April 24, 1937 — June 30, 2001
“Joe Henderson is always in the middle of a great solo.”
–Richard Cook & Brian Morton
Joe Henderson was born in Lima, Ohio, on April 24, 1937. Lima is fifty miles south of Toledo, Ohio, sixty miles north of Dayton, Ohio, sixty miles east of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and about a hundred and twenty miles from Detroit–which is probably the reason why Joe went to Detroit to live and study.
He finished high school in Lima, and gives credit to a home town drummer, John Jarette, who advised him to listen to Charlie Parker, among others. Getz was the one who got through to him first because of his sound, taste and simplicity; however, later, Charlie Parker became his great inspiration.
There were a couple of piano players around Lima who gave him a working knowledge of the piano, namely Richard Patterson and Don Hurless. They were older fellows who went to school with his older brothers and sisters. Incidentally, there were fifteen brothers and sisters, and there being no night baseball or T.V., this might have possibly accounted for such a large family.
Joe’s first saxophone teacher, Herbert Murphy, was responsible for his embryonic understanding of the instrument. Joe was still in high school, and he did quite a bit of writing for the school concert band and also for various “rock” groups that came through Lima.
“My older brother James T. encouraged me to go to college to cultivate the talent he thought I had. I went to Kentucky State College for one year, then to Wayne University in Detroit where I met Yusef Lateef, High Lawson, Donald Byrd and all the other motor city musicians.”
In Detroit, Joe studied with Larry Teal at the Teal School of Music, learning theory, harmony and the finer points of saxophone playing. He also studied flute and string bass at Wayne University. During the latter part of 1959, he formed his own group. Prior to his army induction, he was commissioned by “UNAC,” an organization similar to NAACP or the Urban League, to do a suite called “Swing and Strings” which showcased some originals arranged by him, played by an orchestra comprised of ten members from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra combined with the local dance band of Jimmy Wilkins, the brother of Ernie Wilkins.
1960 found Joe Henderson in the United States Army Band at Fort Benning, GA. He had competed in the army talent show and won first place with a 4 piece combo, which qualified him for the all army entertainment contest. Later he was chosen at Fort Belvoir, Virgina, to tour with a show around the world to entertain troops. This tour led him to Okinawa, Korea, Japan, Panama, Italy, Spain, Germany, France, England and other countries. While in Paris, he sat in with Kenny Clarke and Kenny Drew.
In the late summer of 1962, a bearded young 25 year old tenor saxophonist, slight of build, with might in his fingers, rolled into New York town in a sleek black Mercedes-Benz. He was just discharged from the United States Army in Maryland where he had concluded a two year hitch. The first stop was at a party at a friend’s place (saxophonist Junior Cook) where I was introduced to this bearded, goateed astronaut of the tenor sax. Later I suggested that we go down to see Dexter Gordon who was headlining the Birdland Monday night “Jazz Jamboree.” Boarding the “A” train, we were at 52nd Street and Broadway some twenty five minutes later. Once inside Birdland, Henderson was introduced to one of the “swingingest swingers” in jazzdom’s history, Dexter Gordon. “Long Tall Dexter” asked the young man if he’d like to play some.
Minutes afterward, the musical astronaut was on the launching pad, and the count down was in progress with a three man crew (rhythm section) behind him. There was a thunderous (Art Blakey type) roar from the battery man, and the saxophonist was off and soaring his (lyrical) way to new heights on a Charlie Parker blues line. At the end of the chorus (and I do mean 15 to 20), there was a warm and exhilarating applause for Joe, and as for Dex, sitting on the side, he looked “gassed.”
Here’s hoping that the young gentleman from Lima, Ohio, can cash in on all of his wonderful talents–his arranging, composing and tenor “saxophoning” extraordinary. Here’s hoping that his skies remain blue and his horizon clear, and that he receives his due, and that all who hear him will support the boy from “Soulsville.”
–KENNY DORHAM, from the liner notes,
Page One, Blue Note.
A selected discography of Joe Henderson albums.
- Page One, 1963, Blue Note.
- Our Thing, 1963, Blue Note.
- In ‘n Out, 1964, Blue Note.
- Inner Urge, 1964, Blue Note.
- Mode For Joe, 1966, Blue Note.
- Relaxin’ at Camarillo, 1979, Contemporary.
- Lush Life, 1991, Verve.