Liberty Records Press Office
Henry (Hank) Mobley has been called "The middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone."
That is to say, he is not to be compared (and this judgment is made in terms of size of sound as well as such values as fame, fortune and poll victories) with heavyweights like Coleman Hawkins or John Coltrane; nor is there any necessity to relate him to the tonal lightweights, headed by Stan Getz and the various artists of this school who came to prominence around the same time.
Hank is the middleweight champion because his sound, as he once put it himself, is "not a big sound, not a small sound, just a round sound" and because, while fads and fancies change, he has remained for some 15 years a consistently successful performer, working almost exclusively as a sideman except on records, and retaining a firm, loyal following.
Hank was born in Eastman, Georgia, July 7, 1930, but was raised in New Jersey. He studied with a private teacher. When he was 20 years old he played in Paul Gayten's orchestra. A year later he came to the attention of jazz fans and critics through an association with Max Roach that lasted off and on for two or three years.
After working with Dizzy Gillespie for six months in 1954, he began jobbing with Horace Silver later that year at Minton's Play House and other New York clubs. This group evolved into the Jazz Messengers, under the leadership of Art Blakey. Hank remained with Art and Horace until September, 1956, when he and Horace quit Art to join forces in the latter's new group.
During the next four years Hank was heard with Silver, Roach and Thelonious Monk, rejoining Blakey in 1959. During the next year or two he appeared at many of the special Monday night sessions at Birdland, worked with the British trumpeter Dizzy Reece, and was heard for a while with Miles Davis.
As critic Joe Goldberg once observed, Mobley is not a musician who can easily be classified or categorized: "Writers on jazz like to trot out such phrases as Hawkins-informed, Young-derived, Rollins-influenced and the like, and then, having formed their pigeon-hole, they proceed to drop the musician under discussion into it Mobley, to be sure, is associated with East Coast musicians and material, but he has never had the so-called "hard bop" sound that is generally a part of the equipment of such tenor men." Mobley, Goldberg went on to point out, worked out a style of his own, unspectacularly but with unmistakable success.
Mobley has been a recording bandleader for Blue Note since 1960, when his first album, Soul Station, was received with critical acclaim. Sidemen on his dates have included Blakey, Silver, Wynton Kelly, Grant Green, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson and Donald Byrd. Hank has also recorded numerous Blue Note dates under the leadership of other musicians, including Jimmy Smith, Curtis Fuller, Johnny Griffin, Dizzy Reece, and of course Silver and Blakey.