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Artist Profiles

Harold Mabern and Eric Alexander: The Art of Duo

By Published: May 4, 2005

According to Mabern, one of the real secrets to making a duo format without bass and drums work successfully is that each musician must have an innate sense of rhythm that allows them to function and keep time without relying on a rhythm section.

"This duo playing will really test you, he explains. "You've got to carry off enough sense of a rhythm when you play so that people can tap their feet if they want to with the music. And that's a real challenge. But Eric's rhythm is impeccable, and I think my rhythm is pretty good too. Plus you've got to have a two-fisted pianist when you're doing this. And I definitely fit that mold. Although I have to admit I still envy Art Tatum. When it comes to that style, he was the real boss man!

The fact that Mabern and Alexander have worked together so often over the years also provides them with both a deep understanding of each other's musical approach and quite a repertoire to choose from.

"We understand each other, says Mabern. "And we've played together and done enough records together that we know enough songs to probably do a whole month of duo concerts!

Alexander concurs on that point. In the record company biography that accompanied his latest release on the milestone label, Nightlife in Tokyo—on which Mabern plays—the saxophonist discusses the benefits of the musical rapport that he and Mabern have achieved.

It really took me years of playing with him to start to understand his thought process and get to a point of reacting naturally to what he was doing, Alexander says of Mabern. "It's very rewarding because once you begin to approach that level of musical communication, it opens up a whole new world of playing.

For Mabern, the intuitive musical rapport that he and Alexander have achieved also provides a challenge to push the music—to take chances rather than settling into a familiar, comfortable groove.

"Art Blakey used to say that if you don't come out trying to play hard and are worried about making mistakes rather than taking chances, you might as well just go sit down, says Mabern. "So you need to take chances. You have to remember that when you're improvising there's no such thing as a mistake. You might play a wrong note, but what's important is what happens after that—what you play after that is what's important. That's when you discover what the music is all about.

Visit Eric Alexander on the web.

Photo Credit
Harold Mabern by Mark Ladenson
Eric Alexander by Leo Howard Lubow

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Download jazz mp3 “Boogie for Al McShann” by Harold Mabern