Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Henderson, Eddie (Edward Jackson, Mganga)

Trumpeter and flugelhornist Dr. Eddie Henderson forged a distinctive brand of space-funk as a member of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi fusion sextet in the 1970s. He also carefully balanced two successful careers – as a musician and as a physician – for forty years.

In his fusion playing, Henderson often sustained notes, and would manipulate tone and timbre by bending above or below pitch, using electronic gadgetry such as wah-wahs, reverb, and echoes, and an intense use of dynamics.

Henderson first met trumpeter Miles Davis, a family friend, while he was in his teens.

"You don't play correct," the classically-trained teenager once told Miles, nearly causing a traffic accident as the car Davis was driving screeched to a halt in the middle of the road. But Miles's playing exerted a magnetic pull over the youth, and Henderson came to espouse the older player's “less is more” approach.

But Henderson's style is less abrasive than his mentor's. Where Davis would use a quick burst of notes, scurrying aggressively into the outer reaches of his range - often splitting his tone in the process – Eddie's playing was more controlled and perhaps less daring, but no less broad in scope.

He has often played his trumpet as if it were another rhythm instrument, with striking repetitions of single notes and timely placed pops, cries, and yelps. This percussive technique was juxtaposed brilliantly with his heavily chromatic, twisting lyricism and textural sostenutos.

Since the late 1980s, his playing has become more conservative, with a focus on acoustic ballads and mid-tempo post-bop tunes. While the Davis influence is still clear, especially when he plays with a Harmon mute, Henderson manages to remain true to his own voice, and projects clear-toned, splendidly conceived. and well-executed ideas on both the trumpet and the flugelhorn.

Edward Jackson Henderson was born on October 26, 1940 in New York, New York. His mother was one of the original dancers at the Cotton Club. Billed as "The Brown Twins" with her twin sister, she danced with, among others, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. His father sang with Billy Williams in the popular group the Charioteers.

At age nine, Henderson’s father died and his mother married a doctor from San Francisco. He received his first trumpet lesson at the same age from one of his mother’s close friends - Louis Armstrong. When he was fourteen, the family permanently relocated to the Bay area. From 1954 to 1957, Henderson studied classical trumpet and music theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

While in high school, he met Miles Davis when the older trumpeter would stay at the family’s home whenever he gigged in the Bay area between 1957 and 1959. Davis took the boy along to watch when he performed with Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, and Philly Joe Jones, and became a devotee to the Davis style.

After a three-year stint in the Air Force, Henderson enrolled at U.C. Berkeley and graduated in 1964 with a B.S. in zoology. He then followed in the footsteps of his stepfather, a physician and went on to study medicine in Washington, D.C. at Howard University, and graduated in 1968. While in medical school, Henderson commuted to New York on weekends to informally study and practice with Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan.

After completing medical school, Henderson moved back to San Francisco for an internship and residency in psychiatry, but it was music that ended up carrying the day. At this time he played with Joe Henderson, John Handy, Tyrone Washington, Big Black, and Philly Joe Jones.

Henderson’s big break came when he was called to play a gig with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi sextet. The weeklong gig eventually became three years as Henderson became a fulltime member of the progressive free jazz/funk/fusion group, which also featured saxophonist/bass clarinetist Bennie Maupin, trombonist Julien Priester, bassist Buster Williams, percussionist Leon Chancler and Billy Hart on drums.

The group's name is a Swahili word Hancock also used as a nickname at this time, and each of its members also adopted a Swahili name: Buster Williams became Mchezaji, Billy Hart was Jabali, Bennie Maupin was Mwile, Julian Priester was Pepo Mtoto, Leon Chancler was Ndugu, and Henderson took the name Mganga.

Henderson’s first recordings were made with Hancock. 1970’s Mwandishi featured Hancock and company navigating a perilous alien landscape in 15/4 time on “Ostinato (Suite for Angela).” During his solo, Henderson never establishes a lyrical flow over the insistently pulsating rhythm; he instead finds a textural niche inside the groove, opting for motivic use of chromatics and arpeggios interspersed with punches and upward glissandos.

