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Harvey MasonJM: How did you and Chris choose the musicians you played with?

HM: We were looking for something fresh, the way Horace Silver and Miles Davis always did it when they infused their music with new young bands all the time. Chris is very connected to what’s going on with some of the younger artists. He attends those Monk festivals and contests, and has signed quite a few exciting up and coming guys.  Last year, Concord released a project by NEXT Collective called Cover Art, which was an ensemble recording by artists of this younger generation. Ben Williams, Christian Scott, Kris Bowers and Matthew Stevens were part of this. He sent me CDs so I could hear their playing, and I said, yes, yes, yes! I had worked with Ben and Christian before, but (saxophonist) Kamasi Washington was new to me.

Once I agreed to work with them, they sent me demos of their arrangements. Once we were in the studio, it was fun to see the light bulb go off and gauge how they reacted in different situations. What’s most exciting is that I now have a connection with all of them. Age means nothing in that space because once you’re in the studio, you have the same musical conversation. You react, throw stuff around and react off that. The only time I felt that I was from a different era was when they were overly reverential towards me at first. We dispelled that quickly, as I reminded them that they were there to propel me the same way I was there to encourage them.

JM: Do you ever remember a time when you were intimidated as a young musician?
HM: Just the one time when I walked in and Carlos Santana, Herbie, Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter were all there at the same time waiting for me. I started playing like one of my idols, Tony Williams, and then Ron, whom I had worked with before, pulled me aside and said if they wanted Tony, he was just up the street and they would have called him. It was an early, important reminder to be myself.

JM: How is the recording process different from when you first started doing sessions and recording your own albums in the 70s?

HM: The technology of today makes the process very different, because there is so much overdubbing, editing, fixing and moving of recorded parts. It’s easy to get caught up in that and take out a lot of the soul in the process. But for recordings like Chameleon, the fact that we were all there playing live bodes well for jazz, because everything can be done with a minimum of overdubbing. We used Pro Tools but all played live. It’s totally different when I play on pop records, and a lot more regimented. I’m often surprised by   the way I come out sounding, but I remind myself that once I am hired to work for someone, I don’t own that recording. My work is theirs for them to do what they want with it.

JM: Who were your musical influences when you were growing up?

HM: The first record I remember hearing was Jug by saxophonist Gene Ammons and I loved Art Taylor’s drumming. He kept great time and supporting everything so well. I understood why he worked so much. Then I graduated to listening the guys that inspired everyone growing up then – Art Blakey, Tony Williams when he played with Miles, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Buddy Rich. Those were the big names but I also paid attention to the guys working behind James Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and all the Motown artists. I’ve also been a huge fan of gospel music, as much now as back then, and the drumming in that genre is very progressive.

JM: What do you think your greatest musical gifts are? Do you think you’ve evolved as a musician over the 40 some years? What is the secret to being a great musical chameleon?

Harvey MasonHM: I think my greatest gift is loving and appreciating all kinds of music and being dedicated to progressing, growing and getting better as a player over time. Jazz is my most natural love, but I love being challenged by a lot of other styles of music. I even love rap and hip hop beats and music where the rhythms are displaced. I believe I was born with the gift of music, and was banging on pots and pans and oatmeal boxes as a kid, then started playing drums in third grade and played piano in church. From my time at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory to my nearly 50 years living and working in L.A., my whole life has been music.

It’s really been a blessing and it definitely comes from God. I feel like I’m always moving forward because I am always listening. I would like to be remembered as a great drummer that was open to playing every style and had a deep respect for musicians. I played at Disney Hall in L.A. for their 10th anniversary recently with Herbie, Christian McBride and Dianne Reeves. Without much conversation, the music just started and flowed naturally. That’s because we respect each other. The world could take a cue from the way musicians from different worlds are able to come together and, with barely a word exchanged between them, create so much joy.

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