When Richie Beirach first met and played with Hank Mobley

Richie sent me his reflection of meeting Hank Mobley for the first time.

I was up at Don Sicklers loft one afternoon working on some stuff with Don, and Hank came. Don introduced me, telling Hank that I was a jazz pianist and was playing in a band with Dave Liebman. Hank smiled and said, “YEAH !! DAVE !! COOL !!”

All of a sudden, Don asked Hank if he would like to play a tune with me. I was shocked but happy. I hated the fact that Don put Hank on the spot like that but I went with it. Hank had his horn and he looked at me and I started playing Pfrancing/No Blues. Hank smiled and got right into it.

Hank sounded round and soft but penetrating, and his time feel. Shit !!! It was heaven for me!! I fell into a Wynton Kelly/Hank Jones thing. I couldn’t help it. I wanted to put Hank at ease, which I did. He played a long beautiful solo with the essence of behind the beat but never dragging or slowing down. He never once went chromatic so I didn’t push him. He finished his solo with a kind of blues shout thing that was perfect.

I started my solo but unconsciously left the Wynton vibe and was now inside my own shit. It went well. Hank had his head down swaying with the time, then I started to really move it around harmonically. Hank had his eyes closed listening to me but he was smiling when I took it out, but I never let go of the form or the time.

I ended with a similar shout chorus that Hank played but I reharmonized it with polychords. We hit the head again twice and out. Hank immediately came around the piano and we gave each other a big hug!

It was a wonderful experience for me and I hope for him as well. He seemed pretty happy and I said, “I was thinking of Wynton when I was playing with you, Hank.” He replied wistfully, “I think of Wynton every day.

I will carry that memory forever.

1 Comment

  1. Knowa Tall on July 24, 2020 at 9:53 am

    What this demonstrates is the openness of the true jazz musician; if you meet one who is withholding, run the other way. These guys new they were way out front musically, incorporating so much knowledge and experience, that they realized they were simply moving upwards, but never reaching perfection. Been fortunate to meet many of the greats, and they all shared this quality.

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