all but forgotten.
Ronnie Scott was a safe bet as a potential source of help for Mobley. In fact, he couldn't have chosen anyone more enthusiastic about his talent. As a tenorist Scott's list of favourites had long included Mobley, even as early as the mid-1950s, when few outside the Stateside jazz cognoscenti knew of his work. Scott described Mobley as 'a very warm melodic player with a good conception' and also praised his 'perfect taste'. Unsurprisingly, these qualities had a direct impact on Scott's own playing, audible during the two and a half years in which he partnered fellow tenorist Tubby Hayes in the Jazz Couriers. Hayes was another Mobley-ite, having first heard him on drummer Max Roach's recording of an unlikely jazz vehicle, 'Glow Worm' (on Roach's 10" LP, Debut DLP13). The Couriers recorded Mobley's composition 'Reunion' barely eight months after it's début on a Mobley-led Blue Note session and for a time Hank's work, especially with the Jazz Messengers, of which he was a founder member, resembled an eagerly awaited missive from which Scott and Hayes drew their inspiration.
Scott's punter-like enthusiasm for the individual talents that appeared at his club obviated any reservations about their occasional eccentricities, and although Mobley could in no way be called temperamental - if anything he was too reserved and undemonstrative – he had already given Scott and his business partner Pete King cause to worry.
The saxophonist had been due to open at the original Scott club (in London's Gerrard Street) in October 1965, but when the two Londoners had driven to pick him up at London airport he had mysteriously failed to show up. King told the Melody Maker at the time that Mobley 'had illness in his family and then apparently had passport problems.' ('Melody Maker', Oct 30 1965) to which Scott added 'our difficulty is that we didn't book him ourselves, but through a Dutch agency. It's the first time in six years that somebody has let us down.'
Mobley's call to Scott three years later showed there was no bad blood between the two, the Englishman's response to his idols plea for help was both practical and instantaneous, as John Fordham recounted in Jazz Man. Awakened by the telephone in the small hours, Scott had 'pulled on his clothes over his pyjamas, drove to the airport to pick up (Mobley) and made sure that the club took care of his accommodation and needs until he got back on his feet.'
Scott and King were, of course, in a unique position of being able to cater for Mobley's biggest and most immediate need - indeed the paramount concern of all jazz musicians - that of finding work, and they began by giving Mobley a month-long residency at Ronnie Scott's Club starting on April 22nd 1968. Besides this, King was also able to secure work for the saxophonist on the Continent, together with a less glamorous dash North for a performance at Manchester's renowned 'Club 43' venue. (One mooted rumour about Mobley's gratitude for Scott's intervention in particular, is that he rewarded Ronnie with the gift of one of his Selmer saxophones).
Inevitably, Mobley encountered the local British jazz talent – including admirers like Peter King and Tubby Hayes - but even more rewarding was his reunion with the drummer Philly Joe Jones, who had also arrived in London to little fanfare towards the end of 1967. Jones and Mobley went way back, even before both men's separate tenures with Miles Davis's band, and had appeared on each others' records, as well as those led by the likes of trumpeters Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan and pianist Elmo Hope, amongst others. Jones was sitting out the Musicians Union ban on his paid performance, a pre-requisite of an extended stay in those days of man-for-man deals and strict working permits, by teaching and authoring a drum tutor. (Most famously, he told Keith Moon, of The Who, just one of the several well known rock drummers who became his students at this time, not to bother to do anything other than what he was already doing so long as he could make the same money). Despite the embargo, Jones took to sitting in on several London gigs with musicians as diverse as the cornetist Ruby Braff and local legend Tubby Hayes, with whom he played a truly memorable night at Ronnie's, anchoring Tubby's big band like no-one else could.
