Monday, August 18, 2014

The Joe Henderson Big Band

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

While working on a previous feature about tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, the editorial staff came across Bill Kirchner’s  informative insert notes to the CD - The Joe Henderson Big Band [Verve 314 533 451-2].

For those of you who may not be aware of his background, Bill is a composer- arranger, record producer, educator and leader of the Bill Kirchner Nonet.

He is also the editor of one of our most frequently used reference guides: The Oxford Companion to Jazz.

Bill kindly granted permission for JazzProfiles to use his notes to Joe’s big band recording on these pages.

© -  Bill Kirchner; used with the permission of the author; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“If in 1990’s there is a consensus on anything in jazz, it is that Joe Henderson is one of the music's premier living soloists. From the time of his first recordings (1963) until now, Henderson has been a totally distinctive improviser by any and all criteria: melodic inventiveness, harmonic sophistication, rhythmic sureness, a totally personal sound, and arresting powers of communication. He is also a composer of substance who has added a sizeable number of pieces to the jazz repertoire.

Now, for the first time on record, you'll hear another side of Joe: that of big-band leader/arranger/featured soloist. It's not a role that he takes on casually; if anything, he has been preparing for it since the early Fifties. At that time, Henderson was a high school student in Lima, Ohio, and he heard what was to be a major influence on his music: the 1952-54 editions of the Stan Kenton Orchestra, with such luminaries as Lee Konitz, Frank Rosolino, Conte Candoli, Richie Kamuca, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Childers, and Stan Levey. Konitz was one of Henderson's earliest musical heroes, but just as important to him was the writing of Bill Holman and Bill Russo. The youngster was drawn to Holman's innovative linearity and Russo's harmonic density on albums like New Concepts of Artistry in Rhythm, The Music of Bill Holman, and The Music of Bill Russo (Capitol), which included such compositions as Holman's "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet" and "In Lighter Vein" and Russo's "My Lady" and "Frank Speaking."

"Bill Holman nurtured my imagination," said Henderson. "His writing factored into whatever I started to develop later as a composer/arranger." When Joe was attending Wayne State University in Detroit, he began to listen to Stravinsky, Bartok, Kodaly, and Hindemith. In his mind, he took the work of these masters and "mixed it together" with Holman to come up with his own concepts of jazz orchestration.

Fast forward a decade to the summer of 1966. Henderson was now a rising young tenor saxophonist re-establishing his presence in New York after two years largely spent touring with the Horace Silver Quintet. Joe and trumpeter Kenny Dorham, his friend and frequent musical partner, decided to start a rehearsal band, and from the beginning it was a laboratory for Henderson to develop his writing, "a way of getting down with the notes orchestration-wise."

The band rehearsed three afternoons a week at a nightclub in the East Village called The Dom: there were no music stands in the club, so the players set the music on chairs. Word quickly spread that this band was different, and Henderson soon had the cream of New York's jazz musicians showing up to rehearse. Among the regulars were trumpeters Bob McCoy, Charlie Camilleri, Lew Soloff, and Mike Lawrence; trombonists Jimmy Knepper, Julian Priester, Curtis Fuller, and Kiane Zawadi; saxophonists Bobby Porcelli, Pete Yellin, Joe Temperley, and Pepper Adams; pianists Chick Corea, Bob Dorough, and Ronnie Mathews; bassists Junie Booth and Ron Carter; and drummers Joe Chambers and Roy Haynes.

Dorham dropped out of the band after a year, but Henderson continued it on his own. "I wanted a band that had its own voice," he recalled, "and I wanted the band to be my horn. It was a big band that didn't sound like a big band, that could play like a quartet." He worked out his ideas slowly, sometimes writing only eight measures at a time for a rehearsal. Later, the band moved to Upsurge Studios, which had actual music stands plus recording equipment; Joe still has some of the rehearsal tapes. But the band rarely played in public, and after four or five years it became history when the leader's energies were directed elsewhere.

Fast forward again to 1992. On March 14, Henderson and Freddie Hubbard appeared together at Alice Tully Hall in New York in front of a big band that included a number of alumni from Joe's Sixties ensemble. Two days later, they went into the studio to produce three of the tracks you hear on this disc.

The rest of this recording, with Henderson and bassist Christian McBride as the only returnees, was made in June of 1996. (In the interim, Joe put together a big band with players from San Francisco, where he has lived since 1973; the band appeared for a total of three weeks in 1993 at a club called Kimball's East and did a concert
at Davies Symphony Hail.)

The disc begins with a Henderson arrangement of one of his favorite standards,
Without a Song. The unique substitute harmonies date from his 1967 recording
The Kicker [Milestone]. This time, Joe's solo leads into two powerful, and often
polyrhythmic, shout choruses.

