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Hank Mobley: Newark, 1953

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Everyone in jazz had to start somewhere. In the case of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, that start came in Newark, N.J. Though Mobley had recorded in April 1953 with Max Roach's sextet and quartet for Debut (a short-lived label founded by Roach, Charles Mingus and Mingus's then wife, Celia), Mobley wasn't recorded again until September 28, 1953. 

The live Newark date in question was recorded at The Piccadilly Club and has just surfaced for the first time on Hank Mobley: Newark 1953 (Uptown). Recorded by Newark native Ozzie Cadena, who would join Savoy a year later as a producer, the sound is remarkably clean and the music highly informative. Here, we have a recording documenting Mobely's on-stage development and how he interacted with an established player—trombonist Bennie Green.

Mobley was joined on the date by artists who also were just starting out: pianist Walter Davis Jr., bassist Jimmy Schenck and drummer Charlie Persip. Only Green was already a seasoned player, having recorded with bands and ensembles for about nine years prior to this New Jersey gig. [Photo of Bennie Green above by Francis Wolff]

In the fall of 1953, Mobley was a year away from his first ensemble recording for Blue Note (Horace Silver Quintet Vol. 1/Nov. 1954) and two years from his first leadership date for the label (Hank Mobley Quartet/March 1955). As we can hear on this new CD, Mobley was already an agile force and a prolific one, having written three originals for his earlier date with Roach.

Mobley, Davis and Persip were already considered a working unit. According to the liner notes by Bob Blumenthal, Persip had been playing a series of R&B road dates months earlier, but whenever he'd return to New York, he'd reunite with Mobley and Davis to play bebop.

The Piccadilly Club was among Newark's most popular jazz venues at the time. In the entertainment pecking order, however, comedians were the bigger draw and often had the most pull. At the Piccadilly, Redd Foxx [pictured] was responsible for hiring Mobley, Davis, Persip and Schenck as the Piccadilly's house band.

Foxx also brought stars to the club who would be backed by the house band. Leading artists hired by Foxx included J.J. Johnson and Sonny Criss. During one of Foxx's hunts, he convinced Green to swing by. Green is easily the star of this date. Without his insistent tone and confident, fluid technique, this date would have been a lot duller and less polished. Green also calls the tunes and takes the first solo on most tracks, setting the pace.

As for Mobley, his sound was already in place, though his ability to navigate a solo was still a work in progress. Born in Eastman, GA, Mobley moved to Elizabeth, N.J., when he was young. Twenty-three years old at the time of this recording, Mobley exhibits a dry fluidity that would become his hallmark sound at Blue Note.

On Keen and Peachy, for example, we hear Mobley zip through the changes, pausing in places to think ahead. There's even a passing reference to Lean Baby, which had been recorded by Illinois Jacquet a year earlier and Dinah Washington [pictured] in June—both versions would have been released on disc by the time this date was underway.

Other up-tempo tunes include Pennies From Heaven, Blues Is Green and 'S Wonderful, which best show-off Mobley and give us a chance to hear his early, serpentine approach.

What also is fascinating is that these aren't hard bop dates but straight-up bop sessions. Which is somewhat interesting, since Lou Donaldson and Clifford Brown had already ignited the new style in June for Blue Note.

In the years that followed, Blue Note's Alfred Lion would use Mobley as his house tenor saxophonist, pairing him with hard-bop groups and repeating his label's cookie-cutter formula over and over again. That Hank Mobley wasn't there yet. 

In the fall of 1953, Mobley was still a relative innocent, finding his way and being schooled by artists like Green. Not until Lion brought him aboard did Mobley begin to show the full range of his possibilities. Nevertheless, this session provides us with a previously unheard glimpse of a tenor giant in waiting.

JazzWax tracks: You'll find Hank Mobley: Newark 1953 at iTunes and Amazon here.

JazzWax clip: Here's Hank Mobley with Horace Silver Quintet a year after this recording...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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