It was Hayes's then regular rhythm section that accompanied Mobley on his stint at Scott's. Such was the ad-hoc nature of the gig, Mobley and pianist Mike Pyne, bassist Ron Mathewson and drummer Tony Levin hadn't had time for any rehearsal and, perhaps inevitably, the opening night's results were less than spectacular, as the Melody Maker's Bob Dawbarn noted in the paper's April 27 issue. 'If he didn't catch fire on opening night, there is no doubt that he will - and lovers of first class modern tenor playing should be there when he does.' (Mike Pyne later remembered that Mobley was playing very lethargically for most of the first week of the gig, telling his friend and colleague, drummer Spike Wells, that “Uncle Hank” came trundling along after the rhythm section even further behind than Dexter [Gordon]”)
The Melody Maker's Val Wilmer interviewed Mobley at some length during his tenure at Ronnie's, and the resulting article, which appeared in the May 11 edition, under the already noted by-line of 'The Daddy of the Hard Bop Tenor', was, incredibly, the first in depth interview with Hank that had been published in any music journal. Although he'd been a professional musician since the early 1950s, and had featured prominently in several of the pace-setting bands of the era, even the prestigious Down Beat magazine had failed to capture his thoughts in print, leaving it until 1973 to publish a revealing interview conducted by John Litweiler, by which point Mobley was well into a career nosedive.
Wilmer was especially interested in the evolution of Mobley's playing, which had moved on from the velvet-toned grace of his late 1950s/early 1960s work on albums such as Soul Station and Roll Call, into a harder, more clipped delivery, readily discernible during his Scott's engagement. Mobley was unsentimental – both he and and the compositions he was now playing reflected the times. 'Mobley hesitates to compare what he is playing today with the music of yesteryear', wrote Wilmer, the saxophonist observing ''They (the tunes) are so different. I like to play anything that makes sense and that moves and is not restricted. You might say 'half-free', 'three-quarters free', something like that."
Indications of Mobley's movement towards a fresher and more daring mode of expression are peppered throughout the article. He names altoist Jackie McLean and tenorist Archie Shepp as his two closest musical associates, both players who had moved beyond the realms of Hard Bop constriction, and, of a still younger generation of improvisers, he commented: 'They have their direction to play, I have mine. I don't think theirs is complete and mine certainly isn't,' adding that if a musician took the rules of music and 'change[d] them all around and try to reach the people also, that's like freedom with a little restriction.' Illustrating this further he cited both his former boss Miles Davis and his friend the late John Coltrane as successful examples of this outward bound but still saleable sensibility: 'Trane had roots from bottom to top, he always had something to stem from.'
Mobley ended the interview with a debatable declaration, a protestation that 'I am, as you say, always a leader.' In fact, to English fans, he appeared to be anything but, being known mainly as one of modern jazz's quintessential sidemen, principally in the bands of Max Roach, Miles Davis, Horace Silver and Art Blakey (there were also other shorter and less celebrated stays with Duke Ellington, Tadd Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk) as well being a ubiquitous voice on recordings by virtually all the leading black modernists in New York.  
But even as one of the finest Hard Bop musicians – and as one who almost subversively defined the style for legions of other tenorists - Mobley was nevertheless never destined to be a major star, much less 'a leader'. As a consequence of his reputation as a 'musicians' musician', he was to suffer critical neglect and a much lower profile than he deserved, if only among the movers and shakers within the business end of jazz. His tone, which he himself had famously described as 'not a small sound, or a big sound, but a round sound,'  and his ability to conjure labyrinthine lyrical improvisations may well have impressed fellow players, but by the mid-1960s, with far noisier and less subtle players dominating the landscape, Mobley was increasing danger of being wholly overlooked.
This undervalued status was made doubly galling by the fact that his artistic peak - around 1960-63 -  came just at the time when the twin peaks of tenor modernism – John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins -were creating some of their most ear-grabbing music on albums like Live at The Village Vanguard and Our Man In Jazz, music which had a more overtly musical demeanour and seemed to demand you listen. Set besides these stream-of-consciousness outpourings, Mobley's playing was more sidelong and seductive. It took time to get his message, and in the early 1960s, time in the jazz world was hurtling by, the music beginning to resort to some very hard and fast tactics to attract attention. Only the patient kept track of Mobley.
However, Mobley himself was also keeping pace with current jazz developments and he credited the influence of Coltrane, Rollins's and Davis's experiments during these years as altering his outlook considerably. In simplistic times, Hard Bop had evolved to incorporate modal music, largely through Miles' and Coltrane's work at the close of the 1950s, and the two, taken together with the increasingly less peripheral influence of the Avant-Garde caused the fabric of Mobley's music to become spikier and harder. Out went the yielding, sighing grace of yore, replaced by a  tougher tone (albeit one that was still a great deal gentler than either Rollins's or Trane's) and an extremely overt renegotiation of his rhythmic skills. He also began to concentrate far more upon composing, and his themes began to incorporate more experimental structures, both in terms of their length and in their harmonic and metric complexity.
