Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Joe Henderson: The Complete Blue Note Studio Sessions

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In Down Beat, the guitarist John Scofield was quoted explaining what's so special: "Joe Henderson is the essence of jazz..... He embodies musically all the different elements that come together in his generation...He has one of the most beautiful tones and can get as pretty as Pres or Stan Getz... He can float but he can also dig in... He's got his own vocabulary, his own phrases, he plays all different ways, like all the great jazz players... Who's playing better on any instrument, more interestingly, more cutting edge yet completely with roots than Joe Henderson? He's my role model in jazz."

“Dignity is the word for him - intelligent, swinging, hip, modest and worthy are others.

He had no complaints. He made a good living, he owned a house, took care of his medical bills, and his family. He was respected for doing what he enjoys. Not too many people can say that.”

- Mike Zwerin, Culturekiosque Jazznet

“Mr. Henderson was unmistakably modern. ''Joe had one foot in the present, the other in the future, and he was just a step away from immortality,'' said the saxophonist Benny Golson. His tenor saxophone sound was shaded, insinuating, full of layers, with quicksilver lines amid careful ballad phrases and short trills. He had a clean, expressive upper register and a talent for improvising in semi-abstract harmony, and when the far-out years for jazz arrived in the mid-60's, led by musicians like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, he was well positioned to take part. He made a series of records for Milestone that used studio echo, Alice Coltrane's harp, violins, wood flutes and other exotic accouterments.

But Mr. Henderson's greatest strengths were more traditional: the ballad, the uptempo tune, the standard. And by the early 1990's, when he was a respected elder, he made some of his greatest statements on a series of well-produced, nearly theatrical albums for Verve Records.”

- Ben Ratliff, Obituary, New York Times

“Joe Henderson became one of the surviving jazz icons in the 1990s, and as a consequence his back pages - long neglected by-reissues - were extensively released on CD. He's a thematic musician, working his way round the structure of a composition with methodical intensity, but he's also a masterful licks player, with a seemingly limitless stock of phrases that he can turn to the advantage of any post-bop setting; this gives his best improvisations a balance of surprise, immediacy and coherence few other saxophonists can match. His lovely tone, which combines softness and a harsh plangency in a similar way, is another pleasing aspect of his music”

- Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD 6th Ed.

“If in the 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.”

- Bill Kirchner, insert notes to The Joe Henderson Big Band [Verve 314 533 451-2].

Over the years, Blue Note Records, Michael Cuscuna at Mosaic Records and Bob Blumenthal have become an unbeatable team when it comes to licensing, reissuing and annotating the iconic Jazz that Alfred Lion and Frances Wolff produced in the 1950s and 1960s.

The finished products are beautifully packaged sets marked by enhanced audio quality, superbly researched and written booklet notes and distinctive black and white photographs of the musicians performing at the original recording dates.

It’s important to keep in mind that these are limited edition sets so when they are gone, they are gone. You can find out more about Mosaic and related order information for the Henderson 5 CD set [MD 271] by going here.

We wrote to Michael and Bob to ask their permission to feature the initial pages of the booklet notes to give you a taste of what’s on offer here and they kindly consented to allowing us to share the following excerpts with you.

© -Bob Blumenthal/Mosaic Records, copyright protected; all rights reserved; used with the author’s permission.

“From the moment he emerged in 1963 until his death in 2001, Joe Henderson was one of the most distinctive and consistently inspired voices in jazz. His bold yet wizened sound coupled with an effortless attack and flawless flow of ideas across the harmonic and rhythmic spectrum, plus a rare knack to naturally command the widest variety of musical contexts, made Henderson a musician whose every appearance was significant. This was true of his early recording career at the center of Blue Note's early '60s successes, and extended to the more irregular middle period of his career as well as the ultimate commercial success he finally achieved in the 1990s.

Henderson was an elusive and somewhat mysterious figure. Associates were known to refer to him as The Phantom, an individual hard to get to know and often hard to find. His efforts to maintain a working band were fitful at best, and while releasing some exceptional albums of his own in 1971 he chose to spend an anonymous year in the ranks of Blood, Sweat and Tears. I had two telephone conversations with Henderson at his later, popular peak, one in 1993 as a columnist for the Boston Globe and a second five years later for liner notes to ULTIMATE STAN GETZ, a Verve anthology that Henderson had selected. In both instances he could not be found at the appointed hour, finally responded to numerous messages at the very edge of my deadlines, and then proved friendly, forthcoming and willing to extend the conversation well beyond my expectations.

