Hank Mobley

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Hank Mobley
Mobley c. 1956
Mobley c. 1956
Background information
Birth nameHenry Mobley
Born(1930-07-07)July 7, 1930
Eastman, Georgia, U.S.
DiedMay 30, 1986(1986-05-30) (aged 55)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
GenresJazz, hard bop, soul jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
InstrumentsTenor saxophone
Years active1949–1986
LabelsBlue Note, Prestige, Savoy

Henry "Hank" Mobley (July 7, 1930 – May 30, 1986) was an American hard bop and soul jazz tenor saxophonist and composer.[1] Mobley was described by Leonard Feather as the "middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone",[2] a metaphor used to describe his tone, that was neither as aggressive as John Coltrane nor as mellow as Stan Getz, and his style that was laid-back, subtle and melodic, especially in contrast with players like Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. The critic Stacia Proefrock claimed him "one of the most underrated musicians of the bop era."[3] Mobley's compositions included "Double Exposure," "Soul Station", and "Dig Dis," among others.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Mobley was born in Eastman, Georgia, but was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near Newark.[5] He described himself as coming from a musical family and spoke of his uncle playing in a jazz band.[6] As a child, Mobley played piano.[7]

When he was 16, an illness kept him in the house for several months. His grandmother thought of buying a saxophone to help him occupy his time, and it was then that Mobley began to play. He tried to enter a music school in Newark, but could not, since he was not a resident, so he instead studied music through books at home.


1949-1956: Early career[edit]

At 19, he started to play with local bands and, months later, worked for the first time with musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach.[8] Roach introduced Mobley to the New York jazz scene in 1951, and over the next two years the latter began composing and recording tunes of his own.[2] He was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and multiple R&B bands during this period.[2] When Parker heard Mobley's playing, he advised the young musician to take more influence from blues music, something that he took to heart throughout his career, though he cautioned that Parker "led countless players to the horn and the needle."[9]

He took part in one of the earliest hard bop sessions, alongside Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The results of these sessions were released as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. When The Jazz Messengers split in 1956, Mobley continued on with pianist Silver for a short time, although he did work again with Blakey some years later, when the drummer appeared on Mobley's albums in the early 1960s.

In 1956, Mobley recorded the album Mobley's Message with Jackie McLean and Donald Byrd. AllMusic, describing it as "a high-energy blowing session," gave the album 4 stars out of 5.[10]

1956-1970: Blue Note years[edit]

Hank Mobley's self-titled album (1958) was an early hard bop venture with Mobley as leader, featuring alongside him trumpeter Bill Hardman and saxophone player Curtis Porter. Porter and Mobley are distinguishable on the album by the former's "halting, aggressive angles" and the latter's "deep, fluid roll," followed by a "rather forlorn mood on side two" of the original record format.[11] The same year, Mobley was a sideman on Max Roach's album The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker, playing on three tracks. Dorham, saxophone player George Coleman, and bassists George Morrow and Nelson Boyd also recorded on the album, which consisted entirely of Parker compositions.[12] In March 1959 the Jazz Messengers, including Hank Mobley, recorded the album Just Coolin', though it was not released until 2020. Mobley was with the Jazz Messengers during the Newport Jazz Festival that summer, but soon after left the band and was replaced by Wayne Shorter.[13]

During the 1960s, he worked chiefly as a leader, recording over 20 albums for Blue Note Records between 1955 and 1970, including Soul Station (1960), generally considered to be his finest recording,[14] and Roll Call (1960). In a 2020 review of Soul Station, Grammy Awards considered this album Mobley's "most rewarding listen despite not breaking the mold."[15] Grammy has also referred to the album as "effortlessly elegant."[16] The Guardian gave Mobley's four "classic" albums (Peckin’ Time, Soul Station, Roll Call and Workout) five stars noting that "[f]or once, the word 'classic' is justified." The article referred to his "infinite subtlety" and ability as "an ingenious composer" as justification for this rating.[17]

During this period of his career, he performed with bop and hard bop musicians including Grant Green, Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Clark, Wynton Kelly and Philly Joe Jones, and formed a particularly productive partnership with trumpeter Lee Morgan, having appeared on each other's albums and Johnny Griffin's A Blowin' Session.[18] Mobley spent a brief time in 1961 with Miles Davis,[1] during the trumpeter's search for a replacement for John Coltrane. He is heard on the album Someday My Prince Will Come (alongside Coltrane, who returned for the recording of two tracks), and several live recordings (In Person: Live at the Blackhawk and At Carnegie Hall). JazzTimes considered Davis' replacement of Mobley with Coltrane a "beside-the-point determination" that "kept Mobley from his proper mantle," but also noted that in 1962, following his replacement, he "retooled his sound" from a lighter to a harder-edged tone.[19]

