Thursday, April 2, 2009

Joe Henderson's Meditation on Billy Strayhorn

I wonder how many authentic jazz record stores are left out there. I have personally only visited two in recent years: one in New Orleans, and the other, The Jazz Record Mart, yesterday in Chicago. The deck seems to be stacked against such enterprises. Most of the music was available elsewhere for less. A lot of it is instantly downloaded. When I search online I can have my Penguin Guide to Jazz Recording open by my laptop. In the store, I have to remember what I have, what is good, and what I can't get for half the price elsewhere. Still, it was a joy to move from Ayler to Zorn along the stacks.

I picked up three cds: Coltrane and Don Cherry, The Avant Garde, Sonny Criss, Crisscraft, and Joe Henderson's Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn. I am listening to the latter as I type, here in the Chicago Hilton. I am not sure if I have ever seen a more deceptively packaged album. The cover is a purplish blue shadowing with Henderson visible in dappled shirt on the right. Given the content, a lot of Strayhorn standards, one has every reason to expect some light-weight, romantic jazz, something the record company exec thought would widden the market a little.

Boy was that not it. This is twentyfour karot hard bop. Even the slower, more romantic treatments exhibit the full range of Henderson's interpetive genius. Or so it seems to me at this moment, but I've a belly full of Sushi and Saki, and the city is playing rhythm out the window.

This reminds me more than anything else of Henderson's magnum opus, The State of the Tenor. Though the background has more range, Henderson's horn is the meat and bones of the music. The music is edgy page three: anyone who likes hard bop will love this. It is also a very poignant gesture. Billy Strayhorn might have been the American Mozart. He certainly never got the credit he deserved for so much of Duke Ellington's music.

Stephen Scott plays piano, Gregory Hutchinson is on drums, and Christian McBride is on bass. Wynton Marsalis also plays trumpet on one or two songs.

Here is a sample:
Joe Henderson/Isfahan/Lush Life
Stop by the Jazz Record Mart and see if they have another copy.

Oh, and let me know of other jazz record stores out there. I may add a list to my blog.


  1. God, I love tracks where you can actually hear the keys being pressed and the slapping of the felts on the tenor. It gives you a feeling of almost being there at the session. Joe Henderson always astounds me with his sound. And how good is McBride on this track.

    Excellent selection as always Professor.

    Ken L.

  2. If you are still in Chicago try to get to the Velvet Lounge. Take a look at the website: It owned by Fred Anderson. I've been and it is really a neat Jazz bar.

  3. Terrell: Thanks for the tip. I am still in Chicago, but I won't make it to the Velvet Lounge this time. But I have it in may notes for next trip.

    Ken: I am with you all the way. The truth of the matter is that live settings where you can hear the bass strings thump the wood are rarer than good recordings. This is a great recording. God, but I love this music!