Eddie Henderson: Healing with Music
"I learned one thing from Miles," he says, "How important it is to pick the right chemistry of people. To tell you the truth, the company wanted me to play with just 'name' people they had in mind, without any thought of musical chemistry or blending. I said absolutely not. I got the people I wanted. You see how it came out. I feel that's real jazz."
"I think everybody had heard Miles' versions of it over the years, so they were very well versed with the vocabulary of the music. But I said 'Don't do it like the record.' Try to interpret your own personal self through the music, with you using that as a foundation. So everybody could express themselves where it wouldn't just sound like a clone."
It also may have been the last recording session of Berg, who was killed later in 2002 in a motor vehicle accident. "That was tragic," says Henderson. "I've known him for years, since the mid-70s, when he first joined Horace Silver. He played with Miles Davis [circa 1985]. Just a fluke accident. Horrible. Shows you how fragile life is. I think he recorded two weeks earlier with Joe Locke, the vibes player, and Ed Howard out in Seattle. I don't think it's out yet. Didn't he play great though?"
So What is a grand tribute to the trumpet player that "didn't play right," and who became a profound inspiration. The influence of Davis on young Eddie began after that day in the car and continues even now.
Miles returned to the Bay area about nine months after that day in the car, Henderson recounted. "In the interim, I found out who he was and bought records. So he walked in my house. My mother was taking pictures. I got my trumpet and said, 'Man, you gotta hear this.' I played with the record. So I ran up to him and said, 'How do you like that?' and he said, [affecting Miles trademark voice] 'You sound good. But that's me.' That was my first revelation.
"These are important things for the predecessors to relay to the people coming up. You should emulate, not imitate," explained Henderson, noting that he also received other tips from Miles. "My stepfather said, 'Show him something.' So he wrote on a napkin, four notes implying a C7 chord. I'm looking at him, and he said, 'Man, don't look at me. Look at the music!' That's about as far as it went as far as formal sitting down stuff, but by going and hearing him play, I learned so much without words."
Such was Henderson's life. He was blessed with knowing many musicians growing up - including getting early tips from Satchmo - because his parents were both entertainers, his mother a dancer at the original Cotton Club and his father a member of the popular singing group Billy Williams and the Charioteers. His stepfather was a doctor to people like Miles and Coltrane and Duke Ellington, so the association with musician continued. Henderson was also blessed with not having to go through a lot of the tough, teeth-cutting, dues-paying pains that many musicians go through. He studied hard in school and in addition to excelling on his instrument, he excelled academically enough to go to medical school and become a doctor.
Not a bad side gig.
Dr. Henderson practiced part-time for many years, in addition to playing gigs and learning directly from two of his other main trumpet influences - Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard.
"Music was in my blood," he says. And even though his father died when he was 9, his mother married a man who would continue to influence him. His stepfather loved music, but was a physician. "I guess he wanted me to follow in his footsteps. So I was going to school, very studious. Got good grades. But I was playing trumpet all the time. I really wanted to play music. But I went to UC Berkley and got my undergraduate degree and before I knew it, I was in medical school [Howard University in D.C.]. But I was still playing. I put myself through medical school by playing music at night. I took the attitude that if I don't pass, I wasn't meant to be a doctor. Fortunately, I passed and continued to do both. I will always be playing music because that's my first love."
After Miles Davis, Henderson's influences expanded. "I think the first one that struck me was Freddie Hubbard, when I was in medical school in Washington, D.C., and then Lee Morgan. Every weekend for four years I would drive up to New York, be at Freddie Hubbard's house every Saturday morning, practicing with him. He'd show me things and we'd hang out. I'd go to his gigs. And every Sunday morning, I'd be at Lee Morgan's house and he'd show me things. Then I'd go back to medical school every day, during the day, and practice trumpet every night."
Other influences included Booker Little, Clifford Brown and Woody Shaw. "I heard others, like the great Kenny Dorham, but they didn't touch me as deeply," he says.