Featuring Harold Mabern, Modern Mainstream Swing | October 7, 2012
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Modern Mainstream Swing
October 7, 2012
The Eric Alexander Quartet features the legendary pianist Harold Mabern, drummer Joe Farnsworth, and bassists John Webber and Nat Reeves. The quartet has toured extensively around the world and has released seven recordings on the Milestone and Alfa (Japan) labels.
Eric Alexander started piano lessons at the age of six. He took up the clarinet at nine and switched to alto sax three years later. The tenor sax became his obsession at Indiana University Bloomington (1986-87). After transferring to William Paterson College in New Jersey he studied with Harold Mabern, Joe Lovano, Rufus Reid, and others.
“The people I listened to in college are still the cats who are influencing me today,” Eric says. “The legacy left by Bird and all the bebop pioneers, that language and that feel—that's the bread and butter of everything I do." George Coleman is a big influence because of his very hip harmonic approach. And I'm still listening all the time to Coltrane because I feel that—even in the wildest moments of his mid- to late-60s solos—I can find these little kernels of melodic information and employ them in my own playing.”
In 1991 Eric competed against Joshua Redman and Chris Potter in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Placing second, this launched him into the whirlwind life of a professional jazz musician. He played with organ trios on Chicago’s South Side, made his recording debut with Charles Earland (Muse Records, 1991), and cut his first album as a leader, “Straight Up” (Delmark, 1991). More recordings followed for numerous labels, including Milestone. In 1997 he put out “Man with a Horn.” The following year saw the release of “Solid!”—a collaborative quartet session with George Mraz, John Hicks, and Idris Muhammad—as well as the first recording by his sextet One for All.
Eric has appeared on record as a leader, sideman, producer, and composer. By now, he has lost count of how many albums feature his playing; he guesses 60 or 70. He has earned praise from critics and, even more important, established his own voice within the bebop tradition.
In 2004, Eric signed an exclusive contract with HighNote Records, an independent jazz label based in New York City. There he has amassed a considerable discography of critically acclaimed recordings. Most recent among them is “Don't Follow the Crowd,” and “Friendly Fire” with Vincent Herring.
Eric continues to tour the world and play to capacity audiences. Making his home in New York City, he performs regularly in clubs around the city and appears frequently at Smoke on the Upper West Side.
Harold Mabern was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee – a city that's a capital of 20th century American music. Like fellow Memphis jazz artists George Coleman, Booker Little, and Frank Strozier, Mabern attended Manassas High School, and after an early attempt at playing the drums, he taught himself piano and fell under the spell of pianist Phineas Newborn Jr., an influence that would shape and linger with Mabern for the rest of his life.Along with some other Memphis musicians, Mabern moved to Chicago in in 1954 where he soon found work backing up tenor sax players Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons and Clifford Jordon. He also gained further influence from studying with pianist Ahmad Jamal and played in the hardbop group MJT + 3, before going on to New York City in 1959. "Chicago gave me the stuff I needed—and the confidence," he recalled in 1987. "New York refined my stuff and it's still doing it."One of his earliest significant gigs was an 18-month stay with Art Farmer and Benny Golson's Jazztet. After the Jazztet disbanded, Mabern worked with Jimmy Forrest, Lionel Hampton, Donald Byrd and did a brief stint with Miles Davis in 1963. He worked with J.J. Johnson (1963-65), Lee Morgan(1965) and Hank Mobley- recording the album, Dippin'. Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Williams (1966-67) Mabern also played in a quartet with guitarist Wes Montgomery. Decades later Mabern praised the joyous quality of Montgomery's playing and personality and told an interviewer:The music was challenging. 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... Then there'd be times when he'd say, "Mabern, you play this with me," and it might be the harmony part to what he's playing...whatever way, it was always a challenge. He always said, "Mabern, you're a bad cat." And I'd say, "Oh, I'm just trying to keep up with you."Between 1968-70, Mabern led four albums for Prestige, the first being A Few Miles From Memphis with a lineup that featured two saxophonists, one of them fellow Memphis native George Coleman. As the 1970s began, Harold Mabern became a key member of Lee Morgan's working group and appeared on several live and studio recordings made by the trumpeter before his death in 1972.In 1971, he played on Stanley Turrentine's The Sugar Man and Don't Mess With Mr. T. album in 1973. In 1972 he recorded with Stanley Cowell's Piano Choir.In more recent years, he has toured and recorded extensively with his former William Paterson University student, the tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. To date, Mabern and Alexander have appeared on over twenty CDs together. A longtime faculty member at William Paterson University since 1981, Mabern is also a frequent instructor at the Stanford Jazz Workshop.
