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A project of Jazz Appreciation Month, KNKX and Jazz24 celebrate highly regarded jazz creators who continue to inspire.

From bebop to the big screen, Harvey Mason Sr. is everywhere

 Harvey Mason Sr. contributions to popular music span bebop, disco, classical and R&B.
Devin DeHaven
Axis Management
Harvey Mason Sr. contributions to popular music span bebop, disco, classical and R&B.

Drummer and classically trained percussionist Harvey Mason Sr. is as versatile as any musician could ask for in a bandmate or session player. He moves from jazz to pop, intimate groups to large orchestras, with the skill of a player who has spent countless hours in studio with the best artists in the world.

Mason’s early work that put him in the eyes and ears of jazz fans was with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band. He will forever be known in the world of jazz fusion as the drummer and co-composer who put his stamp on Hancock’s “Chameleon.” Mason only stayed with the Headhunters in the formative years of the group, but he continued to work with Hancock on various solo projects.

Mason started his own composing and recording career as a leader in 1975. Now with 11 albums to his credit as a lead artist, he’s known in musician circles as a first call studio artist.

Mason has recorded on hundreds of projects. Due to his involvement as producer, drummer, percussionist and/or composer, his name can be found on new releases and various compilations that include past projects. His work on soundtracks alone includes The Color Purple, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Batman Forever, Sabrina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and dozens of others.

Active in every era of popular music from the early '70s until today, his resume of projects is staggering.

From Donald Byrd to Carole King, Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker to K-Ci & JoJo, Bill Withers to Keb Mo’ plus Quincy Jones and George Benson. Mason has recorded a few times with Benson including on his huge album Breezin’.

When I spoke with Mason in 2009, he talked about their long friendship and that recording date:

“I met George when he was 17 or 16. He was playing with Jack Macduff and came to my hometown, Atlantic City, New Jersey. I was playing in a club called The Wonder Gardens. And I remember he came in and he needed a white shirt. So I lent him a shirt and began an association. And all through my college years when he came to Boston, we’d kind of hang out. Then he was signed with Warner's and I was on the Breezin’ session, but you know, seven or eight of those tracks on that record were first takes. So it was an amazing event. I mean, Breezin’ was great. It was a great band and, but it was a great record.”


Mason was also the drummer, and one of the founding members, in the band Fourplay. The group originated after working with longtime friend and pianist Bob James on one of his solo projects. James then asked guitarist Lee Ritenour, bassist Nathan East and drummer Mason to form a quartet based on how seamlessly they worked together.

The band would eventually replace Ritenour with guitarists Larry Carlton and then Chuck Loeb before putting the group on indefinite hiatus in 2017. The band put out 14 albums in their 25 year run, toured extensively and celebrated many top charting albums and one Grammy nomination.

Mason has been nominated for a Grammy award 10 times over his career and is often the drummer for the Academy Awards where he has been behind the drum kit at the ceremonies 25 times.

When looking for recordings for the drummer, be sure to add “Senior” after Mason. Mason’s son, Harvey Mason Jr is a record producer, songwriter, film producer, and he's followed in his famous father’s footsteps working on album and film projects with a myriad of top pop and R&B artists. He is currently CEO of the Recording Academy.

Harvey Mason Sr.’s career has spanned over 50 years encompassing bebop, disco, classical and R&B. Time and again he's contributed to the popular music you hear regularly, and the experience you feel when immersed in the soundscape of a film. You’ve likely enjoyed the contributions he’s made to our shared musical landscape.
Copyright 2024 KNKX Public Radio. To see more, visit KNKX Public Radio.

Carol Handley joined KNKX in 2018 as Director of Music Programming for KNKX and Jazz24. Previously, she has held positions including General Manager, Program Director, Music Director and On-Air host at several stations in the Northwest presenting traditional, progressive and contemporary styles of Jazz and roots music. In the early part of her broadcasting career she was a host at the station formerly known as KPLU.