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Artist’s Choice: Ralph Peterson on Joe Henderson

Today’s top jazz performers pick 10 favorite tracks by the players, singers and styles that helped define them.

Ralph Peterson at 2010 Cape May Jazz Festival

Ten recordings are hardly enough to properly identify all the important contributions made by one of the most original voices on the tenor saxophone. I first heard Joe when I was around 19, and I didn’t really like him because I couldn’t hear him yet. As my musical IQ has increased over the years so has my love for Joe Hen. His recordings continue to inspire and provide a beacon of excellence to work toward with my own music.


Joe Henderson Power to the People (Milestone, 1969)

This is perhaps my all-time favorite recording of the blues. The interaction, extension of the form by all and way Ron Carter plays the quarter note is truly remarkable. Herbie Hancock’s comping is so conversant. The sound of Jack DeJohnette’s ride cymbal is a sound I have tried to fold into my own. Joe’s use of space, tension and rhythmic displacement is masterful. They trade 6’s on the blues, which is also unusual.


Joe Henderson The Kicker (Milestone, 1967)

This is a masterpiece of thematic development. I use Joe’s solo to teach my students how to take a single phrase and develop it. Kenny Barron’s piano intro is signature, and his comping throughout propels all the soloists forward. Louis Hayes has this dance going on between snare and ride cymbal that is relentless.

“Passion Dance”

McCoy Tyner The Real McCoy (Blue Note, 1967)

What more can be said about this masterpiece that has not already been said? Joe’s solo soars above the unbelievable fire created by Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones, and seems to enter, peak and end all with perfect timing.

“You Know I Care”

Joe Henderson Inner Urge (Blue Note, 1965)

The tender handling of this classic balled is one for the ages. Joe effortlessly navigates the harmonic terrain while painting a soulful and deeply expressive picture-the sort of improvisation I strive for when playing trumpet. The rhythm section lays down silky support that is subtle yet has lots of motion.

“Without a Song”

Joe Henderson The Kicker (Milestone, 1967)

This arrangement is harmonically incredible. The substitutions amaze me every time I listen. Joe’s solo again moves fluidly between the changes and the dance created by the rhythm section. Kenny Barron’s piano solo is also something very special.

“On Green Dolphin Street”

Joe Henderson Four! (Verve, rec. 1968)

This rendition of the standard is so swinging it hurts. Check out Joe’s quote of “Misty” in the beginning of his solo, and how he makes the notes fit exactly where the changes are going.

“The Kicker”

Grant Green Solid (Blue Note, rec. 1964)

This version of the Joe Hen classic is done at a slightly slower tempo and therefore sits in a deep groove. Joe says so much in so few choruses here, and James Spaulding, McCoy Tyner and Grant Green all take killer solos.

“Minor League”

Grant Green Solid (Blue Note, rec. 1964)

Joe’s solo entrance here is what gets me the most. His opening phrase and the way he develops it does so much to maintain the energy created by the solos of Spaulding and Green.

“The Intrepid Fox”

Freddie Hubbard Red Clay (CTI, 1970)

Because Joe’s solo is so slick and open while staying inside the structure, many have mistakenly believed this tune has an open solo form. The interplay with Lenny White is an education in and of itself.

The Whole Recording!

Joe Henderson Inner Urge (Blue Note, 1965)

From the opening title track to “Night and Day,” this recording contains all the qualities of a great project. All of the elements cited above are encased here with crystal clarity; the band achieves the highest levels of swing in a way that is both sophisticated and earthy.

Originally Published