Eddie Henderson On Maturity And Revisiting Bop Standards

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Eddie Henderson says that during his career he’s had to develop the “maturity of knowing when to play and when not to play.”

(Photo: Jimmy Katz)

So, the young Eddie Henderson who played on your 1973 fusion album Realization could not have played “Over The Rainbow” the way you do on this new record?

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You only get that kind of maturity with age, knowing how to phrase. I remember a long time ago, I asked Miles Davis—this is when I was a teenager, because Miles Davis stayed at my parents house—and I remember asking him, “Man, how do you play ‘My Funny Valentine’ so pretty?” And he said, “From listening to singers.” And so, from that point on, year after year, I really listened to how singers phrased, like Nat “King” Cole on “Unforgettable.”

It’s that whole relaxed approach and the idea of leaving some space that you want to get on your horn when you’re playing a ballad. You know what the golden rule is: “Less is more.” When you’re young, you try to play a lot of notes, like a young lion or something. But then as you get older, you start editing and learning to embellish with just one note.

Kenny Barron is a master at that. He’s got chops, but he also has that beautiful touch—that finesse and restraint.

Exactly. And the corollary to what you just said: I remember Miles Davis came to hear me play with Art Blakey and he said, “Eddie, you sound good. But why don’t you stop trying to play the trumpet and play music?” And I was like, “Whoa.” That lesson has always been on my mind: Stop trying to exhibit your technique. I mean, you’re playing the instrument, but the whole purpose of the instrument is to play music.

There’s an atmospheric quality to “By Any Means,” the song your daughter Cava Menzies wrote for the new record.

Well, she’s quite a talent. On the last album I made, she contributed a real mysterious tune—“Nightride”—and so I asked her to write me another mysterious tune. And that’s what she sent me.

She graduated from Berklee College of Music with triple major, a five-year program that she finished in three years. Then she got her master’s in film orchestration from the University of Miami, and for the last 16 years, she’s been the head of the music department at Oakland School of the Performing Arts in the Bay Area. Plus, she’s got three records under her own name. I’m so proud of her.

I was listening to “Boom,” the tune that your wife, Natsuko Henderson, wrote for the new album. You come in on trumpet playing a five-note melody that is so familiar, but I can’t place it.

It’s from “I Found A New Baby.” I got that from Miles Davis. I heard him play that 30 years ago and it stuck in my memory. But that phrase just sets up the momentum and the feeling of the song. DB

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