The saxophonist's exclusive (and frequent) recording activities under his contract to Blue Note Records made it possible for listeners to hear the changes taking place in almost stroboscopic fashion. 1963's No Room For Squares (Blue Note BST 84149), with its hip modal and funk grooves, was the first real on-record indication of these alterations, a pattern more or less repeated on albums like The Turnaround and Dippin'.
The records which Mobley recorded in the year preceding his flight to Europe (not all of which were released at the time), reveal the full extent of his stylistic rejuvenation, as well as the dichotomy of pushing the music further whilst still trying to score a commercial bulls-eye. 1967's Third Season (Blue Note LT-1081) contains some of the saxophonist's most ambitious writing and performing on themes like the whole-tone based title track and was, perhaps as a result, destined to remain unissued until 1980. On this and the other albums recorded during this time, the base of Mobley's sidemen was broadening out from the largely Davis and Blakey-associated pool he'd long favoured. By 1968 he had recorded with McCoy Tyner, Andrew Hill, John Hicks, Cedar Walton, Woody Shaw, James Spaulding and Herbie Hancock, all musicians who had were seeking various ways in which to move beyond the Hard Bop convention. The final album which Mobley recorded before his European self-exile, Reach Out! (Blue Note BST 84288, taped in January 1968) is a contradictory one, in that it has authentic hard blowing vehicles utilising modes and structural variation nestling somewhat uncomfortably with the tenorist's covers of recent pop hits, such as 'Goin' Out Of My Head' and the title cut. The title of one of Mobley's own themes on the album, 'Lookin' East', suggests that he may have already been thinking of Europe and its tales of a black jazz musicians paradise.
London audiences weren't exactly a push-over though, as was revealed when Mobley featured  - all too briefly - at a Melody Maker's All-Star Jazz concert at the Royal Festival Hall on a bill which also included the altoist Phil Woods. Reviewer Bob Dawbarn found Mobley's contribution 'slightly disappointing' and remarked that 'like Lester Young in his later days, he throws out the bones of an idea and seems to become bored halfway through its development and moves onto another fragment. The result is a sort of edited version of the Mobley one knows on record and I find it a little disconcerting' (Melody Maker, May 25, 1968).
This new-found economy is well in evidence on the handful of recordings that Mobley made whilst on the continental Europe during 1969. Taped in Paris in July of that year, The Flip (Blue Note BST 84329) has him and fellow ex-patriots trombonist Slide Hampton and Philly Joe Jones, together with the Jamaican trumpeter Dizzy Reece, tackling a programme that is archetypal Blue Note. In fact, the resulting album is actually far better than its apparent 'lets throw some American jazz players in France together' rationale and it contains some of Mobley's best latter-day writing in 'Feelin' Folksy' and 'Snappin' Out', two indelibly catchy themes which should be more widely known. His playing too, in that 'edited' manner, is engaging throughout, as is that of his front-line partners, especially Reece. A notoriously patchy performer, the trumpeter is in fine form, returning the favour that Hank had given when he partnered Dizzy on his first US taped Blue Note album, Star Bright in 1959 (Blue Note BST 84023).
The following month, Mobley participated in the marathon recording sessions that Archie Shepp was taping for the BYG label in Paris, which pulled together a highly unlikely (and probably highly volatile) cast of ex-pat Americans then resident in the French capital. Two items featuring Mobley in a two-tenor front-line with Shepp were recorded; a brief version of Sonny Rollins's 'Oleo' and a longer exploration of trombonist Grachan Moncur III's 'Sonny's Back', dedicated to Rollins. Both flesh out the musical bones of Mobley's earlier observation that “me and Archie are good friends but play that way!'
The latter track (issued on the album Yasmina - A Black Woman) is the more revealing performance. In an engrossing case of role reversal, Mobley, for all his good intentions, is virtually taken apart by Shepp; whereas the older man sounds to all intents and purposes like he is starting from where John Coltrane left off, Shepp plays his trump card by echoing mid-fifties Rollins in a beautifully integrated solo which succeeds in mixing Hard-Bop know-how with New-Thing radicalism. Throughout, Philly Joe Jones  also gives a noisy reminder that the US's loss was Europe's gain, and his rhythm section partners, the bassist Malachi Favors (of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, then domiciled in France) and pianist Dave Burrell form the loosest of unions.