Hank Mobley and Alfred Lion

Around this time, Mobley recorded two of his own albums, Workout and Another Workout, although Another Workout was not released until 1985, shortly before his death. The delay of the latter album's release was later called "incomprehensible" by producer Michael Cuscuna and "astonishing" according to Bob Blumenthal.[20] The personnel on Workout included guitarist Grant Green, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones,[21] while Another Workout featured the same personnel, excluding Green.[20] Mobley rehearsed extensively before his 1960s Blue Note recordings, typically twice a week before a Saturday studio session, with the financial support of the record label.[9] Alfred Lion, co-producer of the label, would frequently direct the band's tempo or critique studio takes until he was pleased with them.[9]

Mobley recorded No Room for Squares in 1964, with DownBeat remarking that on the album Mobley "conveyed quiet authority," and followed a year later with A Caddy for Daddy.[2] Mobley, Lee Morgan, and soul jazz pianist Harold Mabern recorded another mid-60s album, Dippin', in one day.[2][22] According to Samuel Chell, No Room for Squares was "the first session on which [Mobley] would begin to sacrifice lyric inspiration and subtlety of phrasing to a harder sound and stiffer rhythmic approach."[20]

In 1964, Mobley was again imprisoned for possession of narcotics. While in prison Mobley wrote songs that were later recorded for the album A Slice of the Top. The album was recorded in 1966 but was not released until 1979.[23] The notoriety of Mobley's albums decreased during the mid-1960s, despite continuing to record during this period. Three critically acclaimed albums recorded during the mid- to late-60s include A Caddy for Daddy, Hi Voltage, and The Flip.[19] Apart from his album Reach Out!, also recorded in the late 60s, Mobley avoided progressive jazz and the electric sound popular with jazz musicians during this period.[24]

1970-1986: Retirement[edit]

One of Mobley's final albums, titled Breakthrough!, was recorded in 1972 with baritone saxophonist Charles Davis, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Sam Jones, and drummer Billy Higgins.[25] Scott Yanow noted that Mobley's career was about to "eclipse" following this record date.[26]

In 1973, shortly before the end of his career, he began a musical collaboration with Muhal Richard Abrams, although the two never recorded together.[27] Following Mobley's semi-retirement, pianist Tete Montoliu and Mobley recorded one track together on the 1980 album I Wanna Talk About You, the jazz standard "Autumn Leaves."[25][28]

In 1979, in an interview with John Litweiler, Mobley noted, "It’s hard for me to think of what could be and what should have been."[9]

Mobley gave a speech at the Blue Note Town Hall concert in 1985.[27]

Personal life[edit]

Mobley became addicted to heroin in the late 1950s and in 1958 was imprisoned.[29][23] He continued to struggle with his drug addiction during the 1960s.[2]

A longtime smoker, Mobley was forced to retire in the mid-1970s, due to lung problems.[1] He also had problems with homelessness in his later years and struggled to stay in touch with his fellow musicians.[29] He worked two engagements at the Angry Squire in New York City November 22 and 23, 1985, and January 11, 1986, in a quartet with Duke Jordan and guest singer Lodi Carr, a few months before his death.

He died of pneumonia in 1986, having also suffered from lung cancer.[30]


Jazz radio host Bob Perkins described Mobley's style as "round, throaty, and distinctive," noting that despite "lukewarm appraisals of his artistry by critics, Hank Mobley overcame some major stumbling blocks to acquire a place in the history of jazz music."[31]

In 2020, Mosaic Records released an 8-disc compilation of Mobley's Blue Note recordings.[32] GQ noted that seven of Mobley's twelve Blue Note albums in this era were quickly slated for release, with the others "chopped up and mixed and matched—which denied Mobley his proper place in the music of the time and left him deeply frustrated," a concern that was set aside by the new compilation.[33] Mobley himself was dismayed by the record label's tendency to pressure him into studio sessions, only to decide not to release the recorded music.[33] For instance, Mobley's album Poppin' was recorded in 1957 and released 23 years later.[34]

The Spectator lamented that "an unfortunate side effect of 20th century Modernism is that [listenability] doesn’t put you in the history books," referencing Mobley's style and his lack of notoriety compared to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. According to fellow saxophonist Gary Bartz, the fact his compositions were not organized with one publishing company made profiting from them difficult.[24]

In November 2020, the Van Gelder Studio's first livestream video was a tribute to Mobley.[35] In 2022, saxophonist Art Themen purchased a saxophone that had previously been owned by Ronnie Scott and before him, Mobley.[36] Grammy's article "Let Me Play The Answers: 8 Jazz Artists Honoring Black Geniuses" cited Mobley as an influence on jazz trumpeter Bruce Harris, and Art Blakey's contribution to Soul Station as, metaphorically, the "hottest part of the flame" according to former Jazz Messengers drummer Ralph Peterson, Jr.[37]



