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The Roots of Joe Henderson

Tom Reney blogs about the saxophonist’s impact and influences

Elvin Jones with Joe Henderson and Shirley Horn, 1995 (photo: Jimmy Katz)
Elvin Jones with Joe Henderson and Shirley Horn, 1995 (photo: Jimmy Katz)

If the expression “auspicious beginning” hadn’t already been coined by 1963, Joe Henderson’s Page One would have inspired it. The tenor saxophonist made his masterful debut as a leader on June 3 of that year, eight weeks after appearing on record for the first time on Kenny Dorham’s Una Mas. Henderson had joined Durham’s quintet shortly after his arrival in New York in the late summer of 1962, and the trumpeter appeared with Henderson on Page One. Dorham also premiered his evergreen “Blue Bossa” on the date, and wrote the liner notes too. He hailed Henderson as “indubitably one of the most musical young saxophonists to show since Charlie Parker.”

Speaking of Bird, Henderson told Mel Martin in a 1991 interview for Saxophone Journal that when he studied music at Wayne State University in the late ’50s, he “learned every Charlie Parker tune that was ever written,” but that his early background in Lima, Ohio, gave him plenty of exposure to both R&B and C&W. “I know as much about Johnny Cash as I do about Charlie Parker, because I grew up in that area. This was all we heard on the radio…When I got a little older, I would go out to these dances…When James Brown, B.B. King and these cats would come to my hometown, I’d be there checking out the saxophone players.”

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