Long admired for his wide palette of expressive brass nuances, Eddie Henderson is among the most talented trumpeters in jazz. With the release of his 1995 Milestone debut, Inspiration (Henderson’s first recording for a major jazz label in two decades), fans and critics alike began to take notice of this neglected jazz master. A moving collection of jazz and popular standards, Inspiration showcased the trumpeter’s superb working band, and acknowledged Henderson’s debt to those leaders and instrumentalists who helped shape his sound and instilled an abiding love for the art of improvisation—elders such as Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Pharoah Sanders, Kenny Barron, Billy Harper, Bobby Hutcherson, and Herbie Hancock.
Now, with the release of Dark Shadows, Eddie Henderson expands upon the unique sonic dimension of his band. “I think Dark Shadows has a little more depth, musically and emotionally. It represents the way I like to play—very much of an ensemble thing. I like painting a collective musical picture rather than a self-portrait. That’s the way I feel about music in general.”
As a result, Dark Shadows proceeds with a sense of understated urgency, particularly the manner in which Joe Locke’s vibes and the leader’s trumpet interact—a sound that harks back to the days of the heralded Bobby Hutcherson-Woody Shaw collaborations. Locke uses his vibraphone to shade and punctuate Henderson’s vocalized leads, imparting a soft patina to some melodic lines, a percussive attack to others, while pianist Kevin Hays, bassist Ed Howard, and drummer Lewis Nash complement the front line’s lyric rhythm-a-ning with coiled intensity.
“I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to keep this same personnel together for four years, every Monday night at Visiones. So I think that’s a big part of the sound on Dark Shadows. Somebody might make a mistake, and there’s so much compassion between the cats, they just go with you, so everybody plays wrong together. They’ll make it right. They’ll make it sound like it’s an arrangement—that’s the real beauty in playing music together.”
In the process, Eddie Henderson reaffirms his greatness as a solo voice. In his notes to Dark Shadows, annotator Chip Stern speaks of Henderson’s “... nuanced, ravishing sound. A level of expression forged from contrasting degrees of darkness and light, tender reticence and bodacious exultation. In Eddie Henderson’s hands, the trumpet is a storytelling instrument of tremendous beauty. . . not as maudlin sentiment but graceful mastery....”
It must be something in the genes. Born in New York City on October 26, 1940, Eddie Henderson speaks with enormous pride of his childhood. “I have a pretty imposing show business heritage. My mother was one of the dancers in the original Cotton Club. She had a twin sister, and they were called The Brown Twins, and they used to dance with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers. That film of Fats Waller doing ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ where the lady sits on the piano and he sings to her? That’s my mother. And my father sang with Bill Williams and the Charioteers, who were like the number one black singing group in the nation—over and above the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers.
“My real father died when I was nine, and my mother remarried a doctor in San Francisco, and so I guess that influenced me to pursue medicine as well. But I never stopped the music. Ever since I was nine years old. Louis Armstrong was literally my first trumpet teacher, in person, because my mother knew all of these people. Duke Ellington. Count Basie. Billie Holiday was my mother’s roommate. Sarah Vaughan was my mother’s roommate. She knew Dizzy Gillespie from her days dancing in the chorus line in front of Cab Calloway’s big band, when Dizzy was just starting out in the section. All these people used to come over to the house, and to me they were just average people. Little did I know,” he laughs.
The family moved to San Francisco in 1954, and there, from 1954 to 1957, Eddie studied trumpet, flugelhorn, and music theory at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. After three years in the Air Force, Henderson enrolled at U.C. Berkeley, graduating with a B.S. in zoology in 1964. He then studied medicine at Howard University in Washington, DC, graduating in 1968. Though he did his residency in psychiatry, he only practiced general medicine. During this period, he performed occasionally with John Handy, Joe Henderson, Big Black, and Philly Joe Jones.
From 1968 until the late Eighties, Henderson mixed music and medicine, and received his first major musical exposure as a member of Herbie Hancock s trailblazing sextet, an ensemble that also included young innovators such as Bennie Maupin, Julian Priester, Buster Williams, and Billy Hart. From 1960 through 1973 they recorded Mwandishi and Crossings for Warner Bros. and Sextant for Columbia. His experiences with Hancock exerted a profound influence on Henderson, as reflected in the music on his first two solo albums, Realization and Inside Out, recorded in 1972 and 1973 for Capricorn Records.
After leaving Hancock, the trumpeter worked extensively with Pharoah Sanders, Norman Connors, and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, returning to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975 where he joined the Latin-jazz group Azteca, and fronted his own bands. The expressive rhythmic thrust of Henderson’s jazz/fusion experiences manifested itself on his Blue Note recordings Sunburst and Heritage, and in 1977, he broke through with a single on the Billboard charts, “Prance On” (from the album Comin’ Through).
The trumpeter remained active as a leader through the 1980s, but Henderson’s move back to New York in the late Eighties signaled his return to hard-core acoustic jazz. With Dark Shadows, Eddie Henderson has come full circle. Tunes such as “Cerulean Blue” and “Dawning Dance” distill his fusion experiences into articulate dancing ensemble work, while “El Gaucho,” “19th Street,” and “Punjab” depict the collected, buoyant propulsion of the Henderson quintet in full flight, even as “Goodbye,” “Lament for Booker,” and the title tune are haunting illustrations of Henderson’s dark lyric ardor.
"In terms of everything that was going on in my life at the time, it was apropos. My mother passed away while I was making this album, and my wife Natsuko Henderson was a source of great love and support to me during those times, allowing me to be a creative person—she’s the most important person in my life. I think that accounts in part for the reflective mood of the album. I actually recorded ‘Goodbye’ shortly before my mother passed. Things like that have a way of seeping into your being. So I have a thing for that tune—I hate to say goodbye.”