Isotope, Henderson's setting of his own well-known blues theme, is a tribute to
Thelonious Monk. Joe and fellow Monkophile Chick Corea a sustain the flavor of the
master without limitation or caricature. In addition to being one of the finest
contemporary soloists, Corea is a superb accompanist, and one of those rare pianists who can alter the sound of a big band through sheer rhythmic power. McBride has two good solo choruses before the closing theme.

Inner Urge is the title track of a classic 1964 Henderson Blue Note recording that also contains "Isotope." Before introducing the theme, the veteran arranger Slide Hampton provides the piece with a richly-orchestrated fanfare. (The leader of his own 13-piece Jazzmasters, Hampton is currently at the peak of his powers.) This is one of Henderson's most harmonically difficult vehicles, and he and Corea more than meet the challenge. There is much rhythmic variety throughout Hampton's treatment, including rubato passages and slashing ensembles. Here and elsewhere on this disc, Lewis Nash, who is better known for his splendid small-group work, demonstrates that he is an accomplished big-band drummer. The same is true of Joe Chambers and Al Foster.

A waltz, Black Narcissus is probably Joe's loveliest composition. Bob Belden wisely chose to color it discreetly leaving Corea and Henderson to cast their respective spells. This is a worthy addition to the composer's three previous Milestone recordings of this song, including one with Flora Purim.

Trombones figure prominently in Joe's arrangement of A Shade Of Jade, recorded previously for both Blue Note and Milestone. The chorus structure is 12-12-16-12 — a minor blues with a bridge. Henderson and Freddie Hubbard solo with appropriate aggressiveness, and then Joe returns, first with the rhythm section, and finally to slug it out with the ensemble.

Step Lightly, a relaxed 16-bar blues by Henderson, has an interesting history. It was first recorded in 1963 by Blue Mitchell with a sextet that included the composer; the recording, however, went unreleased by Blue Note until 1980. In 1964, Mitchell re-recorded it on The Thing To Do with a quintet that included Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor, and two young up-and-comers, Chick Corea and Al Foster. (It was Corea's second record date, and Foster's recording debut.) There is also a 1977 Concord recording by a Louie Bellson small group featuring Mitchell. Bob Belden elected to keep the small-group flavor of those recordings, bolstering it with appropriate big-band punches. Solos are by trumpeter Nicholas Payton, one of the most gifted of the current crop of "young lions," and then Henderson and Corea. Ail told, this track is an event of sorts: a reunion of Corea and Foster in a new setting of a tune they recorded 32 years earlier, and Joe's first recording of it under his own name.

Serenity is an unusual 14-bar theme recorded in 1964 on the former's In ‘N Out date for Blue Note. Slide Hampton's arrangement is one of the toughest on this disc, but the band, spurred on by lead trumpeter Jon Faddis and lead saxophonist Dick Oatts on soprano, is up for it. As one might expect, Henderson and Corea more than hold up their end.

Billy Strayhom's Chelsea Bridge is a ballad feature for Joe, and it's his
arrangement—a harmonically ingenious one. He wrote this after recording a small-group version in 1967 for Milestone, and his long-time admiration for Stan Getz is in evidence.

Last is Recordame ["remember me" in Spanish], one of Henderson's most-played tunes. It's arranged by the gifted trumpeter/arranger Mike Mossman, who puts his Latin experience with the late Mario Bauza to good use. Joe's solo is my favorite on the disc, opening with a double-barreled quote from If I Only Had a Brain and Long Ago and Far Away. The rhythm section here is Joe's current all-Brazilian crew, and pianist Hello Alves proves his mettle as a soloist, as does trumpeter Payton once again.

Shortly after finishing this recording, Joe Henderson, having finally recorded a project he began three decades ago, was in a reflective mood. “Things have changed so much. No one seems to want to get in there and hang in, for reasons of integrity, and work the stuff out until it comes out right. That’s the tradition I came through. Everyone wants to get famous and rich before they do their homework.

There isn’t a Jazz musician extant with more integrity than Joe Henderson and that quality comes out in his music - never more so than on this recording. As saxophonist Steve Wilson put it: Everyone on the dates felt privileged just to be there.

Just one hearing of this disc will tell you why.

- Bill Kirchner”

During the 1950s, David Stone Martin illustrated the covers of Norman Granz’s various record labels, many of which were subsumed under his flagship company, Verve. With the help of the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD and the production facilities at StudioCerra, we’ve set paired of David’s artwork and illustrations with music from Joe Henderson's Big Band CD. The tune is his original composition Isotope on which he solos along with Chick Corea on piano and Christian McBride on bass. Joe and Bob Belden did the arrangement.

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