February 6, 2013

Hank Mobley: Newark 1953

Hank Mobley


By Armand Lewis

There are extremely talented artists in all creative fields who do not get adequate recognition during their lifetimes. Other artists are modestly successful during their lives, but their achievements are not fully appreciated until after their passing. Whether caused by changing tastes, incorrect critical evaluation, early death or a combination of these and other factors, it can sometimes take decades before some artists get the recognition they rightfully deserve.

One such jazz artist is tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Mobley recorded a large number of LPs during the 1950s and ‘60s as both a leader as well as a sideman, yet he was routinely dismissed as the “middleweight champion” of his instrument. This “middleweight” label —given by critic Leonard Feather in the late 1950s to distinguish Mobley’s tone as being different from the “heavy” sound of players like John Coltrane or the “light” sound of players like Stan Getz — haunted Mobley throughout his career.

Hank MobleyBut Hank Mobley was anything but a “middleweight,” excelling in both composition and arrangement as well as being a formidable tenor player in any size group. His best LPs — Soul Station, Roll Call, Slice of the Top and No Room For Squares — display a wealth of musical ideas, skilled playing and complex arrangements — all presented with a warm tone that few tenor players come close to.

Yet, after all of the records in the 1960s, Mobley’s disap-pearance from the jazz scene in the early 1970s was barely noticed. By the time of his death in 1986, most jazz fans assumed he was already long gone. It wasn’t until Blue Note started reissuing his LPs in the mid 1980s that Hank Mobley began to be rediscovered.

This rediscovery continues to this day. Most of his albums have been rereleased on one form or another and what is likely his earliest recording has just been rediscovered and released on CD. Hank Mobley: Newark 1953 (Uptown UPCD27.66/67) presents a long forgotten club date recorded as the 23 year old tenor saxophonist was just starting out.

Privately recorded, this bop-oriented set is actually led by trombonist Bennie Green. A major star in his time, Green was an early link between bebop and what would become known as “soul-jazz”. Here, he leads the group in his own bop tunes as well as jazz standards of the period – many of which appeared on Green’s albums at the time.

The first track “Ow” is a Dizzy Gillespie composition based on “I Got Rhythm” which bounces along in the style of the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concerts with a heavy 4/4 beat. Green and Mobley both get nice solos on this very upbeat opener.

The Rodgers and Hart standard “There is a Small Hotel” has Mobley stretch out with an extended solo that fits right in with the sound and approach he would bring to his first Blue Note recordings in 1954 and ‘55. The interplay between Green and Mobley is particularly strong. Had their paths not diverged so, they would have made a good front line team.

George Shearing’s standard “Lullaby of Birdland” provides a showcase for the young tenor player and Mobley’s tone, which makes his Blue Note LPs so memorable, is already fully formed. Mobley is clearly digging the tune’s easy swing and (in hindsight) it’s easy to see this as an influence for Mobley’s own compositions that would come in the later 1950s and into the 1960s.

Bennie Green is showcased on “Embraceable You” and “Keen and Peachy.” Playing in a be-bop style, Green gives no hints of the soul-jazz LPs he would record in the late 50s, before he would drop out of the jazz scene for work in Las Vegas orchestras.

The year after this recording was made, Hank Mobley would join Horace Silver’s group and begin recording for Blue Note, both as a sideman and under his own name. Bennie Green would also record several albums for Blue Note in the late 1950s, though not together with Mobley. It’s possible that Mobley recommended Green to the label, perhaps with the idea of making an album together like this one. In any event, this is one album to enjoy while pondering what might have been.


Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at 


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