Born: July 7, 1930 | Died: May 30, 1986 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
As one of the founding members of the original Jazz Messengers, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley was part of a brilliant innovation. Bebop's second generation of players had pulled the music into a tailspin of virtuosity. But there was a new inspirational sound taking hold, with roots in gospel and blues. By combining the best of bebop with the soulful new thing springing up, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley and Doug Watkins fashioned a sound with a percussive, street feel inspired by the hot steam grates and pavement they walked, the propulsive drive of the lives they were leading.
Mobley was born in Eastman, Georgia, but was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near Newark. Early in his career, he worked with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach. He took part on one of the landmark hard bop sessions, alongside Blakey, Silver and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The results of these sessions were released as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. They contrasted with the classical pretentions of cool jazz, with Mobley's rich lyricism being bluesier, alongside the funky approach of Horace Silver. When The Jazz Messengers split in 1956, Mobley continued on with pianist Horace Silver for a short time, although he did work again with Blakey several years later.
During the 1960s, he worked chiefly as a leader, recording 25 albums for Blue Note Records, including Soul Station and Roll Call between 1955 and 1970. He performed with many of the most important hard bop players and formed a particularly productive partnership with trumpeter Lee Morgan.
Mobley also spent a brief time in 1961 with Miles Davis, during the trumpeter's search for a replacement for John Coltrane. He is heard on the album Someday My Prince Will Come (alongside Coltrane, who returned for the recording of some tracks), and some live recordings (In Person: Live at the Blackhawk and At Carnegie Hall). Though criticized by some for not having the improvisational fire of Coltrane, Mobley was still a major voice on tenor saxophone, known for his melodic playing.
Mobley was forced to retire in the mid-1970s due to lung problems. He worked briefly with Duke Jordan before his death of pneumonia in 1986.