This article is copyright 1993 by Antonio J. García and originally was published in the International Association of Jazz Educators Jazz Educators Journal, Vol. 26, No. 1, October 1993 . It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.


Joe Henderson: Meaningfully Different

by Antonio J. García

The release of tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson's latest CD, "So Near, So Far (Musings for Miles), has only reinforced the attention given this jazz master. His "Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn" had already garnered him seven weeks atop the Billboard jazz charts, a Grammy for Best Jazz Performance, and jazz artist/album/saxophone honors in the DOWN BEAT critics poll.

Henderson worked only briefly with Miles. But by gathering a supporting cast of Davis "alumni" (John Scofield/guitar, Dave Holland/bass, and Al Foster/drums) to interpret music associated with Miles, Henderson wished to show thanks for the lifetime of influence and inspiration given him and so many others by the trumpeter/composer.

"Mr. J." had just returned from tours in Europe and Japan when I interviewed him via phone at his home in San Francisco regarding improvisation and jazz education.


AJG: How was the international tour this time around?

JH: I've always been treated so well in Germany, France, and Japan. The greatest part of my inspiration as a professional musician has come from outside the United States, but the meaningful beginning came from here. This is my life, where I live; but I have to acknowledge and thank the great fans in Europe and in Japan for supporting me all those years when no one else seemed to know of the existence of Joe Henderson. I don't do things for the recognition, but it was great to find out they were listening! And I've toured Australia; I'm supposed to go back for ten days in January or February. I had a great time down there. I also went to New Zealand and played to some packed houses down there.

AJG: I know that you had recorded several times with Al Foster before "So Near, So Far," but what about with John Scofield or Dave Holland?

JH: Not with John, though we had been on the bandstand together at Montreux about eight or ten years ago. I had known Dave in London before he came to the United States; and we had been together on a record when I was with in New York with Milestones records. The four of us hadn't gigged as a group. Once in the studio we got the music planned out, decided which ones would fit better for the project, and just kind of put it together from there. Dave, Al, and John brought to it this long history of experience; so it wasn't necessary that we do some gigs to "tighten it up." They had even played some of this music separately with Miles. This way we had more live spontaneity.

AJG: As when you were with Miles those few weekends in 1967: the players other than Wayne Shorter and him were changing each gig. That would tend to keep things new.

JH: (laughing) Yes, indeed!

AJG: Maybe you can share your thoughts about keeping your music fresh.

JH: I guess that's something I picked up in Detroit somehow. It got reinforced in my being as a person who was trying to be a meaningful, creative kind of personality that you have to keep coming up with new things. You couldn't commit a bigger sin than to play an idea more than once. And too, in a more industrial way of looking at it, you can't keep playing these same ideas when you're out there recording. There's a good chance that it will flow into the ears of a lot of the same people. I'm not saying to be different just to be different, but to be meaningfully different.

I remember that the first time I was in the studio was with (trumpeter) Kenny Dorham. This was uncharted ground for me, watching these guys. Kenny at one point said to me between takes, "Wow! Damn, Joe, every time you play this tune, man, you play something different." I've gotten a lot of compliments that really mean a lot to me from a number of musicians. One thing that helps is that when the studio plays back the take, I'm outside somewhere. To hear it again is to play it again; and it just hastens boredom. So if we do have to do another take, I'll be fresh for new ideas.

AJG: Some players will practice the selected session tunes a great deal; others will practice everything but those tunes to get more involved in the art of improvisation but less in that specific set.

JH: Oh, yes: to be fresh in terms of the ideas that you come up with in a solo, even though you're familiar with the tune's chord changes, the structure, and all of that.... And then there are other factors: what the drummer and others are doing all the time--you've got to remain a part of that in a meaningful kind of way. And you must avoid falling into clichés. I can't think of anything that's more boring than to listen to a player play sounding like the index of a book. I mean, he's saying (in a lofty tone), "This comes from chapter three, and this line here came from chapter four." I don't think that is creativity, spontaneity, and freshness in improvising. Improv is about something a little deeper, with a little more meaning.

AJG: You teach private students; you've given clinics. Many people don't know you studied music education at Wayne State University in the late 1950's. How do you approach teaching jazz so that your students don't sound as though they're coming out of a book's chapter and index?

JH: Well, teaching for me--that's like another bandstand. I guess I learned early on in this game from some pretty important people that diversity is really where it is. I mean, if the situation were such that you could make a living from playing on the bandstand, that would be great. But even that wouldn't be enough for me. I have to write; I've got to do a certain amount of teaching just to feel the complete experience.

