Trumpeter Eddie Henderson's one-of-a-kind path to the music scene
We’ve all heard about musicians who grew up in households where jazz sounds were in the air, either in the background – or maybe in heavy rotation on their respective stereos.
Less common are those youngsters who had connections with the actual musicians who performed jazz. Eddie Henderson fits into an even rarer percentile, in that he not only had access to the music in general and many musicians who made it – in Henderson’s case, he got to know legendary jazz stars when he was really young.
A combination of factors created this environment: his mother, Vivian Brown, was one of the top dancers of her day, a mainstay at the original Cotton Club; his father was a member of Billy Williams’ singing group The Charioteers. After his biological dad passed away, his mom remarried and his stepfather turned out to be a doctor to jazz icons like Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. Eddie’s first lesson on the trumpet came at the age of nine. The instructor? Louis Armstrong.
But Henderson didn’t immediately gravitate toward jazz. He studied classical trumpet at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and excelled academically - to the point where he went to medical school to become a doctor.
Along the way, it was Miles Davis who recognized Henderson's talent and potential, and encouraged him to pursue music – if not full-time, then at least in addition to his other pursuits. Miles admired Henderson's tone and musicality, which you can immediately appreciate whether on trumpet:
…the muted trumpet:
…or the flugelhorn:
So… Henderson did have it both ways. He chose music and medicine.
In the late ‘60s, while simultaneously finishing his last two years at Howard University Medical School, Henderson lead the house band at Washington, D.C.’s Bohemian Caverns. He’d travel to New York on the weekends to study at Freddie Hubbard’s house on Saturdays and Lee Morgan’s on Sundays.
While Henderson absorbed many lessons from those two trumpet icons, it was Miles Davis who had the greatest impact. Davis passed on a few more words of wisdom to Eddie: it’s OK to emulate, but don’t copy, and when it comes to finding your voice: create music, don’t get hung up on how to play the particular instrument in your hands.
Both lessons stuck with the young Eddie Henderson, who, despite having his medical degree, was ready to hit the music scene in earnest. For a three-year stretch in the early ‘70s it was with Herbie Hancock’s band Mwandishi, then later the Latin group Azteca, as well as releasing material under his own name.
In the liner notes of his 1998 album Reemergence, Henderson said he likes to write in sketches, allowing the group to finalize the entire painting – rather than making self-portraits; that “the collective effort far supersedes any individual effort.”
No surprise then that for more than a decade Henderson has been one of the members in a super-group of veterans known as The Cookers: a septet of major players primarily in their 70s and 80s who sound as good now as they ever have. Truly a dream team of artists with plenty more to share as a collective unit – but it doesn’t hurt having an all-star in the lineup like Henderson.