The album Crossings followed in 1971, with the intrepid group now forging into even greater depths of outer space with the addition of Dr. Patrick Gleeson’s Moog synthesizer. “Sleeping Giant” is a monstrous multi-sectional opus with a constantly churning onslaught of percussion and spectacular explorative solos throughout. “Quasar” features Gleeson’s hauntingly sci-fi synthesizer more tastefully than the other two tracks, and Henderson contributes a fine, if inconclusive, flugelhorn solo amidst the bubbling and sweeping white noise. On “Water Torture,” Henderson, Maupin, and Priester sound as if they are fighting to reach their heads above the electronics whirlpooling around them.

The sextet continued on with Sextant in 1972. Gleeson and Hancock’s use of synthesizers, loops, and programming is much more controlled this time around, though no less experimental. “Rain Dance” literally sounds like a robot battle scene straight out of sci-fi flick; Henderson plays a brief, lyrically gorgeous solo at the very beginning of the madness. The off-balance bass/bass clarinet ostinato (in 19/4) of “Hidden Shadows” is reminiscent of Mwandishi’s “Ostinato,” and Henderson, drenched in reverb, balances the abstract with the blues in his edited solo. “Hornets” features an extended, vintage solo by the trumpeter over the propulsive and unrelenting groove - long, snaking chromatically descending lines, punctuated by rocket-like upward glissandos, and hammering repetitions of notes.

Despite these enduring artistic experiments, Mwandishi, never made money, and disbanded in 1973 as Hancock turned to commercial funk to recoup his losses. Henderson was now the in-demand fusion trumpeter, picking up work with organist Charles Earland and drummer Norman Connors. He can be heard on Earland’s soundtrack to the blaxploitation movie The Dynamite Brothers as well as alongside fellow trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on Leaving This Planet.

Henderson also began recording as a leader after he left Hancock's group. His first two albums, 1973’s Realization and Inside Out, which was essentially the Mwandishi group under his leadership, without Priester and with Lenny White on Realization and Eric Gravatt on Inside Out added as second drummers.

Henderson is now the main composer in the group and the general vibe remains the same—heavily textured, freak out, space fusion. Given more time to develop his improvisations than he was on Hancock’s records, Henderson truly shines.

In 1975, Henderson began supplementing his income from his music career as a part-time physician in San Francisco, working at a small clinic for four hours a day. The clinic was supportive of his musical career, and even paid him when he left to tour. At this time he primarily played in San Francisco, with pianist Mike Nock and with many of the major names that came through the city: Joe Henderson, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and Jackie McLean.

Sunburst, Henderson’s next album, was released in 1975 on Blue Note. Maupin and Priester return, but the presence of George Duke on keyboards, Harvey Mason on drums, and bassist Alphonso Johnson brings the group back to Earth with a more rhythm 'n' blues-influenced fusion. The group's grooves are tighter and more concise, as evidenced on “Kumquat Kids.” Henderson also adds a wah-wah pedal to his electronic arsenal for the first time.

Heritage followed in 1976. Like Sunburst, Heritage sold well but the commercial overtones led to some derision by critics. The music on Heritage is wide ranging and all of high quality, from the quiet storm of “Inside You,” the Eastern-tinged modality of “Time and Space,” to the Mwandishi influenced funk of “Dr. Mganga” and the haunting Bitches Brew-like “Dark Shadow.” Heritage is arguably Henderson’s best and most consistent fusion-period record.

In 1977, Henderson moved to Capitol Records and essentially left his experimental opportunities behind at Blue Note. Capitol made the decision to market him as a disco star and he released three disco-funk records on his new label: Comin’ Through, Mahal, and Running to Your Love.

