Hectic chats with living legend Eddie Henderson about Miles, medicine and the Messengers
Shortly after their appearance at Ronnie Scott’s Club last year with Eddie, Ambulance were the guests of the Bournemouth Modern Jazz Club at the end of last year.
Eddie was keen to emphasise for any musician, that nothing is new, that they have to study the past to know where they are now and everything in the public domain is there to take advantage of
The club has since moved to a far better venue at the Centre Stage, compared by some last night to a New York jazz club. Arnie suggested to me later how it could be improved on that score but Mr. Henderson certainly looked and sounded as if he was at home. That must come of being a ‘legend’ still deserving of rave reviews wherever he plays. He’s got a huge stage presence and has lost none of his attack. Generously, he spent a short time with Hectic to explain this oft quoted line that as a teenager he told Miles Davis that he didn’t play right!
Eddie was born in New York and the connection with Miles was through his stepfather who was Miles’ doctor. He told me that Miles took him to see Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley play and it was after listening to them, he told Miles that he didn’t play right.
And why not? Eddie had been a student of Louis Armstrong no less and had moved to study at the San Francisco Conservatory in his early teens before joining the US Air Force.
He told me later Miles had confided in him that he ‘learnt’ his style from a little known trumpeter even then called Freddie Webster. Eddie was keen to emphasise for any musician, that nothing is new, that they have to study the past to know where they are now and everything in the public domain is there to take advantage of.
Clearly a man that knows the benefits of education, his studies continued at Berkeley (1961-4, not the School of Music, see Graham Collier and came out with a BSc in Zoology! Obviously keen on academia, next off to Washington DC to study medicine, he’s since practised as a GP and a psychiatrist.
In Washington he played with John Handy in the school holidays and it was Miles that convinced him to become a professional jazz musician.
Of course, much later Handy was responsible for one of the biggest jazz dance fusion crossover tracks ever, the classic ‘Hard Work’. But before we get to then, Henderson’s jazz education was as perfect as it started. With Herbie Hancock Sextet in 1968 (who also recorded as the Mwandishi Band, Eddie was Mganga) they recorded the influential album Mwandishi which is often said to be Hancock’s best fusion album prior to Head Hunters.
In the 70s he worked with Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson as well as joining Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers for 6 months.
He recorded for Blue Note and Capricorn (apparently there’s a monster of a compilation out) but he really made his name with a series of recordings for Capital records at the peak of jazz-funk fusion fever. At that time, Bournemouth was one of the centres of the scene led by Chris Bangs (he of the ‘Bottom End’ story).
He’d play ‘Hard Work’ and I told Mr. Henderson that some people at the gig last night had been dancing to his music for 30 years. “Hey, listen to this,” he said excitedly as he got me to repeat my story to a large audience. “And what was the track?” he asked. Of course it was ‘Prance On’ and he enthusiastically imitated the intro to the tune and beamed with joy at the thought of it.
‘Prance On’ was a ‘Dingwalls‘ type track off Henderson’s Skip Drinkwater produced Mahal album with a supergroup backing of Herbie Hancock, Julian Priester, Hubert Laws, Mtume, Bill Summers, Bennie Maupin. I rarity at the time as an album with more than one magicall track, ‘Mahal’, ‘Amoroso’, ‘Butterfly’ and the mightly ‘Cyclops’.
The following year, Henderson released Runnin’ To Your Love with Patrice Rushen. I’d have loved to have asked him about the cover, (you know, the bare chest, shinny flugelhorn!) but it’s a testament to the man that his tracks still keep turning up on compilations like ‘Say You Will’, ‘Open Eyes’, ‘Nostalgia’ and most notably the Kyoto Jazz Massive remix of ‘Kudu’ (off Blue Note Revisited, which by coincidence featured Arnie’s and Fly friend and Deborah Jordan)
Before I got one last question in, a quick update between the late-seventies and Ambulance.
He moved bank to New York and his career took off again with recordings for Steeple Chase (like Flight of Mind 1996), Milestone (Dark Shadows and a Tribute To Lee Morgan (NYC Records).
Eddie could have clearly gone on for hours but as things were getting late and they had to get ready for the Chelthenham Jazz Festival the next day, I asked him who of the current trumpet players impresses him? Without hesitation, “Jeremy Pelt, he’s standout, plays my shit better than me!”
Well that’s praise indeed as Mr. Henderson was on top form last night and you must go and see him while he’s still in the UK.
Gig review to come soon, but the great news is that Ambulance and Eddie are going into the studios next week to record some tracks. They’ve not rehearsed any of the old stuff but Hectic planted that seed, even an Ambulance version of the atmospheric ‘Ecstasy’ would be interesting to say the least.
So with that in mind, how did Eddie say ‘Prance On’ starts? “burrrp, burrrp, burrp, du, du, burrp, bup”? Oh, blow your horn sir.
–Photo by Joris Machielse–
www.ronniescotts.co.uk Arnie Somogyi’s Ambulence Ronnie Scott’s 18-20 Sept 2006 with James Person Trio and Natalie Williams & Alex Garnett.
Jazzed In Cleveland — Freddie Webster 1917-1947