oe Farnsworth is already regarded as one of the top jazz drummers in the world, but as far as he is concerned, he is just getting started. He is dedicated to the great tradition of jazz drumming as conceived by men like Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins and Arthur Taylor and it keeps him in the practice room trying to continue and extend it.Joe was born on February 21, 1968 in South Hadley, Massachusetts into an unusually musical family. His father was a renowned music teacher who immersed his five sons, and it became clear early on that, Joe as the youngest would choose a career in music and would ultimately be a great success. His eldest brother, John, a renowned trombone and saxophone player, exposed him at the age of 12, to the music of Count Basie, John Coltrain, Charlie Parker and the drumming of Tony Williams which led Joe to seek lessons with Alan Dawson out of Boston.Ultimately enrolling in William Patterson College in New Jersey, he met and befriended Harold Mabern who introduced him to tenor saxophonist George Coleman. Both Harold and George became major influences on Farnsworth's playing. During this time, Joe also sought out and studied with Art Taylor and became friends with saxophonist Eric Alexander.After moving to New York City with brother James, a saxophonist for Ray Charles (1992-1999) when he unexpectedly passed away, Joe became the leader on Friday and Saturday nights as the infamous jazz club Augie's (now Smoke) where he would meet and play with Junior Cook, Cecil Payne, John Ore, Big John Patton, Harold Mabern, Eddie Henderson and John Jenkins. Joe's undeniable talent and hard work ethic started to pay off. He began working with Jon Hendriks in 1992 and then with Diana Krall off and on until he became a full member for a year and half from 1999-2000.Joe Farnsworth is now known as one of the most recorded drummers on the scene, with over 70 cd's behind him, for musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Cedar Walton, Pharoah Sanders, Eric Alexander and Benny Golson. His first recording as a leader, "Beautiful Friendship" (Crisscross Records) featured pianist Cedar Walton and trumpeteer Eddie Henderson while his second, "It's Prime Time" (88 Records) included special guest artists Ron Carter, Curtis Fuller, Benny Golson and Harold Mabern, Jr.At 38, Joe has already performed on most of the greatest American and international stages. He appears regularly at New York City clubs like The Village Vanguard (Wynton Marsalis, Cedar Walton), Blue Note (Johnny Griffin, Horace Silver), Birdland (Lou Donaldson), Iridium (George Coleman, Pharoah Sanders) and Jazz at Lincoln Center (Wynton Marsalis). In any given year he is likely to be found backing major artists at the leading jazz clubs and festivals all over the world.Farnsworth, also a regular on the Jazz Festival scene, has played with Benny Green, Diana Krall (Montreal Jazz Festival), Curtis Fuller and Barry Harris (Northsea Jazz Festival), Pori Jazz Festival, Red Sea Festival and Umbria just to name a few.As a straight-ahead jazz musician, Joe has been compared to his idol "...not unlike Max Roach in his ability to combine furious playing with structural cogency, Farnsworth audaciously travels around the set, establishing unifying ideas without interrupting the barrage of strokes..."*Orthman goes on to describe Joe's career including "...venerable leaders ranging from George Coleman to Benny Golson to Cedar Walton, who frequently call on him to light a fire under their bands. The ability to set all kinds of material in motion, minus fuss and clutter, has also placed him in a coterie of younger, tradition-minded musicians like Eric Alexander (a college classmate during the late 80's), Steve Davis, David Hazeltine and Jim Rotundi, a group of young players that are regulars at Smoke a jazz club in NYC.In 2006, Japanese label, Commodore Records, will release Farnsworth's third cd, "Drumspeak". which is sure to change the flavor of drums in jazz today. "Drumspeak" is touted as a festival of musical language incorporating traditional jazz with percussions, drums and various instruments from Japan, Latin-America, Africa and the U.S. Commodore Records will release "Drumspeak" later this year.*David A. Orthmann (Jazz Times) 2002
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