It is tough to mention many tenor saxophonists in the same breath as Charlie Parker, but Joe Henderson is certainly one that deserves that nod. Following his death more than ten years ago, his legacy as a player, composer and arranger has been celebrated by the close-knit jazz community.
While there have been a considerable amount of tributes, last week’s celebration of Joe Henderson’s 75th birthday at Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Allen Room as part of the Best of Blue Note Celebration might rank among some of the best to date. Music director Renee Rosnes, a renowned jazz pianist and dear friend and collaborator of Henderson during the ’80s and ’90s, was able to capture the true essence of this late great by enlisting a crew of established jazz powerhouses.
As most jazz concerts do, the night started out with an introduction of the players. But the evening was particularly special due to the sentimental aura surrounding the music that was set to be played. That essence was captured through the introduction of Bobby Hutcherson, the legendary vibraphonist who hobbled on stage with a respirator to roaring applause. It was a true treat to see someone on stage that was there during the rise of the hard bop tradition. Other musicians on hand were Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Michael Dease on trombone, Robert Hurst on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, and Chris Potter taking on the ambitious role of tenor saxophone.
Before the gang jumped into some tunes, Rosnes opened the show with a warm anecdote, reminiscing over the time Henderson called on Hutcherson at four in the morning to ask for a haircut. It was short and sweet, and reminded us all of the special man that we were celebrating on a Saturday night overlooking Central Park. With that, the band was off with a lively blues number, which set the pace for an exhilarating night of jazz. The stage erupted in improvisation as each instrumentalist took command of their solo, ending off with the boastful bass of Robert Hurst thudding along in the spotlight.
Rosnes did a fine job expanding the show’s offering, as the band played a soft ballad, a softer waltz, and some of Henderson’s most notable solo compositions like “Tetragon” and “Inner Urge”. Included in that mix was the bossa-nova infused “Recorda Me”, which was greeted with free-flowing instrumentation and lush percussion. This was one of the songs that Lewis Nash truly shined on, slicing up his drum set with utmost creativity. And he was having a great time doing it too, as he traded smirks with Hurst throughout the performance.
While the night was most certainly about Joe Henderson, the highlight of the performance stood on the shoulders of Bobby Hutcherson. The horn section cleared the stage, leaving just Hutcherson on the vibraphone, Rosnes on piano, and the rhythm section backing them. The song of choice has slipped my mind, but it was a soothing Thelonious Monk number that spotlighted Hutcherson on his vibraphone. Despite his age, Bobby absolutely slayed the vibes, twisting and turning with intricate improvisation on one of the most under appreciated instruments in all of music. As the song concluded, Hutcherson was met with a standing ovation, something he humbly acknowledged with a slight nod of the head.
For more information on Jazz at Lincoln Center, visit their website here. Photos courtesy of Frank Stewart/Jazz at Lincoln Center.