  1. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 858. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Hank Mobley, The Master of Contrasts". downbeat.com. 2019-11-28. Retrieved 2022-04-13.
  3. ^ Proefrock, Stacia. "Hank Mobley: Soul Station". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved 14 January 2015.
  4. ^ "Hank Mobley Best Songs List: Top, New, & Old". AllMusic. Retrieved 2022-04-13.
  5. ^ Steve Huey, "Artist Biography", AllMusic.
  6. ^ Byrczek, Jan (1970). "Interview with Hank Mobley". Polish Jazz Forum Magazine: 83–85.
  7. ^ Mathieson, Kenny (25 July 2013). "Mobley, Hank". Grove Music Online. Retrieved 16 September 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Hank Mobley Quartet (Liner notes). Blue Note Records. 1955. BLP 5066.
  9. ^ a b c d "What Is and What Could Be: Hank Mobley, by Aaron Gilbreath: Conjunctions — The forum for innovative writing". www.conjunctions.com. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  10. ^ "Mobley's Message - Hank Mobley | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017-12-07.
  11. ^ Jazz, All About (2009-05-07). "Hank Mobley: Hank Mobley: Hank Mobley (On Wax) album review @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2022-04-28.
  12. ^ The Max Roach 4 Plays Charlie Parker - Max Roach | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2022-04-24
  13. ^ "A Shelved Album By Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers Will Finally See the Light of Day". WBGO. 2020-03-20. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  14. ^ Blumenthal, Bob (1999) [1960]. "A NEW LOOK AT SOUL STATION". Soul Station (The Rudy Van Gelder Edition) (Media notes). Hank Mobley. Blue Note Records/Capitol Records.
  15. ^ "Hank Mobley's 'Soul Station' At 60: How The Tenor Saxophonist's Mellow Masterpiece Inspires Jazz Musicians In 2020". www.grammy.com. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  16. ^ "No Accreditation? No Problem! 10 Potential Routes To Get Into Jazz As A Beginner". www.grammy.com. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  17. ^ "Hank Mobley: Four Classic Albums review – bursting with wit and invention". the Guardian. 2017-05-28. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  18. ^ Johnson, David. "Mob-Lee: Lee Morgan And Hank Mobley". Night Lights Classic Jazz - Indiana Public Media. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  19. ^ a b Fleming, Colin. "Hank Mobley: The Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions 1963-70 (Mosaic)". JazzTimes. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  20. ^ a b c Jazz, All About (2006-08-23). "Hank Mobley: Hank Mobley: Another Workout album review @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  21. ^ Workout - Hank Mobley | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2022-04-24
  22. ^ Dippin' - Hank Mobley | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2022-04-13
  23. ^ a b Gilbreath, Aaron. "What Is and What Could Be: Hank Mobley". Conjunctions. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  24. ^ a b Shea, Andrew L. "Hank Mobley, the greatest sax player you never heard | The Spectator". www.spectator.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  25. ^ a b "Hank Mobley Discography". www.jazzdisco.org. Retrieved 2022-04-23.
  26. ^ Breakthrough! - The Cedar Walton/Hank Mobley Quintet, Cedar Walton, Hank Mobley | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2022-04-23
  27. ^ a b "Hank Mobley, The Master of Contrasts". downbeat.com. 2019-11-28. Retrieved 2022-04-13.
  28. ^ I Wanna Talk About You - Tete Montoliu | Songs, Reviews, Credits | AllMusic, retrieved 2022-04-23
  29. ^ a b Brody, Richard. "The Haunted Jazz of Hank Mobley". The New Yorker. Retrieved 11 May 2021.
  30. ^ Nelson, Nels (4 June 1986). "Hank Mobley, International Jazz Figure". The Philadelphia Inquirer.
  31. ^ "Bob Perkins' Jazz Library: Memories of Saxophonist Hank Mobley". WRTI. 2014-05-08. Retrieved 2022-04-28.
  32. ^ Jazz, All About. "Jazz Album: The Complete Hank Mobley Blue Note Sessions 1963-70 by Hank Mobley". All About Jazz Musicians. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  33. ^ a b "The haunted jazz of Hank Mobley". British GQ. 2020-03-31. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  34. ^ Waring, Charles (2021-10-20). "'Poppin: Overlooked Hank Mobley Album Still Sounds Fresh Out The Box". uDiscover Music. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  35. ^ Lustig, Jay (2020-11-09). "Van Gelder Studio to launch live stream series with Hank Mobley tribute". NJArts.net. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  36. ^ "Musician buys saxophone that belonged to jazz hero". www.henleystandard.co.uk. Retrieved 2022-04-24.
  37. ^ "Let Me Play The Answers: 8 Jazz Artists Honoring Black Geniuses". www.grammy.com. Retrieved 2022-04-28.

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