Photo credit: Antonio Porcar
Trumpeter Dr Eddie Henderson my not be the most well-known jazz star active today. But to those in the know his position in the lineage of trumpet players, going back to Louis Armstrong and before, is etched firmly into jazz history.
Dr Henderson learned his craft by listening to and practising with such luminaries as Freddie Hubbard and Lee Morgan and his first trumpet teacher was the great Louis Armstrong himself when Henderson was just nine years old. He quickly developed into a highly skilled trumpet player, a feat that is even more remarkable when you consider that he was studying (and later practising) medicine simultaneously. Henderson has said that he learned how to be disciplined from the experience of being a competitive figure skater as a child.
Whilst Freddie and Lee were important influences on Dr. Henderson’s style, perhaps the most important influence was Miles Davis who was a friend of Henderson’s parents (his mother was a talented dancer, having worked at the original Cotton Club). Davis used to stay at the Henderson house when he played in San Francisco, and Henderson junior met him aged 17, playing parts of Sketches Of Spain for him on his trumpet. Davis began imparting sage advice to the young trumpeter and a mentor/student relationship was established. Even though Dr. Henderson has developed his own highly personal style, Miles’ influence can be clearly heard in his playing even today.
An important career break happened in 1968 when Herbie Hancock enlisted Henderson’s talents as a replacement for the great Johnny Coles in his Sextet. This band became known as Mwandishi and released three highly influential records (Mwandishi, Crossings and Sextant) that changed not only jazz but set a course for electronic music in future years. The spacy, exploratory nature of the band, coupled with Miles Davis’ influence, further influenced Henderson’s concept of space and risk-taking on the bandstand. Henderson was reunited with Hancock in 1998 for the Gershwin’s World album and tour.
My own experience with Henderson’s playing began around age 16 with a Pharoah Sanders record called Journey to the One which had a couple of nice Henderson flugelhorn solos on it (including the 1980s-dancefloor hit You Got to Have Freedom). I’d heard the Herbie records but didn’t really get it.
It wasn’t until many years later, on a trip to New York, that I came to appreciate Henderson’s genius. Another trumpet great, Jeremy Pelt, had told me how important Henderson’s influence and mentorship had been on his music and career (as Miles Davis had done for him). Having heard Jeremy’s glowing praise, I thought I’d better go and check out Henderson’s band the next night at the now defunct Sweet Basil club on 7th Avenue. Appearing with him were Kevin Hays on piano and Billy Drummond on drums (I can’t remember who the bass player was).
To say it profoundly affected me and my concept of music is an understatement. Eddie’s sense of space was like nothing I’d heard live before in a trumpet player. He had an uncanny ability to take all the time in the world in his phrasing, leaving acres of space which just seemed to make the group play with ever increasing intensity. The drama and sense of anticipation as to what was going to happen musically was immense! He also had a devastating Harmon mute sound - something he undoubtedly learned from a close study of Miles.
Ever since I’ve been trying to catch Eddie live whenever I can, be it in London or New York. There was one memorable night at the Pizza Express around ten years ago, with Jason Rebello, Arnie Somagyi and Gene Calderazzo in the rhythm section. After that gig, Arnie started to bring Eddie over to the UK regularly to play with his group Ambulance. That outlet coupled with a few appearances with The Cookers (featuring tenor saxophonist Billy Harper) has meant Henderson has been a regular visitor to our shores.
Musically the trumpet community, and the wider jazz community in the UK, are all the richer for it. Thanks Eddie!
Eddie Henderson will be at Pizza Express, Dean Street, London on 2/3/4 March 2017 as part of the Jazz Legends Series, with Bruce Barth on piano, Arnie Somogyi on bass and Stephen Keogh on drums.
LINK: Eddie Henderson at Pizza Express