Witness to History
Smoke Sessions Records, 2023
By Jeff Cebulski | ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
The jazz trumpet player Dr. Eddie Henderson is experiencing a resurgence of late. Not only has he released his fourth album for Smoke Sessions, Witness to History, he is also the subject of a new documentary that will appear on PBS stations in early February, “Dr. Eddie Henderson: Uncommon Genius.”
The 83-year-old Henderson’s personal history is certainly worthy of such acclaim. Born in New York City and raised in San Francisco, the young Eddie was a high achiever, mastering the trumpet after an initial lesson from Louis Armstrong. After spending three years in the Air Force, he earned a degree at Cal-Berkeley before becoming a doctor of psychiatry after medical school at Howard University.
If all that isn’t enough to impress you, Henderson was also the first African-American to compete for a national figure skating championship.
Through all that, Henderson crafted a musical career that encompassed significant eras within modern jazz, most notably as a key member of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi band in the early 70’s.
In recent years, Henderson has released several albums on the Smoke Sessions label and performed with the jazz veteran ensemble The Cookers. On Witness to History, Henderson performs with a few of those Cookers: Donald Harrison on alto, George Cables on piano, and Gerald Cannon on bass, as well as Lenny White on drums.
The album serves as a 50th anniversary celebration of Harrison’s 1973 release Realization—as well as a reuniting with White, who played on that record—and it begins in the same vein. The first two cuts, “Scorpio Rising” and “Why Not?” are fusion-infused ventures. “Scorpio Rising” includes a second drummer, Mike Clark, who played in Hancock’s Headhunters band. (Henderson returns the favor on Clark’s new album, Kosen Rufu.)
“Why Not?” is Cables’ tune from another 70’s album, and two other pieces from that famous period show up: Eddie Harris’ “Freedom Jazz Dance” and Lee Morgan’s “Totem Pole.” Henderson was influenced greatly by Miles Davis while he was in San Francisco, and his selection of “Dance” along with the ballad “It Never Entered My Mind” is meant as a tribute. “I chose songs…that stood out in my mind for shaping my musical destiny,” Henderson said.
Thus, also included are Freddie Hubbard’s “Born to Be Blue” and the ballad “Sweet and Lovely,” meant as a remembrance of Booker Little.
With all those tribute pieces, the album could be a redundant occasion, but Henderson’s arrangements and bright tone on his horn make for enjoyable moments. “Scorpio Rising” sounds like an outtake from Miles’ early fusion period, with Cables on electric and White providing the funked-up support. The trumpet-sax teamwork with Harrison evokes classic magic, as typified by their give-and-take on the soulful “Why Not?” and “Totem Pole.” “Sweet and Lovely” is delivered like a Coltrane swing session.
One original, “I’m Gonna Miss You, My Darling,” written by Henderson’s wife Natsuko, is a breezy excursion that shows the trumpet man can still play with wonderful sensitivity.
Thanks to his documentarians and Smoke Sessions’ dedication to veteran musicians, Eddie Henderson’s legacy won’t be soon forgotten. Witness to History demonstrates how broad experiences across several generations can keep an artist sharp and relevant and serves as an incentive to check out his music, once again.
Eddie Henderson, Witness to History. Smoke Sessions Records, 2023.
Eddie Henderson, trumpet
Donald Harrison, alto saxophone
George Cables, pianos
Gerald Cannon, bass
Lenny White, drums
About Jeff Cebulski
Jeff Cebulski, who lives in Chicago, is a retired English educator (both secondary and collegiate) and longtime jazz aficionado. His career in jazz includes radio programs at two stations in southeast Wisconsin, an online show on Kennesaw State’s (GA) Owl Radio from 2007 until 2015, and review/feature writing for Chicago Jazz Magazine since 2016, including his column "Jazz With Mr. C". He has interviewed many jazz artists, including Joshua Redman, Charles Lloyd, Dave Holland, John Beasley, and Chris Brubeck, as well as several Chicago-based players. Jeff is a member of the Jazz Journalists Association. Contact Jeff at email@example.com