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Chameleon: Fourplay Drummer Harvey Mason Discusses His New Album

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Chameleon is the Concord Records debut album from legendary session drummer Harvey Mason and draws upon the rich jazz-funk heritage of the 1970s.

Co-produced by Chris Dunn, Chameleon (Releasing April 29th) showcases some of the most talented young musicians in jazz today: trumpeter Christian Scott, bassist Ben Williams, pianist/keyboardist Kris Bowers and guitarist Matthew Stevens.

Bringing even more firepower are trombonist/vocalist Corey “CK” King, saxophonist Kamasi Washington, vocalist Chris Turner, and keyboardist Mark de Clive-Lowe.

Chameleon features seven of the era’s most enduring classics infused with modern day shine, including an imaginative new arrangement of Mason’s signature song and title track. For this new version of ‘Chameleon,’ Mason invited Bill Summers to reprise his famous hinedewho intro to ‘Watermelon Man,’ a song from Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters LP which Mason played on and arranged.”

Fans concerned about Chameleon sounding retro will take comfort in knowing that Mason has delivered an album that interjects fresh new elements on each subsequent listen.

In addition to being one of the most in-demand studio musicians of all-time, Mason still regularly records and performs as a member of the super-group Fourplay along with Bob James, Nathan East and Chuck Loeb. I spoke to him about Chameleon, his time working with Herbie Hancock and more.

How did the idea for Chameleon begin?

I first came up with the idea of creating Chameleon while I was playing solo in Japan with different configurations. Most of the people there have seen me never play with Herbie [Hancock] during that era and would often tell me that I needed to record the band and this music. My thought was that if I did it, I wanted to change the music and not play the same thing that I played back then. Chris Dunn was the one who suggested we re-record many of the songs, but use younger guys. So we chose a bunch of people, gave them songs to arrange, went into the studio and this is what we came out with. I’m very happy with it!

How is a project like this different from one done with Fourplay?

With Fourplay, the four of us have known each other for a very long time. We all write for the project and bring our own songs in and each guy produces his own song. It’s a democratic band and we all play live in the studio. With this project, I had never played with many of the guys before, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But it was a magical moment. You’re just experimenting to see what happens and reacting to it.

Let’s discuss a few tracks from the album: If I Ever Lose This Heaven

Originally I didn’t plan on having any vocals, but Chris suggested the song. We asked Chris Turner to come in and sing it and I asked my son to produce the vocals. They came out with a song that I feel is worthy of being played on almost any radio station and Chris sang it incredibly well.

Chameleon

We gave the song to Ben Wendell (Kneebody) who came up with a great blueprint for it. Then I added Bill Summers and his patented whistles. The arrangement really sounds fresh and goes through a lot of different colors and changes.

What was it like working with Herbie Hancock on the original version?

I’ve loved Herbie from the time I was a kid when he was working with Miles (Davis). To get to be in the studio with him during that era to create and write was amazing. Whenever we play together its magical. We have a special chemistry together.

Was there a meaning behind the track Studio Life (Hold It One Second)?

I had played a drum solo that didn't make it on a song. It was just a little snippet, but Chris thought that we could put something else with it. So we pieced it all together. It really gives people an interesting view of the recording process and what goes on in the studio.

Did you always know that you wanted to be a musician?

It was innate. Growing up, I always had this thing where I wanted to be a drummer. Even from the time I was crawling around, I was always banging on the floor with spoons and hitting pots and pans. Then in school, I had an opportunity to play drums in the orchestra. I remember my teacher there was also a violinist in the Philadelphia Orchestra and he really pushed me to be the best I could be.

What led you to become a studio musician?

Originally, I had thought about becoming a lawyer. While it was fun to play music, I wanted something that might be a little more stable. I had given thought about going to law school but then read an article about Larry Bunker and studio musicians and said "That's what I want to do!" Right at that point I decided to switch gear. I applied to a couple of music schools, got accepted and the rest is history! I eventually went to LA and started making my way in the studio. I just kept playing without any intention of going out on the road. That's why my discography is so large.

What’s the origin of Fourplay?

Bob James and I were friends for many years. He was coming to LA to record and asked me to help him put together a couple of bands for the project. So I put together two bands for him and one of them had Nathan (East) and Lee (Rittenour). It was the band that Bob decided to use for the entire CD. I remember it sounded so good while we were in the studio that Bob asked us if we would consider being in a band and each one of us said yes. At the time, Bob was working at Warner Brothers and went to Mo Ostin (president) to ask him if he’d support us. He immediately said yes and the next thing you know we’re in the studio and are off and running!

In your view, what makes jazz such a great form of music?

The fact that you're able to create and play what's in your heart and soul. You're able to interact with other players and have the freedom of being able to spontaneously create with no preconceived ideas. It's pure creativity and improvisation. The only thing you're restricted by is your own mind.

For more on Harvey Mason check out his Official Website by Clicking Here!

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