While in Europe, Mobley's name was also linked to an album project that, had it gone ahead as originally planned, could well have created a classic. According to an interview with the British saxophonist Peter King which appeared in the Melody Maker on October 5, 1968, the American was to have appeared on the session taped at London's Trident Studio led by Philly Joe Jones, which featured local musicians such as King, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and Mike Pyne. Recorded by producer Alan Bates, the set eventually surfaced on his Black Lion label as Trailways Express (Black Lion Select 2460 142) in 1971, a delay that suggests that the legal niceties of contracts and the like were a stumbling block in its issue. Although it has not been confirmed it seems likely that Mobley didn't appear as planned owing to a failure to get a contractural release from Blue Note, his place being taken by the West Indian saxophonist and flautist Harold McNair (this session can now be heard on CD as Mo' Joe, Black Lion BCC 760 154).
Jones and Mobley made an effective double-act all over Europe as the decade drew to a close, working such venues as Paris's 'Le Chat Qui Peche'. Mobley had also hooked up with the large community of American jazz musicians living and working in Scandinavia, including his early stylistic mentor Dexter Gordon (who had given him the nick-name 'Hankenstein'). Gordon was undoubtedly the most prominent of a wave of US players who had found a spiritual home (and a willing audience) at Copenhagen's legendary Monmartre Club, an especially convivial base for warm sounding tenor saxophonists which had also hosted lengthy residencies by Ben Webster, Brew Moore and Don Byas, besides Gordon. Part of the reason for the venue's success, and for the comfort of its playing guests, was the resident rhythm section, which featured emigre's pianist Kenny Drew and drummer Albert 'Tootie' Heath, together with the phenomenally talented Danish bassist Niels Henning Orsted Pederson, then still a teenager, whose tender years had proven to be the only impasse preventing him joining Count Basie's band.
Mobley and Drew were no strangers as the saxophonist had performed on two of the pianist's albums. Indeed, Drew was something of an ideal accompanist for Mobley, sharing as he did some of the tenorist's lyricism. Together with Tootie Heath and Pederson, he is present on a bootleg tape that has circulated among collectors of Mobley at the Monmartre, allegedly taped sometime in April 1968 (see 2018 introduction).
Of Mobley's European recordings these are by far the most revealing, finding him stretching out in a manner quite unlike his studio recordings. As on his engagement in London, he opted for playing mostly his own themes, each of which receives a lengthy exploration, sometimes three times as long as the Blue Note originals. There is a revisit to 'Workout', initially heard on the eponymously titled album from 1961 (Blue Note BST 84080) and which was all but a feature number for Philly Joe Jones. The Monmartre version finds Heath in the prescribed role and carrying it off with aplomb. 'Third Time Around', with its unique stop-start melody, was first recorded in February 1965 (a version that went unreleased until 1986) but was ultimately included on Mobley's 1966 LP  A Caddy For Daddy (Blue Note BST 84230). There is also an attractive look at a then recent Mobley theme 'Up, Over and Out', taken from the Reach Out! album.
The tapes are fairly low-fi, but Mobley's committed playing shines through nevertheless, as do his intermittent verbal reproofs to his accompanists on 'Third Time Around', who seem oddly tethered by the alternating rhythms rather than inspired by them. Also heard are Mobley's covers of Kenny Dorham's 'Blue Bossa', Sonny Rollins 'Airegin', Monk's 'Rhythm-a-Ning' and 'Blue Monk' and, as the solitary ballad, a gorgeous return to the standard 'Alone Together', which Mobley had described as one of his favourite themes when he recorded it on the Jazz Messengers Cafe Bohemia session in November 1955 (Blue Note BLP 1507). As the Monmartre had its own recording facilities (albums by Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon and Don Byas are just some of those taped at the club during this period) one can imagine that somewhere better quality source tapes of these Mobley sets exist and that one day they will be remastered and issued. They are certainly worthy of issue, containing as they do prime examples of the new directions that Hank pursued late in his career. (These performances have indeed been commercially released – see introductory note).
