Who’s the most-recorded drummer in music history? Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Jeff Porcaro and Hal Blaine would make pretty good bets, but I’d raise you Harvey Mason.
He’s played on some of the all-time-great jazz/funk sides: ‘Westchester Lady’, ‘Chameleon’, ‘Some Skunk Funk’ and ‘Breezin’; played pure jazz with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan and smooth jazz with Fourplay and Lee Ritenour; has 11 acclaimed solo albums to his credit and also notable work with such rock royalty as Kenny Loggins and Carlos Santana.
He’s played on hundreds of TV and movie soundtracks as well as being a regular in the Academy Awards pit band. He has one of the most recognisable drum styles of all time and is also a classically-trained orchestral percussionist.
So this one-off, sold-out masterclass was a great chance to witness the Mason magic close up. Looking remarkably youthful though initially very softly-spoken, he warmed up with a play-along to Fourplay’s ‘Silver Streak’, demonstrating all the subtle dynamics, tension/release figures, hi-hat barks and crisp snare rolls that have become his trademarks. Then, joined by young local players Hamish on bass and Lee on keys, Mason played the challenging ‘4AM’, originally from Herbie Hancock’s Mr Hands album.
An illuminating Q&A session offered up lots of revelations about Harvey’s illustrious career: he revealed that he would be staying in town after this Ronnie’s session to play timpani with the London Symphony Orchestra (conducted by John Williams). He talked about playing mallets in a five-man percussion section for ‘The Lucille Ball Show’, timpani with Earth, Wind & Fire and vibraphone with Chet Baker/Gerry Mulligan at Carnegie Hall (the proudest moment of his career).
There were tales of disastrous strip-club gigs alongside Lee Ritenour, and he revealed that Dave Grusin nicknamed him ‘The Tune Police’ because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of melodies (and subsequent warnings about inadvertent plagiarism). He named Jacob Collier and Jamie Cullum as British artists he would like to work with.
Then he called on his young bass and keyboard accomplices again for a trio take on ‘Actual Proof‘, another ’70s Herbie masterpiece (though which didn’t feature Harvey’s drumming in its original studio incarnation). Suddenly the PA system was sounding good, just in time to hear a typically elegant Mason performance, navigating through some very choppy musical waters with great ease.
He closed the session by saying he would be back in London soon to play his classic 1977 album Funk In A Mason Jar album – great news. Watch this space.
Harvey Mason has been an incredible and vastly underrated drummer for such a long time. His playing on the first Brecker Brothers album still knocks me out no matter how many times I listen to it.
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Couldn’t agree more. Harvey was in a real purple patch then.