THE DOZENS: ESSENTIAL JOE HENDERSON by S. Victor Aaron



                          Joe Henderson, by Jos L. Knaepen


So many tenor saxophonists who came of age in the 1960s adapted heavily from both Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, but none exceeded the success that Joe Henderson had in forging his own inimitable style from two such familiar influences. Henderson’s “inside-outside” approach was nuanced enough to bring vitality to tender ballads and abrasive enough to set more dynamic songs afire.

First making an impact as a member of Horace Silver’s Song for My Father quintet, Henderson also appeared on such other notable records as Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure and McCoy Tyner’s The Real McCoy, just to name a few from early in his career. Many of Henderson’s own records of that time were of nearly equal quality: the Blue Notes from Page One to Mode for Joe, and the following Milestone era that produced such great works as Tetragon, Power to the People, and live In Japan.

Despite his outstanding recordings, Henderson spent much of the next couple of decades sharing roughly the same status to most jazz listeners as, say, Curtis Fuller or George Coleman: a talented and valuable Blue Note sideman. That finally started to change in the fall of 1985, when a pivotal live performance helped Henderson achieve in the jazz public’s mind the lofty standing that his playing had already earned more than 20 years earlier. The Verve years of the 1990s, with tributes to Miles Davis, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Billy Strayhorn, cemented his legend and belatedly brought him the commercial returns scant few who toil in uncompromised jazz enjoy.

And if anything, that’s perhaps Henderson’s overarching accomplishment: stubbornly sticking to his undiluted approach, he nudged the boundaries of hard bop when he could have effortlessly pursued the crossover success that most of his contemporaries sought. Instead of Joe Henderson finding an audience, the audience found Joe Henderson. He died in 2001 at age 64 and at peace in knowing that he had persevered.

The following 12 selections provide a representative cross section of Henderson’s work as a leader, in varying settings, eras and song styles. Since most of his artistic fulfillment occurred in the 1960s, there’s a preponderance of selections from that period, with a notable performance apiece from each of the three succeeding decades.


Joe Henderson: Blue Bossa

Track

Blue Bossa

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Page One (Blue Note 98795)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Butch Warren (bass), Pete La Roca (drums).

Composed by Kenny Dorham

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 3, 1963

Albumcoverjoehenderson-pageone

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

As the title advertises, "Blue Bossa" is bossa nova with blues overtones. An eminently catchy tune (even non-jazz fans recognize it), it's Kenny Dorham's rightful entry into the jazz standards canon. In original form here as the first track from Joe Henderson's debut album, a strong composition is given strong treatment. After the two horn players state the theme in unison, Dorham takes the lead, restating his theme with a succession of rapid-fire tremolos that sound like he's playing his trumpet behind an electric fan. The rest of the way, he stays close to the theme in a clean and relaxed manner. Henderson's ensuing solo introduces his warm tenor from the Sonny Rollins school, finding notes that aren't always obvious but always fit. Foreshadowing his affinity for Antonio Carlos Jobim's music, Tyner already sounds right at home with the Brazilian form. Warren makes his own solo statement concise.

"Blue Bossa" introduced the world to Joe Henderson in fine fashion. This classic piece remains the place to start for discovering the treasure trove of Henderson's body of work.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Recorda Me

Track

Recorda Me [aka Recordame, Recorda-me]

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Page One (Blue Note BST-84140)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Butch Warren (bass), Pete La Roca (drums).

Composed by Joe Henderson

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, June 3, 1963

Albumcoverjoehenderson-pageone

Rating: 97/100 (learn more)

Like its more recognizable album mate "Blue Bossa," "Recorda Me" is bossa nova at its core. However, this Joe Henderson-penned tune boasts a shiftier rhythm underneath and busier thematic lines out front. Another difference is that Henderson leads off the soloing this time, and it's here that his careful phrasing and modulation of intensity testify to his tenor mastery. Kenny Dorham contrasts nicely by holding his notes where there might be spaces. Tyner's own lead shows off a little bit of his familiar detached, right-hand arpeggios before a horn line signals the transition back to the head.

"Recorda Me" became a longtime staple in Joe Henderson's live performances and has been covered by acts as diverse as the fusion supergroup Steps Ahead and avant-garde giant Anthony Braxton. This early Henderson composition has stood the tests of both time and presentation quite well.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Our Thing

Track

Our Thing

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Our Thing (BST-84152)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Andrew Hill (piano), Pete La Roca (drums),

Eddie Khan (bass)

.

Composed by Joe Henderson

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 9, 1963

Albumcoverjoehenderson-ourthing

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

With its variable beats and hot bop lines, "Our Thing" could be considered something of a precursor to the better-known "The Kicker," which Joe Henderson would record the following year with the Horace Silver Quintet. But even more than with the song he lent to Silver, Henderson tests the limits of hard bop with "Our Thing."

The time signature changes from double-time to a leisurely gallop and back again. The main theme that rides on this rocky rhythm might be a gauntlet for most horn players to negotiate alone, much less in perfect unison with another musician as Henderson and Dorham do here. Henderson swings superbly on his solo, and Dorham lays down some Clifford Brown-type phrasing before turning matters over to Hill and his rhythmic precision.

"Our Thing" shows Henderson the composer constructing complex harmonics and tempos, even near the beginning of his career.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Punjab

Track

Punjab

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

In 'n Out (BST-84166)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Richard Davis (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Composed by Joe Henderson

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, April 10, 1964

Albumcoverjoehenderson-innout

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

Like many of Joe Henderson's songs, "Punjab" is the kind of modern jazz composition that arose in the wake of harmonic innovations introduced in Coltrane's Giant Steps and Miles's Kind of Blue. There's a lot of root movement in the thematic line declared by Henderson and Dorham. While the tune is a blues at its core, it's a longer form than the standard 12 bars. But since it's still the blues, Henderson sounds right at home, producing an endless wellspring of articulations that employ both lightning-fast arpeggios and easygoing, rhythmic phrases, all gliding over a melody with strange chord changes. And oddly enough, it's a melody that's hard to shake once it gets inside of you. "Punjab" succeeds in making the complex simple to digest.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Inner Urge

Track

Inner Urge

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Inner Urge (Blue Note 84189)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), McCoy Tyner (piano), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Elvin Jones (drums).

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, November 30, 1964

Albumcoverjoehenderson-innerurge

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

"Inner Urge" is a hard-swinging vehicle for a torrid blowing session. Joe Henderson lined up Coltrane's pianist and drummer (as well as Rollins's bass player) to back him, just nine days before Trane's two sidemen joined their boss (and bassist Jimmy Garrison) to record A Love Supreme. Clearly Henderson was seriously intent on showing he could measure up to two of his primary tenor influences, and doesn't disappoint.

Henderson's two solos here are extended, but he keeps things flowing by liberally mixing pleasantly tuneful passages with exciting, turbulent ones. Cranshaw and Tyner also sparkle during their turns. Elvin Jones, however, nearly steals the show with peerless, thunderous polyrhythms that rank among his better drum solos on record.

As a supremely confident saxophonist already running out of things to prove at this stage, Henderson again upped the ante with "Inner Urge."

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Mode For Joe

Track

Mode for Joe

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Mode for Joe (Blue Note 5918942)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Lee Morgan (trumpet), Curtis Fuller (trombone), Bobby Hutcherson (vibes), Cedar Walton (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Joe Chambers (drums).

Composed by Cedar Walton

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, January 27, 1966

Albumcoverjoehenderson-modeforjoe

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

Cedar Walton is no minor composer, but he may have reached the pinnacle with "Mode for Joe." Chords gracefully ascend and descend, and optimal use is made of spacing and timing. The expanded horn ensemble along with Hutcherson's vibes gives the song the elegant heft it demands, without being too large to play nimbly.

This song isn't perfect just because Walton scored it flawlessly, though. "Mode" is a signature Joe Henderson performance as well. In the midst of the call and response between Henderson and the rest of the front line, the leader shocks the listener by inserting some rough, dissonant lines that he repeats precisely as played the first time. His solo that follows is likewise a mixture of cool, precise phrasing with loosely conceived statements punctuated by coarse honks.

Like the great painter Picasso, Joe Henderson combines the odd with the beautiful to create something oddly beautiful.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Tetragon

Track

Tetragon

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Tetragon (MSP 9017)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Louis Hayes (drums).

Composed by Joe Henderson

.

Recorded: New York, September 27, 1967 and May 16, 1968

Albumcoverjoehenderson-tetragon

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

"Tetragon" is a modernized bebop tune, with the head demonstrating Joe Henderson's flair for imaginative chord progressions. This time, it's a series of descending chords and a start-stop melody that gives the song distinction. Another distinction is Henderson's sheer speed in running through scales even through chord changes. While he had the ability to modulate brilliantly between hot and cool from one phrase to the next, it's almost all hot blowing in this instance, and it's top notch. Henderson gets some solid comping from Kenny Barron, who was just starting to come into his own around this time. The pianist steps out shortly thereafter into a fine solo, followed by Ron Carter's blues walking on his standup bass.

Though inspired largely by postwar jazz, Joe Henderson's blues-based "Tetragon" is a timeless display of artistry.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Waltz For Zweetie

Track

Waltz For Zweetie

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Tetragon (MSP 9017)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Don Friedman (piano), Ron Carter (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Composed by Walter Bishop

.

Recorded: New York, September 27, 1967 and May 16, 1968

Albumcoverjoehenderson-tetragon

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

"Waltz For Zweetie" provides a contrast from the more advanced compositions that Joe Henderson was then tackling. The inaugural recording of Walter Bishop's tune casts the tenorman in more conventional 3/4 time, showing off his knack for the sweet, romantic style that waltzes typically call for. The piece is also more democratic, as Friedman's impressionistic stylings get fully articulated and Carter's bass work is outstanding in its range and lyricism. The leader himself solos last, steadfastly in the Rollins tradition and making excellent use of space. "Waltz For Zweetie" hasn't been covered much since, which is a shame. It's got a light, buoyant melody that's memorable. In any case, it would be hard to beat Joe Henderson's rendition.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Black Narcissus

Track

Black Narcissus

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Power To The People (MCD-30130-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Herbie Hancock (electric piano), Ron Carter (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums).

Composed by Joe Henderson

.

Recorded: New York, May 29, 1969

Albumcoverjoehenderson-powertothepeople

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

Jazz was changing rapidly as the '60s turned into the '70s, and Joe Henderson was present for much of it; he participated in Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay and Herbie Hancock's Fat Albert Rotunda, after all. But while Henderson was open for electric instrumentation in his own work, he also steadfastly refused to commercialize his music.

Henderson's first departure from an all-acoustic format as a leader came in the guise of a beautiful tone poem he wrote called "Black Narcissus." The only plugged-in instrument may have been Herbie Hancock's Fender Rhodes, but it was critical in giving the song a warm glow. Combined with Ron Carter's delicately plucked high notes, the song has an ethereal soundscape upon which Henderson quietly drops his notes.

"Black Narcissus" is less about Henderson's considerable sax skills than about his acumen in sketching atmospheric pieces. As far as those go, this is one of his best.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: 'Round Midnight

Track

'Round Midnight

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Joe Henderson In Japan (OJCCD-1040-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax),

Hideo Ichikawa (electric piano), Kunimitsu Inaba (bass), Motohiko Hino (drums)

.

Composed by Thelonious Monk

.

Recorded: live at The Junk Club, Tokyo, Japan, August 4, 1971

Albumcoverjoehendersoninjapan

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

In the early '70s, Joe Henderson had Monk's most celebrated tune at least semi-regularly in his live rotation, as evidenced by its inclusion in At the Lighthouse, recorded almost a year earlier. This time, however, there's no trumpet player, and Henderson allows himself to stretch more.

And stretch he does. Starting the song unaccompanied, he combines trills with trips to the altissimo register, playing coyly and summoning up Coleman Hawkins. Never in this a cappella performance does he lose track of the melodic line. As the local backing players enter three minutes later, Henderson glides right into the groove. Hino is playing with an ear close to what the leader is doing, and Inaba is rock solid. Ichikawa doesn't shrink from the challenge of following Henderson, bringing much humanness to his electric piano.

Joe Henderson could spin magic no matter what he played, where he played, or with whom he played.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Isotope

Track

Isotope

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

The State of the Tenor, Vols. 1 & 2 (Blue Note)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass), Al Foster (drums).

Composed by Joe Henderson

.

Recorded: live at the Village Vanguard, New York, November 16, 1985

Albumcoverjhendsot

Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

"Isotope" first appeared on Joe Henderson's 1964 album Inner Urge, but this version is of special interest because of the way he deconstructs the tune down to the root. In the 1964 version, he played the advanced bop thematic line in unison with a piano. This 1985 version takes the piano out of the equation, leaving it up to the remaining three to fill in the void left by the absence of a comping instrument.

Luckily, he's got Ron Carter to help out. Carter finds the crucial notes for filling out the melody on the bottom end, while Henderson performs that task for the higher registers while simultaneously blowing out quick arpeggios and other expressions. Foster keeps a beat at about double-time the original, adding his accents in appropriate spots to prod along the other two.

"Isotope" was a long-time staple in Henderson's live performances; it was only fitting that he included this in his pivotal performance at the Vanguard. It was a firm signal to the world that through changing tastes in jazz he remained the same old Joe he'd always been.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Joe Henderson: Lush Life

Track

Lush Life

Artist

Joe Henderson (tenor sax)

CD

Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (Verve 314 511 779-2)

Buy Track

Musicians:

Joe Henderson (tenor sax).

Composed by Billy Strayhorn

.

Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, September 3, 6 & 8, 1991

Albumcoverjoehenderson-lushlife-themusicofbillystrayhorn

Rating: 99/100 (learn more)

Joe Henderson was not just a great composer and technician, he was also a fine interpreter of standards. You can find examples of that throughout his career, but it was the major focal point of the final recording period of his life during which he recorded for Verve.

The first Verve project tackled the lofty music of Ellington cohort Billy Strayhorn, using varying band configurations. Right at the end of the record is Henderson alone scaling the most magnificent of Strayhorn compositions, "Lush Life." The melody flows from his horn without any equivocation, the transitions between shapes are effortless and the phrasing is creative but never too cute.

Joe Henderson's flawless solo presentation of "Lush Life" is the kind of performance that only a first-ballot Hall of Fame tenor player can give.

Reviewer: S. Victor Aaron


Add your comments here

Check out more ‘Dozens’ here