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Rick Henderson Dies

Alto saxophonist and composer-arranger Rick Henderson, who played in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in the 1950s, died from heart disease on May 21 in his Washington, D.C. home. He was 76 years old.

As a member of Ellington’s band, Henderson appeared albums like The 1953 Pasadena Concert and Capitol Records’ Ellington ’55, among many others. Henderson also recorded considerably behind singer Dinah Washington, and the saxophonist’s warm tone can be sampled on the Washington album After Hours with Miss D, where Henderson appears with trumpeter Clark Terry. From 1956 to 1964 Henderson fronted the house band at the now defunct Howard Theatre, a nationally recognized epicenter for African-American music, located in Washington D.C.’s historic U. Street district.

As a saxophonist, Henderson was known for possessing both theoretical prowess and a progressive technique garnered from the influence of beboppers like Charlie Parker. Henderson’s bop-inflected playing, along with that of trumpeter Clark Terry, sounded especially modern in the context of Ellington’s band. As a composer and arranger, Henderson was equally inventive. The Ellington band recorded two Henderson originals, 1954’s “Frivolous Banta” and “Commercial Time,” recorded at Universal Studios Chicago for Capitol Records in 1955. The beautiful composition “Carney,” a tribute to baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, was recorded by the Mercer Ellington-led Duke Ellington Orchestra on its 1975 album Continuum, and by Cecil Payne on his 1993 album Casbah. Henderson also arranged for other big band icons, including Count Basie. During his lengthy occupancy as bandleader at the Howard Theatre, high demands were often put on the versatility and flexibility of Henderson’s arranging skills. The Howard Theatre hosted all types of groups from jazz to jump-blues to rhythm and blues and soul, and Henderson’s arrangements were required to accommodate this stylistically diverse musical climate, as well as coordinate changing instrumentation and withstand a rigorous performance schedule.

Henderson leaves behind no immediate survivors.

Originally Published