While generally upbeat and willing to express appreciation of musicians from diverse generations, Henderson was not above expressing his displeasure with younger players who showed up uninvited at his recording sessions or displayed a commitment to improvisation that, in his view, implied an indifference to the underlying material. ""It hit me at a recent concert," he said while discussing Getz, "that young guys who took this approach were playing on the same bandstands where Stan, Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and other giants played. Did they deserve to lie there? And should I be lending my support by being there with them?"' In our earlier discussion, he indicated that the popularity of his compositions also raised problems with players young and old. "Inevitably, new ideas come to you after you've recorded a piece. A year or two pass, and the tune becomes what it should have been on the record. Meanwhile, other people have learned the tunes off the record, or transcribed them, and what they play isn't the tune as I've come to know it."

Henderson was far more generous, to me and to early authors of liner notes, in recollections of his formative years. He was born in Lima, Ohio on April 24, 1937, one of 15 children in a family that encouraged the study of music. (His brother Leon, also a tenor saxophonist, was heard on Blue Note as part of the Kenny Cox group.) He began to take the saxophone seriously around the age of 13, "I had had a saxophone for three years, and was supposed to be studying technique in books," he told me, "but I was more interested in obtaining a familiarity with the instrument so that I could play things that didn't just leap out of the book." He credited Herbert Murphy, his teacher, for familiarizing him with the instrument; pianists Richard Patterson and Don Hurless for providing a working knowledge of the piano; and drummer John Jarette for suggesting which records to take seriously in an older brother's substantial collection.

Henderson's early idols might surprise some of his fans. “In the beginning, Stan [Getz] was the guy I wanted to be when I grew up," he confessed. "He captured the lion's share of my attention for three or four years...when I was just zapping up ideas like an ink blotter. I started doing things Stan's way just to see what it felt like; and it didn't take me too long to change a note here, a note there. Pretty soon this thing was uniquely my own." In later years, when both saxophonists lived on the West Coast, Henderson and Getz became what the former described as "part of a mutual admiration society." Henderson also began to take composing and arranging seriously in high school, as he explained to Leonard Feather, because "I was originally under the influence of the Stan Kenton band — the one with Lee Konitz in it." Konitz is another early favorite who would return Henderson's appreciation, as documented on the classic 1967 LEE KONITZ DUETS.

After graduating from high school in 1955, Henderson attended Kentucky State College for a year before transferring to Wayne State University in Detroit. He described his immersion in that jazz haven to Nat Hentoff as "the real awakening for me." Among other things, it marked his reconsideration of Charlie Parker. "Just before I moved to Detroit I got back to Bird," he told me in our second interview. "At that point, I had the knowledge to appreciate him for being the god that he really was...Then I spent about eight years trying to play Bird tunes with total accuracy, which is like playing etudes." It no doubt helped that, like many other young Detroit musicians, he began studying with Larry Teal and playing with the professorial Barry Harris.

Henderson served in the Army between 1960 and 1962, winning honors in a talent show and participating in a tour of three continents with a military band for which he wrote arrangements and played occasional bass as well as tenor. He received his discharge in August 1962 after a final period of service in Baltimore, and quickly headed to New York. Kenny Dorham described Henderson's arrival in the liner notes to PAGE ONE as follows: "[His] first stop was at a party at a friend's place (saxophonist Junior Cook) where I was introduced to this bearded, goateed astronaut of the tenor sax. Later I suggested that we go down to see Dexter Gordon, who was headlining at the Birdland Monday night 'Jazz Jamboree'... 'Long Tall Dexter' 'asked the young man if he'd like to play some. Minutes afterward...the saxophonist was off and soaring his lyrical way to new heights on a Charlie Parker blues line. At the end of the chorus (and I do mean 15 or 20) there was a warm and exhilarating applause tor Joe, and as for Dex, sitting on the side, he looked "gassed."'

Dorham became a mentor to Henderson, guiding him through the intimidating New York scene and employing him as the second horn on gigs. Henderson, already a longtime fan of the trumpeter's, told Nat Hentoff "We have some kind of vibration going. Even when we play unison lines, it seems we breathe at the same time." It was Dorham who brought the young unknown to the attention of Blue Note, where Henderson made all of his albums as a leader and most of his appearances as a sideman in the years that would become the first chapter of his recorded history. This collection contains all of Henderson's own Blue Note albums and the pair he made with Dorham, plus a sampling of the original compositions he contributed while recording with others.”

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