While major jazz record labels chase the latest crossover fad with borderline jazz content and ignore historical, significant, unissued jazz performances in their vaults, smaller labels like Uptown regularly surprise jazz fans with live recordings that few knew existed at all, such as this evening taped by jazz industry veteran Ozzie Cadena. Hank Mobley is heard leading a house band with pianist Walter Davis, Jr., drummer Charlie Persip, and the obscure bassist Jimmy Schenck, with trombonist Bennie Green as the guest for the week. These two sets recorded at The Piccadilly in Newark come from a single night in 1953, making them among Mobley's earliest known recordings.
Part of Blue Note's quality series of artist samplers, The Best of Hank Mobley surveys the great tenor saxophonist's prime stretch from 1955-1965. Originally overshadowed by the likes of Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and, of course, Coltrane, Mobley nevertheless gained the respect of his peers, thanks to his richly fluid phrasing and smooth, caramel tone – in lieu of trying to impress you, he seduced you slowly from afar. And while one is advised to dive in directly with any one of his Blue Note discs – especially Soul Station, No Room for Squares, and A Slice of the Top – this ten-track overview still works well as a launching pad. Backed by a stellar array of "Blue Note" regulars like Lee Morgan, Curtis Fuller, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, and Horace Silver, Mobley ranges effortlessly from early hard bop favorites ("Funk in a Deep Freeze") to mature, solo-rich material from the mid-'60s ("The Turnaround"). In between, there are two stunning originals from his banner year of 1960 ("This I Dig of You," "Take Your Pick") and one of the best of his several bossa nova numbers ("Recado Bossa Nova").
Mobley was born in Eastman, Georgia, but was raised in Elizabeth, New Jersey, near Newark. When he was 16, an illness kept him in the house for several months. His uncle thought of buying a saxophone to help him occupy his time, and it was then that Mobley began to play. He tried to enter a music school in Newark, but couldn't, since he was not a resident, so he kept studying through books at home. At 19, he started to play with local bands and, months later, worked for the first time with musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach. He took part in one of the earliest hard bop sessions, alongside Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. The results of these sessions were released as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers.