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Harvey Mason in Michigan, 5 Things To Know

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Thursday, December 7, 2017

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Musicians don’t come much more decorated than Harvey Mason.

The New Jersey-born drummer boasts a resume that includes work with Herbie Hancock and his Headunters, George Benson, Chick Corea, Ron Carter, Carole King, Rufus, Her Alpert, Michael McDonald and many others, as well as his own bands and Fourplay with Bob James, Nathan East and manty others. He’s considered a top-shelf player both in the studio and on stage.

This week Mason, 70, has been serving as the Michigan State University Jazz Artist in Residence, working with both college and area high school and culminating with a pair of performances this weekend in East Lansing and Detroit. To reverse the parlance, the drummer is giving some this week...

• Mason, himself a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, says by phone that he’s always happy to be part of some sort of educational program when given the chance. “It’s really exciting,” he notes. “The kids are so thirsty knowledge, thirsty to know what I go through being a professional, what you should expect and yow you end up getting to that point if you’re qualified. I realize I’m the elder statements now, so I just try to give them a realisitic point of view of what they can expect.”

• The one message Mason tries to impart to students is “first of all, professionalism, being a real pro, not having an attitude, leaving the ego at home. Also, you want to be versatile. You don’t want to be stuck in just one style of music. Everyone asks me what’s the key to my longevity, and it’s the fact that I play all kinds of music and love all kinds of music. That’s something I really try to impart.”

• Mason comes to MSU via jazz drumming instructor Randy Gelispie, a mentor from Mason’s days playing in Atlantic City. The two met when Mason was in 11th grade and played at the Wonder Gardens, where Gelispie was part of the house band. “He became a mentor, a father figure for me,” Mason recalls. “He was very, very, very special as a musician and a person. He was someone I could hang around with as a kid who didn’t have bad habits. He was just a straight-laced guy, and a lot of fun. I really gravitated to him, and he’s still a great guy.”

• Among Mason’s most famous gigs is working with George Benson on his Grammy Award-winning 1976 album “Breezin’,” among other recordings. “I met George when we were both teenagers,” Mason recalls. “He came to Atlantic City to play and we hung out and became friends, and later on we toured together. The producer (Tommy LiPuma) called me, and those records were a lot of fun to make. It was a great rhythm section and (Benson) just brought the songs in and we played them. It wasn’t complicated. I did three records with (Benson) and used that rhythm section on some of my records as well. It was really great.”

• Mason is working on a new album of his own, while Fourplay is currently feeling its way after the death of guitarist Chuck Loeb. Saxophonist Kirk Whalum has been sitting in with the group, which has created a new dynamic in the all-star band. “We’re kind of in a state of shock after Chuck (died), and we haven’t decided who we’re going to replace him with or what we’re going to do,” Mason says. “We need to take a break, catch our breath. Bob’s gonna make a new record. I’m making a new record. Kirk’s a very unique sax player; He’s been playing with us over a year now, since Chuck got sick. He’s an amazing person, which is a prerequisite for our band, and an amazing player and was immediately effective. But we’re still reeling and trying to find our way again, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

If You Go:

• Harvey Mason performs with MSU Jazz Orchestras I, II and III at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, at Fairchild Theatre on the MSU campus in East Lansing. Tickets are $5-$15. Call 517-353-5340 or visit msu.edu.

• Mason also performs with the MSU Jazz Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at the First Congregational Church of Detroit, 33 E. Forest Ave. Admission is free. Call 313-831-4080 or visit thecarrcenter.org.

Web Site: www.thecarrcenter.org

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