On 'Collective Portrait,' Eddie Henderson Is Still Taking Risks At 74

Mar 5, 2015

Jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson was in his 30s when he debuted on record with Herbie Hancock. Before that he'd become a medical doctor, who went on to specialize in psychiatry, because it left his nights free to play the horn. With Henderson's new album, Collective Portrait, Fresh Air jazz Critic Kevin Whitehead says that decision is still paying off for him.

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Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Jazz trumpet and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson was in his 30s when he debuted on record with Herbie Hancock. Before that, he'd become a medical doctor who went on to specialize in psychiatry because it left his nights free to play the horn. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that decision is still paying off for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON SONG, "FIRST LIGHT")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD, BYLINE: Eddie Henderson on "First Light," a Freddie Hubbard tune from the 1970s. Henderson is a contemporary of trumpet aces Hubbard, Lee Morgan and Woody Shaw, but he bloomed later and is still here to represent those colleagues who've all passed on. On Henderson's album "Collective Portrait," he plays tunes by Hubbard and Shaw, and one associated with Miles Davis, along with two of his own. Henderson has their kinds of virtues - effortless swing, an offhand blues feeling, a fat, juicy tone and a lovely, warm lower register and a gift for spinning an improvised tale.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON SONG, "SPRING")

WHITEHEAD: Eddie Henderson using a Harmon mute without mimicking Miles Davis. One blessing of a long career is your voice gets more personal over time despite lingering influences like Miles. Henderson's part-time front line partner is another contemporary-schooled bebop phraseology and Coltrane's giant-stepping harmonies, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz. Woody Shaw's steeplechase "Zoltan" keeps Bartz on his toes - the tune and drummer, Carl Allen.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON SONG, "ZOLTAN")

WHITEHEAD: This quintet isn't a regular band, but Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson and pianist George Cables have been recording together since the '70s. Their easy rapport helps make this date a winner. Carl Allen and bassist Doug Weiss came to the fold later, but they can track the pianist beat for beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON SONG, "BEYOND FOREVER")

WHITEHEAD: George Cables on his tune "Beyond Forever," another relic from the '70s. Back then, Eddie Henderson made a bunch of funky electric records, including a few of his own. Some jazz survivors have quietly put that chapter behind them, but Henderson's refreshingly up-front about it. He puts Cables back on that period icon, electric piano, for a couple tunes, including Eddie's '70s standby, "Sunburst." Carl Allen again stands out on drums.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON SONG, "SUNBURST")

WHITEHEAD: Eddie Henderson may never have quite gotten his due, but there's still time to correct that. His album "Collective Portrait" can only help. He showed up ready to play, and if he fluffs a note every once in a great while, it's a sign he's still taking risks at 74. Musicians and doctors and folks who are both will all tell you, playing jazz helps keep you young.

(SOUNDBITE OF EDDIE HENDERSON SONG, "GINGER BREAD BOY")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead writes for Point of Departure and is the author of "Why Jazz?" He reviewed "Collective Portrait," the new album by Eddie Henderson on the Smoke Sessions label. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.