Teaching is a pretty important bandstand because it's a way we can pass on the tradition in a not-too-structured environment. Passing on the impulses that go into the creative experience is not that easy. You can offer students things to practice that might get them improvising better without actually giving them ideas that they'll just play back and not go any further. I'm trying to get those creative juices flowing in such a way that the students come up with these ideas themselves.

AJG: It's the old principle of giving a person a fish or teaching him how to fish.

JH: Yes, exactly, and then he or she can have as many fish as they want.

AJG: Teaching improv can be complex; would you offer any suggestions?

JH: Some people come with the improvisational impulse but without their basic major and minor scales; so I'll run them through all of the scales. Once they get that alphabet down, then they can put words together, then sentences, phrases, paragraphs, pages, chapters. That's the area of melodic construction. I assign students phrases that I play on the piano, perhaps over a blues, for building a solo. I'll actually give them maybe five notes of a first phrase. After they get that, I'll add onto that...and onto that. I'm doing it from scratch so that they can see how to do it. Each time they come for a lesson, if it's twelve bars, eight bars, two choruses they can handle, that's great. But whatever they can do, we're stretching that limit.

And while we're putting the solo together, we're practicing retention, remembering these lines. And in these phrases that I'm issuing to them are all the theory and questions that they will have asked. "What is a two chord? How does that move to a five chord?" Rather than telling them what that is while they might not know what I was talking about, we do it. I analogize this to the way babies are born, then crawl around on the floor, then mumble out words: they're imitating us.

And if the students do eventually write it down, that gives them the chance to practice legibility in their writing as well as their ability to read those notes. But the first thing is to be able to hear it.

AJG: Do you incorporate scat-singing into your lessons, or is your approach mostly instrumental?

JH: Mainly instrumental, but I noticed that when I was younger a lot of people I still admire also had a part inside them that wanted to sing, especially once they started to move on into their forties and fifties. Sonny Stitt in particular, I remember, could play the alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones incredibly; but there was a point where that wasn't quite enough for him. I saw Kenny (Dorham) encounter this as well. Their instruments didn't quite express everything they had within themselves; so they sang.

I grew up with almost an envy of those who could use the words to get their message across, with melody and lyrics. Instrumentalists just have the notes working, and it takes an intelligent listener to appreciate it when the words are not there. Plus I was always an admirer of Nat Cole, Billy Eckstine, Frank Sinatra.... I heard Tony Bennett at the Grammies last year; he had a powerful influence on me as a youngster. He's not that much older than me, but his experience goes way beyond mine. The way he and Sinatra enunciate those phrases--there's so much that's transferable to an instrumentalist. I used to try to imitate these people vocally. There's a part of me that still wants to, but I haven't dared to pick up the microphone and sing. I've been asked to. In fact, there was a guy around whose name was Joe Henderson, a singer! People used to come out in London...Chicago, and eventually say, "Look, man, you play the saxophone ok; but we came to hear you SING!" He must have been pretty popular; I have a record of his around here somewhere.

AJG: Your lyricism shows, and you've encouraged players to learn the lyrics of tunes to improve their phrasing.

JH: The absence of lyricism is so apparent these days. That was a real important part of my young years: how to introduce lyricism into the music...even a phrase or expression from another tune when it fits at a certain point in the life of a solo. Dexter (Gordon) was absolutely incredible at introducing these kinds of things; Miles was a genius at this; and (pianist) Ahmad Jamal....

I'm not so sure I could break down this quality and how I learned it, but the absence of it is very apparent. There's a big hole left in the solos that many youngsters are creating. Not only are they improvising from a very young point of view--I can understand that--it's the absence of the experience that was a part of the masters I admire. I grew up playing a lot of the great, old melodies by Cole Porter and the like. I learned about improvising from these tunes, about putting melodies together, how phrases are constructed, just from listening to these tunes and getting a deeper understanding. But they're just not a part of the used landscape anymore. It seems we're using so little of what's out there that many of us have become minimalists, trying to make the most money and get the most press out of the least amount of work or effort. I guess I came in on the other side of that; I really miss that. But I'm not anti-"new stuff" or new instruments; I'd like to think that I am a very open person, ready for all of it.

AJG: I don't think anyone's come up with a substitute for listening to great melodic construction. You were no minimalist in your background, listening to classical, country and western, R & B. That kind of breadth is not all that common in players wishing to expand their jazz vocabulary; they may not see the value in broadening their background and applying that experience to jazz.

JH: I find that to be so unfortunate. They have the ability to grow and appreciate from that exposure; but that doesn't seem to be in the here and now--and it's a terrible loss. I'm not saying things should be the same; evolving must go on. But it seems as though they're trading off something so valuable. This legacy of music wasn't just left here to be buried with flowers over it; it was put here to be used to create even a better present. I can't imagine today's music being as important twenty years from now as the music of my past was to me, that helped me grow and expand and hopefully bring about a more interesting future. That's really abstract; I'm really sorry about that!

AJG: It seems fairly concrete to me: the heritage is available for the taking.

JH: It is, and I can't see what the rush is. I don't mean to sound pessimistic; generally I'm a pretty optimistic guy. I'm hopeful that the scene is going to get better.

AJG: "The rush" reflects the majority of society. But certainly the artists we respect the most hit their stride in their older years, if they made it that far; and we have yet to see what today's young artists will mature into in their prime. Today's students are often expected to--or expect themselves to--develop into "jazz masters" at such a young age; that's such a challenging environment.

JH: Yes, everything's become such a part of that fast-food mentality. I didn't think I'd ever see--or I didn't prepare myself to see--that creeping up on the bandstand; I thought that was more hallowed ground. I spent a lot of time shedding my scales, being conscious of really learning how to play the saxophone, getting a good saxophone sound, and that kind of thing. I don't regret it, and perhaps I could have exposed myself to even a greater field of possibilities as a youngster.

The students today are addressing an audience that Duke, Monk, Stan Getz, Bill Evans addressed at one time; only the latter artists were much more prepared. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule that show remarkable prowess; I've heard eighteen year-olds that play with a grandmotherly wit. They're rare, but they show us what's possible; and I try to let them know that I appreciate them.

AJG: I'd read that you had on your coffeetable a book that influenced me musically, Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. His Steppenwolf even focused on a man torn with his attraction to jazz. Any thoughts on the inspiration of literature for jazz?

JH: Magister Ludi was, not to be sacrilegious, like a bible to me. I thumb through the pages regularly and turn other people on to the book. It meant so much to me, but not too many other people mention it. Isn't it unfortunate that so few people are reading? All of a sudden it's like the written word has become taboo! All musicians should expose themselves to literature; there's influence to be gained from that.

AJG: You're a composer, too, "Recorda-Me" and "The Kicker" being perhaps your most well-known works. I hear you have an upcoming recording project featuring your own works in a large ensemble setting.

JH: Well, ninety-nine percent are my pieces; they're all tunes I've previously recorded in a smaller setting--quartets, quintets--and I've enlarged them for a big band, which brought about some other possibilities.

AJG: Let's close with politics and art: now jazz is "in" at the White House. You've played for the President pre-election, at the Inaugural Ball, and at the White House for a PBS-TV special broadcast in September. Any final thoughts on the new governmental atmosphere as regards support for the arts, jazz in particular?

JH: It's certainly better than it seems to have been for the previous twelve years. It's easier for me to relate to him. When I saw him as a candidate on the Arsenio Hall show, it was the first time I had seen him because I was out touring over the world. And he had his shades on, and he had a tenor wrapped around his neck. I went over to the TV and turned it up, and he went over and played one with the band; and I said, "I can't believe this!" That was the door I walked through to try to get to know this man better and became interested in his politics; and I think a lot of other people came through that same door. The appearance spoke volumes to me about the possibilities of the artistic community under his potential administration; I felt perhaps we would be treated less like unwanted children and instead receive some respect and meaningful consideration.

When I met him at the Inauguration I was about ten or fifteen feet off the ground: meeting the President of the United States! And that finally meant something to me; before, it would have meant absolutely nothing. I feel it is my responsibility to help in any way I can, much like I felt when I was drafted into the Army. As much as I did not want to go into the military and be a part of any war situation, I did feel that I owe something to this country. We can't just take and take and take; we've got to give something back--like I do here as a teacher of jazz. So that really came home to me as I was standing there on the bandstand with President and Mrs. Clinton at the Inaugural Ball.


Selected Discography

So Near, So Far (Musings for Miles)--Verve 314 517 674-2 (1993)

Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn--Verve 314-511-779-2 (1992, w/W. Marsalis, Scott, McBride, Hutchinson)

The Standard Joe--Red RR123248-2 CD (1991, w/Reid, Foster)

The State of the Tenor, Volumes One and Two--Blue Note CDP 7462962 CD and CDP7464262 CD (1985, w/Carter, Foster)

Inner Urge--Blue Note B21Y-84189CD (1964, w/Tyner, Cranshaw, Jones)

Page One--Blue Note CDP 784140-2 (1963, w/Dorham, Tyner, Warren, La Roca)

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.

Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.

Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."

About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”

Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/ of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.

The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <>.

| Top |

If you entered this page via a search engine and would like to visit more of this site, please click | Home |.

For further information on the IAJE Journal, see Selected Links.