Remembering Henry Butler In Performance at Baryshnikov Arts Center

Jul 3, 2018

New Orleans-born pianist Henry Butler, known for his stylistic fluency and musical power, died yesterday at the age of 68 after a battle with cancer.

Butler was an active part of the Crescent City's lineage of representative piano players, including Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker and Professor Longhair.

Butler lost his sight in infancy, and attended the Louisiana School for the Blind. It was there he learned to play several musical instruments before focusing on piano and singing. He went on to attend Southern Univeristy in Baton Rouge, LA and later received his Master's Degree from Michigan State University.

Butler's New Orleans home was destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, and after a few years living in Colorado the musician made his home in Brooklyn, where he collaborated with band leader Steven Bernstein, among others.

In 2007 WBGO partnered in a fundraiser for the Jazz Foundation of America, and featured Butler in the first musical performance at the then-new Baryshinikov Arts Center in New York City. Gary Walker hosted the evening, and gives us this introduction to the concert recording we feature below:

Henry Butler was the kind of musician most strive to be; one who uses all music forms to express their own. For Henry it was easy. It’s how he lived his life.

He was born in New Orleans but reached way beyond its boundaries for his piano expressions. Although sightless, he was an accomplished photographer, and on occasion would go exploring with friends, with Henry at the wheel. Henry loved good music. He loved good food. Henry knew a great Indian restaurant…in Germany. He could point out a great Sushi joint…in New Orleans, where Cajun spice might be an integral part of a Japanese dish.

In the Spring of 2007, Henry Butler and I came to the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York City for their first musical presentation, and our co-production with the Jazz Foundation of America. The evening was full of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and some Butler magic, all played out with his mantra of merging styles; his stories that gave more depth to his musical choices. Mikhail Baryshnikov was there, calling the evening magnificent. Now you can hear what he did, the night Henry Butler came to play.