Joe Henderson played with freedom and liberty

The Artistry of… Joe Henderson

The stellar tenor sax man had the buoyancy of family support behind him and his interest in music. His parents, and an older brother, especially, encouraged that interest. A familiar story of many artists includes access to an eye-opening record collection. Joe Henderson’s older brother had an influentially impressive collection.

Henderson was a huge Charlie Parker fan and played sax in school. Early on, he was writing and arranging for the school band. He was an in-demand session player found in the credits of many classic Blue Note sessions. Free of classification, his sound afforded him a liberty in his artistry that let him fly artistically without compromise in everything from bop to freeform jazz.

Fans of the band Blood, Sweat & Tears are familiar with Henderson as a member in the early 1970s, not long after the band’s lead singer David Clayton-Thomas parted ways with the group. The new vocalist was Bobby Doyle, and Henderson was in the lineup. This was all around the time of the recording and release of the band’s album New Blood. There was a lot of drama with the group in those days, including changes in personnel; by the time the album was released, both Henderson and Doyle had left.

The true drama, though, in Henderson’s artistry, was in the freedom and liberty in his playing, and in his ability to fly free with the groove and then land on both feet wherever and whenever he played.



The Artistry of… is a weekly series that reflects on the passion and essence of an artist. It airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.


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