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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 just started playing music because that’s just what was in the air, right, when you were a kid?”

A: Harold Mabern: “Well, what happened, when I was like, say, eight or nine years old, I had a strange affinity for the drums. I used to go out and beat on the top of tin cans and garbage cans and stuff. I didn't know what I was doing, but I like the drums. So to make a long story short, when I got ready to start my high school, I said, "I want to play drums." So I played drums the first year in the marching band, the snare drum. But around the second year, something was missing. I want to be involved with the more melodic kind of instruments, so they put me on trumpet. Now, I could read the notes, so to speak, but I could never really get a sound. So the second, in the middle ways of the second year, they switched me to the baritone horn. So Frank Strozier and I hooked up and he said, "Man, you should transfer to our school." I was going to Douglas High School. We had some good teachers out there. He said, "You should go and come to our school because at Manassas, man, we've got a better jazz program.” You know, they had Dee Dee Bridgewater's father was there teaching. Hank Crawford was there. Frank Strozier, George Coleman, Louis Smith. So I said, "Yes." So I got a transfer, so I played baritone horn when I transferred to Manassas and incidentally, Jimmie Lunceford taught there. Well, this is way before my time.”

Interviewer: “Before that?”

Harold Mabern: “Right. And to make a long story short, so I heard this young lady playing one day. It's a true story. And I was about fifteen and a half, sixteen and she played a little song on all the black keys, F-sharp and she played and I just walked up to the piano and just sat down and picked it out. So then it was letting me know that I had maybe an affinity, maybe, for the piano. So I just started playing it. The next thing I learned was 'The Honeydripper', Joe Liggins. And after that, I learned 'All The Things You Are' after about six months. It took me a long time to learn that song.”