Hank Mobley

Deciphering The MessageAt The Cafe Bohemia
So WhatMiles Davis at Carnegie Hall
East Of The VillageThe Turnaround!
Soul StationSoul Station
A Baptist BeatRoll Call
No Room For SquaresNo Room For Squares
The DipDippin'
I Should CareAnother Workout
CarolynNo Room For Squares


Hank Mobley playlist



Contributor: Simon Appleby

Question: when everyone describes a musician as underrated, at what point do they actually stop being underrated? That’s certainly something we could ask of tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, one of the stalwarts of the late 50s and 60s US hard bop scene, and a player who has often been overshadowed by more stellar players like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter. Jazz critic Leonard Feather famously dubbed Mobley the “middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone”, and although it was intended as a reference to his rounded tone, it was perhaps taken by his critics as a dismissal; his most famous employer, Miles Davis, was unconvinced by Mobley (who was the first tenorist Davis stuck with for any length of time after the departure of Trane from his working group).

I own five Hank Mobley albums on CD – but his contribution as a sideman to the rest of my jazz collection goes far beyond that, including work with Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Donald Byrd and of course Miles Davis. So let’s start with a few samples of his work with other bandleaders.

Mobley was present at the birth of hard bop, as a founder member of Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (which Art Blakey then took over as leader). Mobley was a prolific composer, and Deciphering The Message, from their run At The Cafe Bohemia (1955), is one of his originals, showing him in particularly kinetic form.

While Mobley’s association with Miles Davis was not particularly auspicious, I have a real soft spot for his work in this period, always underpinned by the stellar rhythm section of Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. So What is from a Carnegie Hall concert which was the only time that Miles Davis performed with Gil Evans’ orchestra (1961). The orchestra takes the opening of this classic Davis original and then hands off to the quintet, where Mobley shows what he has to contribute.

I have chosen Funk-cosity from Kenny Drew’s Undercurrent LP (1960) as a quintessential example of a Blue Note hard bop session from the early 60s – Mobley contributed to so many Blue Note sessions as a sideman that it would be futile to list them all, but he never brought less than his best.

Now on to Mobley-led sessions, starting with East Of The Village, from the LP The Turnaround! (1965). Like many from this period, the title track was an attempt to recreate the chart success of Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, but this selection shows Mobley’s famously rounded tone to best advantage.

Probably, Hank Mobley’s best-loved LP was Soul Station (1960), a quartet session with Wynton Kelly on keys, Paul Chambers on bass and Art Blakey on drums. Kelly’s bluesy playing is a perfect foil for Hank, and the quartet format gives him space to stretch out; I have chosen the title track, Soul Station, but could have chosen any track from the album. The Roll Call LP was recorded later the same year, using the same personnel with the addition of Freddie Hubbard on trumpet – A Baptist Beat is a wonderfully gospel-tinged Mobley original.

Another title track, No Room For Squares (1963), as well as boasting a particularly cool Reid Miles album cover, saw Mobley playing with the more angular pianist Andrew Hill, and while it’s not exactly avant-garde, it shows that he was comfortable with more modern conceptions. For the upbeat selections, we finish with a classic hard bop number, The Dip, from the LP Dippin’ (1965), on which Mobley and Lee Morgan have plenty of room to stretch out.

Mobley was also an excellent balladeer, with the warmth of his playing well suited to slower numbers. Check out I Should Care from the Another Workout LP (1961, but not released until 1985), and finish with Carolyn from No Room For Squares.

Hank Mobley was so prolific for Blue Note that many of his sessions sat in the vaults for decades after recording, and they were also inclined to cut and shut tracks from multiple sessions together on his albums, which can be a little bit confusing. However, this should not overshadow the fact that, for me, Hank Mobley is one of the most enjoyable, and reliable, sax players and composers of the era, and a worthwhile addition to any jazz collection.


Henry (Hank) Mobley (1930–1986)


Hank Mobley Discography

Hank Mobley on Blue Note

Hank Mobley biography (Apple Music)

Simon Appleby’s CD collection firmly adheres to the views of Duke Ellington, who famously said “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” Although Duke Ellington had probably not heard of Nine Inch Nails. Or Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Be that as it may, Simon has wide-ranging taste, which he indulges at every opportunity. Simon runs Bookswarm.co.uk, a digital agency specialising in working for publishers, authors and other bookish enterprises.

TopperPost #398

1 Comment

  1. John Chamberlain
    Jan 10, 2015

    I was surprised to find I had overlooked Hank Mobley. Thanks for remedying this for me, went straight to the Carnegie Hall “So What” and much enjoyed it. Will explore the rest later.

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