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JAMES MAHONE : Hooked by Intrigue of Improvisation

What do saxophonist James Mahone, guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Scott Colley, trombonist Mike Fahn and pianists Cecilia Coleman and Eric Reed have in common? They’ve all won the Shelly Manne Memorial New Talent Award, given yearly by the Los Angeles Jazz Society to a young Southland musician.

Mahone received the award recently at the society’s ninth annual banquet, largely on the recommendation of Joel Leach, the band instructor at Cal State Northridge, where Mahone once studied.

He has since been active as a member of the Black/Note Quintet, led by bass player Mark Shelby. The group will perform Friday and Saturday at Atlas Bar & Grill and can be heard every Sunday at the Jazz Etc. Supper Club.

Mahorn, a 22-year-old native of San Bernardino, enjoys the Jazz Etc. engagement.

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“We start around 4 every Sunday and keep going sometimes until past midnight,” he says. “A lot of other players come in and play, and it’s always crowded. At the club, you play a lot differently than when you are by yourself, practicing. You have a chance to think about stage presence and develop a rapport with the audience.”

One of Mahone’s goals is to write more of his own material.

“I’ve composed about 15 songs,” he says. “The band plays a lot of standards, but we try to emphasize original pieces so we can work on finding our own identity.”

Mahone was a drummer before switching to alto sax. He credits the influence of giants like Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane with channeling him into a music career.

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“Those men showed me what could be accomplished,” he says. “Then I started to improvise, saw how that worked and how endless the possibilities were, and it got me hooked--I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted to do.”


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