• This Week in JazzSet History: Henderson, Byron and Blanchard

    February 28, 2012. Posted by Alex Ariff.

    jazzsetoriginallogThis is the second installment of an archeological dig, as Alexander Gelles Ariff of the Jazz History Department at Rutgers University Newark trowels through twenty seasons of JazzSet, with new posts weekly.

    Great improvisers often find ways to sneak “quotes” of popular songs into their solos. My ears always perk up, and I usually give an audible chuckle if I hear one. It can be as obvious as a player quoting “The Flintstones” melody or as subtle as quoting an excerpt of classical music. This week, we listen for the quote in Joe Henderson’s solo from a 1992 performance in Minnesota. I also found two “spotlight” musical moments in JazzSet history: a clarinet intro feature by Don Byron and an incredible cadenza by Terence Blanchard on the great American standard, “Skylark.”

    Joe Henderson (aka Joe Hen) appeared Dakota Bar & Grill in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1992 with Henderson on tenor, Larry Willis on piano, Larry Grenadier on bass and Al Foster on drums. This was a very special show for Branford Marsalis to host. Branford says that Henderson mentored him on the horn, passing a flame rooted in harmony, committed to creativity on the bandstand. 1992 was also a big year of Joe Henderson: he was a triple-crown winner in Down Beat’s critics poll, winning Tenor Sax player of the Year, Jazz Album of the Year, Jazz Musician of the Year. The band opened their set with "Serenity." Grenadier and Henderson have the melody in unison then Henderson takes off!

    1992 Down Beat Critics Poll
    1992 Down Beat Critics Poll

    Henderson’s quartet played mostly originals but it was “Recordame” that specifically caught my ear. I knew that I had heard a quote of some sort but could not put my finger on it! I consulted my colleagues at Rutgers who pointed me in the right direction. Towards the end of his solo, he quotes “Scheherazade” by the 19th century Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov. Here is a sample of the melody Joe Henderson quotes, as played by The London Symphony conducted by Igor Markevitch.

    Here is the Joe Henderson’s solo. Listen carefully, its right at the top!

    Another way a musician can captivate an audience is by taking a spotlight. At the beginning of a piece, a horn player may take the framework of a tune and rework it freely before the rest of the band comes in. Don Byron takes the tune “I Cover the Waterfront” and reworks it on clarinet gorgeously before his band mates enter. The clip is from a live performance at The J & R Music Festival in 2005 with Byron’s trio featuring Jason Moran, piano, and Billy Hart, drums.

    We conclude this week’s look back in JazzSet history with a musical conclusion of sorts, the cadenza. Cadenzas were popularized as a way for musician to play unaccompanied, showing off a little bit before the conclusion of the piece. One astounding cadenza as played by John Coltrane occurs at the conclusion "I Want To Talk About You" (Live at Birdland, 1963.) But for now, let’s check out a 2001 performance from the SF Jazz Festival, from its Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw tribute program entitled “Double Take.” Terence Blanchard curls, smacks and swoons his phrases to close out a gorgeous rendition of “Skylark” by Hoagy Carmichael.


    Alexander Gelles Ariff has a B.A. in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. He is the recipient of the Morroe Berger - Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund Award from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in Newark. Alex is writing his Master's thesis on the connection between jazz and five American poets -- Kenneth Patchen, Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, and Langston Hughes. He will be performing this Saturday, March 3 (2pm) at The Metropolitan Pavilion in part of the 2nd annual NYC Vegetarian Food Festival.

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