Feb 20, 2021
“I want the audience to really feel the music and start moving. Jazz started as dance music in the first place, so I want to bring that element back into the music. The telltale common denominator when people are really enjoying themselves is when they feel like they want to get up and dance. Not the European concept of listening to music, just sitting still and static, shushing people and politely clapping at the end of the tune. No! I thought it was supposed to be fun. That’s the way I grew up.” – Dr. Eddie Henderson
During the locked-down months of Summer 2020, two albums by Dr. Eddie Henderson helped get me through some tough times. The title of one – Be Cool – speaks volumes, while the other – Shuffle and Deal – was a collection of his patented mix of ballads and hard bop tunes that have made him an in demand player for 50 years.
The son of a vocalist father and a mother who danced at the Cotton Club, young Eddie received his first trumpet lesson from Louis Armstrong. His physician step-father's coterie of friends and patients included Miles Davis, who provided the fledgling trumpeter with some typically sharp-toned mentorship. Henderson’s own remarkable career has included tenures with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and especially with Herbie Hancock’s legendary Mwandishi band, along with his successful parallel life as a psychiatrist in the Bay Area.
Shuffle and Deal is the kind of session straight-ahead jazz fans dream of - a stellar quintet composed of players who are all band leaders in their own right: Henderson, pianist Kenny Barron, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, bassist Gerald Cannon and drummer Mike Clark. Classic ballads like “Over the Rainbow” and “God Bless the Child” are mixed with originals by Eddie, Barron and Harrison with nary a wrong turn. This album cooks!
And “cook” is the namesake of the supergroup that Eddie has been with for the past the past ten years, The Cookers. The core members are all former band mates and personal friends of Henderson. Tenor saxophonist Billy Harper was a member of groups led by Lee Morgan and Max Roach and served a two-year stint with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers; drummer Billy Hart was also the Mwandishi band; pianist George Cables played alongside Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper; and bassist Cecil McBee anchored Charles Lloyd's famed 1960s quartet with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette. They're joined by arranger and de facto leader David Weiss and a few rotating members including Donald Harrison.
Part One of this special two-part conversation with Eddie Henderson concentrates on his latest releases as a solo artist and with the Cookers, as we discuss the joys of playing with old friends, how he brings something of himself to every improvisation in which he is involved, and what he looks for after all these years in choosing tunes. Musical selections include “God Bless the Child” from Shuffle and Deal, Kenny Barron’s “Smoke Screen” from Be Cool, and “Croquet Ballet” from The Cookers’ Cast the First Stone.
Be sure to catch Part Two of our conversation, as Dr. Henderson talks about his time with Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi Band, and his own forays into fusion in the 1970’s.