Hank Mobley remained in Europe until early 1970, working in France, West Germany and Scandinavia, as well as in countries less likely to be encountered as jazz stop-overs, such as Poland and Yugoslavia. His final Blue Note recording – eventually issued as Thinking of Home -, made back in the USA shortly after his return, featured a quintet with Woody Shaw and Cedar Walton, playing a three-part composition entitled 'Suite' which attempted to musically encapsulate Mobley's European experience. The third theme from this work, 'Home at Last', is one of Hank's most beguiling compositions, a bossa-ballad which, in part, reworks thematic and harmonic material which made up an earlier Mobley theme, 'Bossa For Baby' (heard on Far Away Lands, Blue Note BST 84367), I believe ranks with his earlier work on the label. It displays a player totally in command of a revised mode of expression and who should have gone on to much wider acclaim. The time was certainly right: Sonny Rollins was, once more, in self-imposed retirement from performing, and John Coltrane's death three years previously had robbed jazz of a single dominant saxophone voice. But fate again played Mobley a cruel hand with 'Thinking of Home' destined to remain unheard until the late 1970s when it was initially released only in Japan, by which time any service it could have given Mobley would have been a case of too little too late.
Mobley's final recording came in February 1972 when the group he co-led with pianist and composer Cedar Walton - which worked under the somewhat overblown umbrella title of Artistry In Music - made a single album for Don Schlitten's Cobblestone label, Breakthrough (Cobblestone CST 9011 - on CD as 32 Jazz 32148). Mobley is represented by two compositions, 'Early Morning Stroll' which debuted on The Flip and the title cut, another ex-Blue Note tune initially recorded for the album Dippin' (Blue Note BST 84209), and has an impassioned feature on 'Summertime', appended by an introduction that is the “written” theme of 'The Flight' from Thinking of Home. Mobley plays with a hard-bitten commitment that is surprising for a performer whose career was about to go into total eclipse. But, by the time the album was issued, Mobley was already into the decline which ended ultimately in his death.
The terrible events of Mobley's final years, from his respiratory issues to his dental problems, to his financial difficulties and an utterly degrading period on the streets, have been detailed elsewhere previously, most notably in the writings of John Litweiler. The fact that these dramas all happened to a musician who had successful beaten his demons makes them all the more tragic. One could ultimately talk of Mobley having paid the highest price for his involvement with the jazz life – having got clean of the nefarious addictions that were often central to the music during his lifetime, their after-effects never left him. Indeed, at arms length, it is easy to coldly rationalize that Mobley – like Parker, Powell and Navarro - brought about his own eventual decline and to cast him off with the countless other souls within jazz who self-destructed and burned themselves out after all too brief periods of brilliance. One can also view the flipside of this cynically tossed coin and ask, in Hank's own words, 'what should have been' , particularly if he had remained in Europe instead of returning to the country which brought about his destruction. Would he have eventually returned triumphant as did his friend Dexter Gordon in the late 1970s, emerging from an acoustic jazz limbo to claim his crown as a leader of a jazz renaissance? The answer is probably not. In fact, the final recording of him -  a single track taped with pianist Tete Montoliu in the early 1980s – makes for truly awkward listening. That once glorious tone has gone, the once super-fluent rhythmic sleight-of-hand broken down, almost to the point of embarrassment.
All this postulation, of course, serves no real purpose save that of diverting attention from Mobley's sickeningly premature death, at the age of 55, in 1986. At the time of writing (2003), had he lived, Hank would be 73 years younger, three years older than Wayne Shorter and approximately the same age as Sonny Rollins, both of whom remain musically active.
Mobley's European episode began with his 'Lookin' East' and ended with his being 'Home At Last'. The jazz scene to which he returned was falling apart, divided into pieces by elements foreign to the lifeblood of the mainstream of the music, in much the same way as we now face an eclipse of the music by all manner of ephemeral performers. Like Lester Young in his later days, Mobley saw it all through world-weary eyes. 'Sometimes I look on the worst side of things,' he once said. His music, however, had rarely betrayed such cynicism. As one fellow saxophonist recently put it, more often that not it had 'celebrated the joy of life.'
With that in mind, it strikes me that Mobley might well be a perfect role model for anyone seeking to distil jazz to its essence – that is a music which transcends circumstance, environment and personal tribulations in order to uplift and inspire. Surely that alone qualifies Hank Mobley - albeit posthumously - to the front rank of jazz players in his, or any other, era."

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a great review of my favorite saxophonist. I do take issue though, with your evaluation of the track with Tete Montoliu, ‘Autumn Leaves’, which doesn’t show off as anything objectionable, but rather as an example of Mobley’s music largely intact, the tone now being back to an earlier ideal.


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