All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Book Reviews

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Workout: The Music of Hank Mobley

Nic Jones By

Sign in to view read count
Workout: The Music of Hank Mobley
Derek Ansell
Hardcover; 162 pages
ISBN: 978 09550908-8-2
Northway Books

As a tenor saxophonist, Hank Mobley committed the cardinal sin of not adhering to any established stylistic aesthetic, for all of his association with the hard bop idiom. Author Derek Ansell rightly makes much of this in his book, the first to be devoted to Mobley. For if jazz is an art form in which individuality is valued, then Mobley is an example of how this is sometimes not the case. Indeed, as Ansell cogently argues, it might have been one of the major factors in the saxophonist's undoing.

In the course of his life, Mobley apparently had some grievance against the Blue Note label, the company that more or less single-handedly documented his career on record, over the number of his sessions that they shelved. Ansell steers a diplomatic course through this possibility, at the same time as he more than justifies the book's title through his discussion of the music that's now available to us.

Ansell's reiteration of this makes at times for slightly repetitive reading, but he succeeds in making the reader go to the music, which as much as anything else is surely the purpose of the book. Furthermore, given the sparse coverage that Mobley received in his lifetime, even in the jazz press, a fact underscored by his reticence—he gave only three press interviews in his life—it is perhaps inevitable that Ansell uses the music as the principle means for discussion.

Ansell, however, arguably makes too much of this in his suggestion that it would have taken no more than a few better turns of fortune for Mobley to have enjoyed more exalted status. Surely it was more the case that the enormous cliche that was—and arguably still is—"the jazz life" was the one that Mobley led through the straightforward expedient of putting out his own highly personal brand of the music in the only way he knew? Ansell acknowledges this possibility, even though he doesn't perhaps take it into sufficient account.

That said, it has to be observed that Ansell was faced with trying to strike a balance between two highly unequal considerations—the music and the life—and it's not surprising that he stuck with Mobley's music as the focus for discussion. In that regard, the evident lack of assertiveness in Mobley's personality, as conveyed via his tenor, rendered him ill-equipped to compete in a competitive society.

This fact is enough to render Mobley enigmatic. It's to Ansell's credit then that he manages to fill in some of the gaps, despite the near-absence of any day-to-day biographical detail in the course of the book. As Ansell rightly points out, Mobley's music is in 2008 more available than ever. Together with this book, that affords us a picture of a deep yet resolutely unassuming musical personality.


comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 Book Reviews
Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968
by Doug Collette
Published: April 14, 2018
Read My Life in the Key of E Book Reviews
My Life in the Key of E
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: March 19, 2018
Read The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums Book Reviews
The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums
by Steve Provizer
Published: March 3, 2018
Read The Universe and John Coltrane: The Physics of Cosmic Vibrations Book Reviews
The Universe and John Coltrane: The Physics of Cosmic...
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: January 18, 2018
Read Good Morning Blues Book Reviews
Good Morning Blues
by Richard J Salvucci
Published: January 11, 2018
Read Never Say No to a Rock Star: In the Studio with Dylan, Sinatra, Jagger and More Book Reviews
Never Say No to a Rock Star: In the Studio with Dylan,...
by Nicholas F. Mondello
Published: January 2, 2018