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Steven Bernstein Remembers Henry Butler

The trumpeter shares his memories of the beloved pianist (9/21/48 – 7/2/18)

Pianist Henry Butler passed away on July 2, 2018 at the age of 69. (photo: Tim Ellis)

I first heard Henry Butler in 1984, at the Vancouver Folk Festival, playing solo piano and singing. I had just arrived directly from the Eugene Country Fair, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was simultaneously the most ancient music and the most futuristic music I’d ever heard. Piano chords from the future and a voice bellowing from the past. After that mind-altering performance I became a total fan, and when his albums on Impulse! came out, they were in heavy rotation on my turntable.

I finally met Henry in 1995 when we were putting together a band for the Kansas City All-Stars on a cross-country Verve tour (alongside Joe Henderson and Charlie Haden). None of the NYC regulars were available, so producer Hal Willner immediately suggested that I call Henry. He brought down the house every night, and played with such power that sometimes you could see dust (smoke?) rising from the keys.

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