Surprisingly, Henderson had chart success in the United Kingdom, as his single “Prance On” from 1978’s Mahal reached #44 in the BBC Top 75. The B side to “Prance On” was a track entitled “Cyclops,” which became famous in the UK disco scene thanks to DJs playing it incorrectly at 45 rpm, rather than the intended 33 rpm.

In 1977 Henderson performed on saxophonist Gary Bartz’s jazz-funk excursion Music Is My Sanctuary, produced by the Mizell brothers, Billy Hart’s Enhance, and is heard playing flugelhorn on Pharoah Sanders’ Journey to the One from 1980.

Henderson kept a lower musical profile in the 1980s, concentrating less on performing and recording. He moved to New York City towards the end of the decade, gave up medicine and electronic disco/funk, and focused all of his energy on acoustic hard-bop. In 1987, he made his return to recording on singer Leon Thomas’s album Precious Energy, which featured Henderson in the Gary Bartz quintet. More session work followed in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Billy Hart, Billy Harper, Kenny Barron, Mal Waldron, McCoy Tyner, and Ron McClure.

Fifteen years after his last album as a leader, Henderson recorded and released Inspiration in 1994, an acoustic straight-ahead affair that featured Grover Washington on soprano sax. The Steeplechase label re-released three more Henderson-led sessions in 1994: Phantoms and Think On Me, both recorded in 1989, and Flight Of Mind, recorded in 1991.

Dark Shadows was released on Milestone in 1995, followed by 1998’s Dreams Of Gershwin and 1999’s Reemergence, all featuring his working group of the mid-1990s: vibraphonist Joe Locke, pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Ed Howard, and drummer Billy Drummond.

In 2003, Henderson released So What, the aptly titled tribute to his early mentor and inspiration Miles Davis. Henderson is clearly inspired, playing with bravura and a daring looseness not always heard on his acoustic efforts. Time and Spaces followed in 2004; it might as well have been a second tribute to Davis, with Henderson choosing mid to late 1960s Davis repertoire composed by Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul, as well as three similarly veined compositions from his own pen. Both records feature his core group of Dave Kikoski on piano, Ed Howard on bass, and drummer Victor Lewis.

Kevin Hays replaced Kikoski on piano for 2006’s Precious Moment, another strong addition to Henderson’s acoustic post-bop catalog. Henderson, now sixty eight, resides in New York City fully dedicated to his music and is an in-demand session trumpeter. His strong musical presence has touched many tribute groups, such as the Mingus Big Band, the John Hicks Legacy Group, and Benny Golsen’s New Jazztet.


As a leader:

Realization (1973)

Inside Out (1973)

Sunburst (1975)

Heritage (1976)

Comin’ Through (1977)

Inspiration (1994)

Think On Me (1994)

Dark Shadows (1995)

Dreams of Gershwin (1998)

So What (2003)

Time and Spaces (2004)

Precious Moments (2006)

As a sideman:

Mwandishi (Herbie Hancock, 1970)

Crossings (Herbie Hancock, 1971)

Sextant (Herbie Hancock, 1972)

Dance of Magic (Norman Connors, 1973)

Dynamite Brothers (Charles Earland, 1973)

Leaving This Planet (Charles Earland, 1973)

Enhance (Billy Hart, 1977)

Music Is My Sanctuary (Gary Bartz, 1977)

Journey to the One (Pharoah Sanders, 1980)

Precious Energy (Leon Thomas, 1987)

Destiny Is Yours (Billy Harper)

Hand In Hand (Mulgrew Miller, 1992)

I Remember Miles (Benny Golson, 1992)

Journey (McCoy Tyner, 1993)

Something To Live For (Archie Shepp, 1997)

Things Unseen (Kenny Barron, 1997)

Gershwin’s World (Herbie Hancock, 1998)

Live In Tokyo (Mingus Big Band, 2006)

Mind Wine: The Music of John Hicks (The John Hicks Legacy Band, 2008)

New Time, New ‘Tet (Benny Golson, 2009)

Contributor: Matt Leskovic