The tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson was born on April 24, 1937 in a small city called Lima Ohio midway between Dayton and Toledo. He spent his childhood and adolescence in Lima in a family of 15 children where he was exposed to a variety of musical styles. By the time he was a high school student he was already arranging and writing music for the school band and other local outfits. It was in high school that a music teacher introduced him to the tenor saxophone. After graduation he enrolled first at the Kentucky State College to study music and then moved on to Wayne State University in Detroit. There he had as classmates several future jazz greats such as Yusef Lateef and Donald Byrd. From 1960-1962 he enlisted in the US army where he led several small jazz groups and won first place in a musical competition and was sent on a tour to entertain the troops all over Japan and Europe where he met a few of the expatriate musicians.
Early career: the Blue Note years
After being discharged from the army he traveled to New York and sat in at Birdland with Dexter Gordon and other local musicians. During one of these sessions he was introduced to the trumpeter Kenny Dorham who was so impressed by his musicianship that he arranged for Joe Henderson’s first recording session as a leader with Blue Note Records. This resulted in the record Page One (1963) which to this day remains one of his most critically acclaimed albums. This recording also spawned the standard Blue Bossa. During the following four years he led 4 other sessions for Blue Note and recorded as sideman on over to 2 dozen albums for the same label. Some of these records are today classics of not only the label but also of jazz music. Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, Larry Young’s Unity, Horace Silver’s Song For My Father and Lee Morgan’s Sidewinder are just a few examples of those fruitful years. In addition to creating timeless music Joe Henderson’s style also evolved during this period to incorporate all genres of jazz from hard bop to avant garde from latin to soul-jazz.
Middle period: the Milestone, Verve and experimentation years
From 1967-1979 he recorded primarily for the Milestone label with occasional sessions as a leader for the Verve label and one, sorely underappreciated, record for the Enja label called Barcelona. Over this “middle period” of his career his style gradually evolved from the powerful acoustic style of post bop to fusion, electric music, avant garde and back to post-bop. Through all the changes, however, his virtuosity remained intact even when the some of the later records from this period were overall not as creative as his other works. During these years he also composed prolifically and co-led groups with Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock. His forays outside of the realm of jazz led him to play with Blood Sweat and Tears and other rock and R and B groups. In the early seventies Joe Henderson became involved in teaching as well and moved to San Francisco.