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Harvey Mason Chameleon Project

In reflecting on his historic compositional collaboration with Hancock, Mason comments that he’s very much like the color-changing lizard. “Chameleon defines me,” he says. “That’s what I identify myself as. I can easily switch into different areas of quality music.”

That’s not only served him well with his innovative, compelling drumming in a broad swath of stylistic settings, but it also characterizes his new concept band (called Chameleon), which in 2010 toured Japan

“We’re definitely not stuck in a bebop or the smooth jazz zone,” Mason says, then adds with a laugh, “The audiences come and don’t know what they’re going to hear but they’ve come to trust me.” In fact, the big draw is Mason’s brilliance in synchronizing his high-hat cymbals, snare drums and bass drums with graceful precision—which has garnered him four top awards from Modern Drummer magazine’s annual studio poll, three consecutive Smooth Jazz Drummer of the year awards with another nomination in 2010 and NARAS’s MVP Studio Drummer award.
That ability to shift gears stylistically has certainly been the modus operandi for the entirety of Mason’s career. “Even though my first love has always been jazz,” he says, “I love playing everything from orchestral to straight-ahead jazz and everything in between. I feel complete and fully stimulated.”

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1947, Mason grew up in a jazz culture. He frequented the boardwalk city’s club, The Wonder Garden, where all the jazz giants played. “I worked weekends and off hours, did afternoon matinees and met some incredible drummers such as Roy Haynes and Billy Hart,” he says. “Billy was a real supporter who recognized my talents. In fact, he was the person who later recommended me to Herbie Hancock when he was preparing to change his band. Billy told him, ‘You’ve got to listen to this cat.’”

But before that, Mason sought more schooling. He moved to Boston to attend Berklee College of Music and later graduated from the New England Conservatory (where he’s presently on the school’s Board of Visitors). He lived there from 1966-70. After returning from his first tour with Garner (seven weeks in Europe), Mason took a job with Shearing, who lived on the West Coast.“It was the perfect situation for moving to Los Angeles,” he says. He headed West in 1971 and has made the city his home base ever since.

That’s where Mason met Hancock and recorded with the Head Hunters. He played on the smash 1973 album, which included the fused “Chameleon” (which clocked in at an expansive 15:44 and earned Mason his first Grammy nomination for Instrumental Composition) as well as Mason’s funky new arrangement of the leader’s ‘60s hit, “Watermelon Man.”




Eventbrite - Idyllwild Jazz In The Pines Festival 2014