After reading pianist George Colligan's excellent blog post on the kindness and generosity of the legendary pianist Harold Mabern (A Short Story About Harold Mabern), I was reminded of an encounter I had with him a few years ago at a Herbie Hancock concert at Carnegie Hall.
It was after the show and I was standing outside of the hall next to the dressing room door where Herbie would eventually exit to get in the waiting car. There were a whole lot of fans doing the same, wanting to meet Herbie and the rest of the band too. Standing there, I noticed a man who looked very familiar. I knew it was Harold Mabern, but it took me a minute to believe it; I figured such a legend would certainly be backstage with Herbie instead of waiting outside of the dressing room with all of us fans.
I was 17 at the time and wasn't too familiar with Mabern, but I did know a few of the recordings I'd heard of him with Wes Montgomery and Lee Morgan. I introduced myself to him, saying that I was a pianist and that the recordings I had heard of him had been very inspiring. He thanked me and he began to start up a conversation, which surprised me; I never figured that a legend like that would be the one continuing the conversation.
He began to speak to me very excitedly about how much he had enjoyed and been inspired by the show. He said that after a show like that he knew what'd be in store for him when he got home. "I'll be practicing all night," he said.
He reminded me of myself and other young musician friends of mine; speaking so fast and excitedly about how pumped up that concert made him, how he hoped that one day he could do the things that Herbie had done that night.
After a few minutes, he said that he'd really wanted to say hello to his friend Herbie, but that he had to get home to practice. He told me that when I did get to meet Herbie to please send say hello for him.
It was so exciting to see such an accomplished musician, a true legend, not only waiting outside like a fan to express his gratitude to Herbie Hancock, but to also see someone like that so inspired and excited to go home and practice, that after a while, he couldn't wait any longer; he had to get home and practice.
It was very inspiring to see the forever-student side of a true jazz legend. I can only hope to go through life with such continued excitement for my passions. My encounter with the great Harold Mabern has and will continue to give me hope and inspiration that I can.