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Carlos Henriquez: Before & After

The longtime Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra bassist takes part in his first B&A listening session

Carlos Henriquez
Carlos Henriquez (photo: Michael T. Regan)

For nearly two decades, Carlos Henriquez, 39, has been the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s bass specialist. In that role, he’s accompanied the band on some of its most memorable forays, including a historic 2010 trip to Cuba, for which he also served as music director.

In recent years, the Bronx native of Puerto Rican descent has pursued a solo career as well. His first album as a leader, The Bronx Pyramid, was released in 2015. Last year, he released Dizzy Con Clave, a vibrant exploration of the Afro-Latin jazz tradition and an energetic tribute to Dizzy Gillespie. “He was a main ambassador for us jazz-wise, in terms of bridging cultures and just trying to let people know that we’re all one,” Henriquez says. “That’s what I do with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.” In November, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, he debuted a 10-movement suite, The South Bronx Story, to be released as an album later this year.

On an afternoon in late January, Henriquez, who had recently returned from Mexico with the orchestra, sat down with JazzTimes for his first Before & After listening session, in Wynton Marsalis’ dressing room at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the tracks below:

1. Eric Dolphy
“Alone Together [Alternate Take]” (Musical Prophet: The Expanded 1963 New York Studio Sessions, Resonance). Dolphy, bass clarinet; Richard Davis, bass. Recorded in 1963.

BEFORE: It sounds good. I’m enjoying this. [Whistles along to melody] I love this standard. The beginning made me think of Mingus, just because of the sound; the bass player’s imagination brings out a certain vibe. If it isn’t Mingus, whoever’s playing is very dedicated to Mingus.

AFTER: Look at that—Richard Davis. It’s killer, man. This is a great duo. I knew it was Eric. That’s why I chose Charles. It’s nice to hear Richard in the beginning; it’s real spacy. I wonder if Richard was trying to emulate a Mingus environment with Eric. For those who don’t know Mr. Davis’ playing, it’s very energetic, especially when you listen to him on “Punjab,” the Joe Henderson recording. It’s different. It’s not conservative. I tell my students to check him out, because sometimes you find yourself, as a young bass player, getting pinholed into this whole conservative bass style and you want to branch out. Richard was trying to reach for something; even if it sounded like it wasn’t right, he was still trying for it. You have to respect that, especially in jazz.

2. Charlie Haden
“En la Orilla del Mundo” (Nocturne, Verve). Haden, bass; Gonzalo Rubalcaba, piano; Ignacio Berroa, drums; Joe Lovano, tenor saxophone; Federico Britos Ruiz, violin. Recorded in 2000.

BEFORE: [Whistles along to solo piano introduction] Beautiful. This chord progression, you just don’t want to interrupt it. It’s hymn-oriented. The bass motion is rooted in inversions, half-diminished notes. Hmm. I like that sax. [Saxophone solo nears conclusion] It’s got a kind of airy sound to it, and the notes that he’s choosing are very lyrical. It’s a very spiritual-sounding arrangement. This is bad, man. When you think of jazz, everyone starts talking about, you know, dominant sharp 11th, ii-V-I, and when you listen to this, it’s a different sound that’s also embodied in jazz, like a gospel feeling. And you need this. This type of sound is needed in the world of jazz. I don’t know who’s playing, but whoever’s playing is doing a hell of a job to demonstrate that.

AFTER: If it’s Charlie, is it Gonzalo on piano? Okay, so if it’s Gonzalo, is that Joe Lovano on sax? You know, it’s funny, because I was going to say Gonzalito, but I kept my mouth shut. I should have said it. I used to play with him, and we played tunes that had this type of vibe. Charlie was a good friend. I remember, every time I would go play at Yoshi’s in Oakland, he would try his best to send me a case of strings. He used to play these special strings called [Kaplan] Golden Spirals. When the company went out of business, Charlie was able to buy a load of them. Cool cat, man.

3. Slam Stewart
“When Your Lover Has Gone” (Slamboree, Black and Blue). Stewart, bass; Jo Jones, drums; Gene Rodgers, piano. Recorded in 1972.

BEFORE: There are only two who play with the bow [and sing], that we know of. It’s either the Mule [Major Holley] or Slam Stewart. So the way to figure that out is to see what octave they’re singing in. The Mule would sing low-octave, and Slam would sing high. It sounds like Slam. I took a lot from him, as a jazz musician and as an arco player. There’s a great record that he did before he passed away, with the Mule and Dick Hyman. And not only that—look at the early bop records, with Charlie Parker, when they’re playing “Groovin’ High,” and Slam takes his solo. He’s coming from an era where everything was march-oriented. The way he phrases—it’s very vocal, and he’s never trying to compete with another instrument.

