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Canadian Heritage

Harold Mabern

Harold Mabern discusses the merits of playing the blues for a jazz musician

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Harold Mabern discusses the many different styles of blues

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Harold Mabern talks about how he got started in music

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Q: “You always play some blues – a lot of people avoid it. I think the blues, well played, is still one of the most exciting things – maybe old but you’ve gotta prove yourself…”

A: “It's hard to be a great jazz musician without understanding the blues. Now realize certain people are not in situations where they had to play the blues. But for example, just say John Coltrane. Now, the reason why John Coltrane was and still is and will always be the great improviser and knowledgeable tenor saxophonist is because he understood the blues because he worked with rhythm and blues band like Earl Bostic, Tiny Bradshaw or people like that. Clifford Brown worked with Chris Powell and the Blue Flames and they had an extensive rhythm and blues background. So once you understand the blues, that teaches you because it brings out all your emotions because you have to really play the blues. You can't just skate over it. You know, you have to really get down deep and also the same thing with playing a ballad or playing slow, you know. I have my students take a song, let's say, 'The Way You Look Tonight', which would normally be played fast, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, and play it as a ballad, slow it down and man, for the most part, they can't do it because everything comes out. You're naked, so to speak, you know. But now, the blues will always be a part of my repertoire, you know. That's what I love so much about Bobby Timmons, you know, because he understood the blues very well, you know.”