REVIEW: Eddie Henderson at Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham

Eddie Henderson at Eastside Jazz Club
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
Eddie Henderson
(Eastside Jazz Club, Birmingham, 30 April 2018. Review and photos by John Watson)

Trumpeter Eddie Henderson must be one of the most remarkable figures in the history of jazz. The son of a Cotton Club dancer and a singer, he was given a trumpet lesson at the age of nine by Louis Armstrong, became a champion figure skater, then qualified and worked as a doctor and a psychiatrist, before being invited to join Herbie Hancock’s ground-breaking Mwandishi group and dedicating the rest of his life to music.

Most remarkably of all, Henderson is still playing with tremendous assurance, vitality and a glorious warm tone at the age of 77. 

Among the many qualities an outstanding brass player must have – including imagination, dedication and energy – one of  the most overlooked is courage. The trumpet is perhaps the most demanding solo instrument, becoming more so as the player matures, yet Henderson is currently touring without another front line instrument to share the soloing duties. That is courageous. Big band trumpeter Bobby Shew has written and lectured extensively on embouchure endurance, and perhaps those of us who will never pick up a trumpet could at least give a little thought to the dedication needed to make beautiful sounds for us to enjoy.

Henderson appeared at the Pizza Express Jazz Club in London and at the Band on the Wall in Manchester before his concert at the Eastside Jazz Club – part of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – with US pianist Bruce Barth, UK bassist Arnie Somogyi and Irish-born drummer Stephen Keogh, a performance recorded for the BBC Radio 3 J to Z programme.
Bruce Barth soloing with Eddie Henderson
Photo credit: © John Watson/jazzcamera.co.uk
There were many echoes of the trumpeter’s great recordings, my own favourites being his 1973 album as a leader Inside Out (Capricorn Records), with a line-up including Hancock and other Mwandishi band members, and the more recent album by The Cookers, Cast The First Stone (Plus Loin Music). The Cookers is the marvellous band Henderson has been touring with in recent years, alongside such luminaries as saxophonist Billy Harper, pianist George Cables (who has been seriously ill in the last few months, but is expected to return to tour with The Cookers soon), bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart.

Eddie opened his Eastside Jazz Club concert with a gorgeous tune by Cables, Think On Me, a smoothly flowing 8/8 theme with a gentle punch at its conclusion. The warmth of his tone has irresistible appeal, and he improvises with absolute assurance and depth of feeling.

With Barth’s dynamic contributions on piano, and the subtle but effective support of Keogh and Somogyi, the group launched into the bassist’s lively tune Joe’s Blow before creating a dramatic contrast with pianist Kenny Barron’s Phantoms, a slow and atmospheric theme which Eddie explained he had first played in his years with Barron’s own sextet. On this, the trumpeter’s muted tone was beguiling, creating a wily exploration of the simple harmonic structure of the piece.

There was some subtle humour in the concert, too, with a lively version of Surrey With The Fringe On Top from the musical Oklahoma!, while on Woody Shaw’s The Moon Train both Eddie and Bruce spun into their solos little quotes from Without A Song.

A support group of Conservatoire students – clarinetist and tenor saxophonist Edi May, drummer Matt Holmes, bassist Dave Flanagan and pianist Cam Sheehy – opened the evening, and demonstrated the impressive improvising skills being taught on the institution’s jazz course.

Pianist, composer and presenter Julian Joseph interviewed Henderson during his first set, and the J to Z broadcast is due for transmission on 12 May.

Eddie and the Bruce Barth Trio are to appear at the Bonington Theatre, Arnold, Nottingham, for the organisation Jazzsteps on Thursday 3 May.

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