Do you find his technique gimmicky at all?

People who think of it as a gimmick are people who don’t understand the history. You just got to know when to use it. When I solo pizzicato, I usually sing along. The only reason I do that is because, sometimes, I feel like people can’t hear the pitch I’m in. But this concept that Slam had, man, it was beautiful. If you do it right, it cuts through perfectly.

4. Miguel Zenón
“Esta Plena” (Esta Plena, Marsalis Music). Zenón, alto saxophone; Luis Perdomo, piano; Hans Glawischnig, bass; Henry Cole, drums; Hector Matos, Obanilu Allende, Juan Gutierrez, vocals and percussion. Recorded in 2009.

BEFORE: [Taps out rhythm on lap] Plena was used to tell people the news. That was what it was for. This Miguel? This is bad. What can I say about Miguel? Everybody in this band is unbelievable. Luis Perdomo I knew when I was a young kid, 13 or 14. We used to play with a sextet that also had Stefon Harris on vibraphones. Henry I met a couple of years ago. He’s the pride and joy of Puerto Rico. I was born in New York City. There’s always this thing about the Nuyoricans and the Puerto Ricans. A lot of the Nuyoricans were adapted to playing more Afro-Cuban music, because it’s something that was around.

I hear people like Henry and Miguel—how much they keep the traditional Afro-Puerto Rican aspect alive, how they merge plena or bomba—and I’m really encouraged to try new things. A part of my musical life that I want to focus on is just understanding more about the traditional aspects of Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans in jazz have been around for years—since the Hellfighters and with Ralph Escudero, a tuba player who played with the Cotton Pickers. We’ve been around. So it’s just beautiful to see how we can blend this stuff together.

5. Dizzy Gillespie/Sonny Stitt/Sonny Rollins
“On the Sunny Side of the Street” (Sonny Side Up, Verve). Gillespie, trumpet; Stitt and Rollins, tenor saxophones; Ray Bryant, piano; Tommy Bryant, bass; Charlie Persip, drums. Recorded in 1957.

BEFORE: I know this recording. I just forget who it is. [Hums along to arrangement] It’s crazy with these recordings, how they pan the room. [Mouths trumpet solo] That’s Dizzy, right? I’m trying to figure out the whole band.

It’s Charlie Persip on drums.

I love Charlie. He was my ensemble teacher at the New School. He used to call me Charlie Mingus II.

AFTER: Sonny Stitt and Sonny Rollins. This is a bad recording; it’s unbelievable. You get to hear them on a standard like this, which is very neutral, but they just play the hell out of it. This is an anthem to jazz music. It shows you a certain era—not just six great musicians. Everything that jazz is about you hear in this: the styles, the personalities, the influence of bebop through Dizzy’s playing. It’s a 101 to understanding how to play with a rhythm section. And if you’re a trumpet player, man, just transcribing this solo is unbelievable. You’re just waiting for him to hit those high notes.

6. Roy Haynes
“Shulie A Bop” (The Roy Haynes Trio, Verve). Haynes, drums; Danilo Pérez, piano; John Patitucci, bass. Recorded in 1999.

BEFORE: [whistles melody] Sounds killer, man. I like this. Is that Patitucci? Okay, so is that Brian [Blade] and Danilo?

It’s Roy Haynes and Danilo.

Roy Haynes. I could picture Brian doing the same gestures that Roy’s doing. Patitucci’s bad, bro. I love him. Let me tell you a story so people understand who Patitucci really is. We both studied with the same teacher, John Schaeffer. When Patitucci made his trip back from the West Coast to New York City, I was attending high school. One day I show up to my teacher’s class. I see Patitucci in his living room, and I’m freaking out. I say, “Hey, Mr. Patitucci, it’s a pleasure to meet you, I’m a big fan.” And then, I think, Schaeffer told Patitucci, “I want you to look after this kid.”

From that day on, Patitucci would call me and tell me when he was recording. He would pick me up from high school—he had a Ford Taurus—and he would take me to his sessions. I was a young kid. I would sit next to him and this guy was playing six-string. I remember we went to the Sony Studios. He took me to the Hit Factory a couple times. I went to see them do a jazz version of West Side Story at Right Track. To me, Johnny’s just gold. I look up to him.

7. Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan
“Subconscious Lee” (Small Town, ECM). Frisell, guitar; Morgan, bass. Recorded in 2016.

BEFORE: I’m going to have to guess this one. I’m bad at guitars, but is this [Pat] Metheny?

AFTER: This is awesome. I know of Bill Frisell, but I don’t know his playing that well. I should get into it. This duet is unbelievable. These songs are great to play on, man; they’re engraved in many jazz musicians, so it’s a matter of trying to talk to each other. The song is flowy as hell. Bill’s flowing. His lines are anticipated, like you feel where he’s moving. The bass is killin’. He’s walking but at the same time he’s also trying to interact with Bill.

8. Ray Brown
“Cry Me a River” (Soular Energy, Concord). Brown, bass; Gene Harris, piano; Gerryck King, drums. Recorded in 1984.

BEFORE: I’m trying to pinpoint that bass player. I’ve got a couple in my head. Whatever bass is being played there, it’s a bass I know of. Is it Ray? I don’t know if it’s the same bass as on We Get Requests, and if it is, it’s that sound.

You can hear the actual bass?

It’s the bass that John Clayton owns now. It was thought to have been Italian and when they did the investigation, it was just a German bass.

This song is a great lesson on how to accompany, to play in the gaps. Ray was interesting because he was very prominent. I met him a couple of times. Great guy. He wanted to demonstrate through his music his presence onstage, and he found a way of doing it by playing in those gaps. Ray implemented so much of the blues in his playing. To this day, people still use those lines. Look at the great Christian McBride. John Clayton, too. Bob Hurst. All those blues lines stick with you. Some people call them cliché lines, but it’s really the vocabulary of that style of music.

Would you say he invented that vocabulary?

I’m sure he has people who he followed. I remember Ray saying one time—and he didn’t mean it in a bad way—that the passing of Oscar Pettiford was a momentous occasion for him because every time he played with him, Oscar would always blow him to pieces. So unfortunately, Oscar’s passing enabled Ray to do many other things.

9. George Benson
“Clockwise” (It’s Uptown, Columbia). Benson, guitar; Ronnie Cuber, baritone saxophone; Lonnie Smith, organ; Jimmy Lovelace, drums. Recorded in 1966.

BEFORE: You’ve got baritone, guitar, Hammond. There’s no bass on this? I’m bad with organs. And I hate to just shoot out names, but is this Jimmy Smith?

AFTER: Lonnie Smith. And George Benson, okay. Man, George is a bad cat. I recorded with him in ’98 on an album called Standing Together. Great musician. He’s got ears of gold.

What do you make of his forays into smooth jazz?

He had a voice, he had a look—he was a good-looking man—it was the time. And I guess he felt that it was the right thing to do. I respect him because I know what he can do. It’s hard to judge somebody off their music. The guy is a great musician no matter what. He wasn’t set on Earth to fight a battle, he was set here to play music. His dexterity is just unbelievable, and he’s doing this with his thumb, too. I’m sure there were many nights that our parents played this music. Some of us might have been brought into this world listening to George Benson. He’s a great person. Lives in Arizona. Hates the cold. Can’t get him to deal with it. I’ve asked him to come back to the East Coast to play with me and some other cats, and he’s like, “No cold weather for me.”

10. Cal Tjader
“Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” (Cal Tjader Plays Harold Arlen, Fantasy). Tjader, vibraphone; Buddy Motsinger, piano; Al McKibbon, bass; Willie Bobo, drums. Recorded in 1960.

BEFORE: [Immediately] Is this MJQ?

No, but it does sound a lot like the Modern Jazz Quartet, now that you mention it.

Man, the bass is forward, I love it. It’s on the front end of the track.

AFTER: You threw me off on this one. It’s a good one. But that sounded like MJQ, man. My God! It’s a good curveball if you don’t know this album. I haven’t really listened to Cal in this way, but Cal Tjader did so much for Latin music, just involving the whole Latin rhythm section. Willie Bobo was a bad cat. Another Puerto Rican. [Laughs]

And Al McKibbon was an interesting cat. Big and strong. Al knew how to play the music. He studied it. He had a great sound. To all the bass players out there, if you’re reading this, listen to how Al McKibbon pulls that sound out of that bass. That’s an art form that’s been lost in this music. And I don’t take away from what’s happening out there. But there’s something to be said about how that bass is sounding. There’s a presence of foundation and stability when you pull a certain sound out of the bass. And Al definitely had that. He killed it. Originally Published

Matthew Kassel

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer whose work has been published by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and The Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications.