by Trevor Bannister
January 25, 2021
Guest contributor Trevor Bannister recommends jazz listeners to check out the talents of trumpeter and bandleader Stuart Henderson and his latest quintet release "Back To Blue Note".
Stuart Henderson Quintet
“Back To Blue Note”
Stuart Henderson – trumpet, Ollie Weston - tenor sax, Tom Berge – piano, organ,
Raph Mizraki- bass, percussion, Simon Price – drums
IAN MANN writes;
This isn’t going to be a Jazzmann review in the usual sense. However our regular guest contributor Trevor Bannister of Jazz in Reading is eager that the jazz public should be made aware of this recent digital release from trumpeter Stuart Henderson and his quintet.
Trevor covered a live performance by Henderson and his quintet at the Progress Theatre in Reading in 2019, the event featuring the album line up as listed above, and much of the material that now has now found its way onto this digital release.
The Henderson Quintet’s set formed part of a larger event paying tribute to Blue Note Records in the year of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the label. Billed as “A Jazz and Film Tribute to Blue Note Records” the evening also included a screening of the film “Blue Note: A Modern Jazz Story” written & directed by Julian Benedikt.
In lieu of a full album review this piece will take the form of one of our occasional “Jazz Will Eat Itself” exercises where we borrow from our own archive. In this case Trevor’s original review from the night of 22nd November 2019 will be reproduced below, but first I’m going to reproduce the official press release for the digital recording, which will offer a full insight into the available recorded material.
Henderson is also the musical director of the Remix Jazz Orchestra with whom he presented a themed concert, ‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz,’ at Reading Minster in July 2019. This event was a co-production by Jazz in Reading and Reading Fringe Festival and the show was also reviewed by Trevor. The quality of the performance dictates that this review should also be revisited here, and it also appears below.
At this point I shall disappear and hand over first to Stuart Henderson, and then to Trevor.
PRESS RELEASE FOR “BACK TO BLUE NOTE” by the STUART HENDERSON QUINTET
Back To Blue Note: Stuart Henderson Quintet
Stuart Henderson trumpet, Ollie Weston tenor saxophone, Tom Berge piano & organ, Raph
Mizraki bass & percussion, Simon Price drums
‘Music of the first order, played with impeccable musicianship and charged with an explosive force of emotional power and creative energy. There were times when, if you closed your eyes, you could have been listening to an original Blue Note recording rather than a live band.’
(Trevor Bannister reviewing ‘Back To Blue Note’, Progress Theatre, Reading, 22, November 2019)
Stuart Henderson writes,
‘The two words ‘Blue Note’ immediately evoke the unique sounds and visual images of this classic jazz record label. Founded by German emigres, Alfred Lyon and Francis Wolf, in 1939, the label enjoyed its greatest days in the 1950s and 1960s with a stunning catalogue of innovative records. One hit record followed hard on the heels of another by the brightest stars in the jazz firmament – Art Blakey, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver and Jimmy Smith amongst a host of others.
It is our great privilege to be able to play some of these fabulous charts today and also to have unearthed some lesser-known gems that have never received the “air time” they deserve.
Back To Blue Note, now available to download as a digital album @ £10.00 or more, is an album of nine tracks, dedicated to the giants of the classic era of the most famous jazz record label of all. It is available via this link https://stuarthenderson.bandcamp.com/releases
My Groove Your Move (Hank Mobley)
Exotique (Lee Morgan)
Driftin’ (Herbie Hancock)
The Kicker (Joe Henderson)
Blue Minor (Sonny Clark)
Moments Notice (John Coltrane)
The Cape Verdean Blues (Horace Silver)
Minor Chant (Stanley Turrentine)
Split Kick (Horace Silver)
TREVOR BANNISTER writes;
A Jazz and Film Tribute to Blue Note Records
Progress Theatre, Reading, Berkshire, Friday 22 November 2019
Stuart Henderson Quintet: Stuart Henderson trumpet & flugelhorn, Ollie Weston tenor saxophone; Tom Berge keyboards, Raph Mizraki bass, Simon Price drums
‘Blue Note: A Modern Jazz Story’ written & directed by Julian Benedikt
Like a classic Blue Note album cover, Zoe White’s accompanying image (see above) beautifully encapsulates the spirit and atmosphere of the Jazz at Progress double-headed tribute to mark the 80th anniversary of the Blue Note record label; an amalgam of the label’s distinctive sound as presented by Stuart Henderson’s Quintet and the visual images and voices of the label’s glorious roster of protagonists depicted in Julian Benendikt’s documentary.
Above all, the evening paid homage to the enduring genius of Alfred Lion, a Jewish émigré from Germany who founded the label in 1938 as a practical expression of his love for the blues. He presided over every Blue Note session until the label was sold to Liberty Records in 1966. Musician after musician recounted in the film that Lion could neither dance or keep time, but they marvelled at his innate sense of ‘Schwing’ and when a beaming smile lit up his face, they knew they had hit the groove. He just knew when things were right.
He was quick to pick up on innovative talent and to encourage original writing, providing both Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell with their first recording opportunities as leaders. When 22-year-old Herbie Hancock arrived in New York in 1963 to meet Lion at his office, armed with two blues and a standard as an offering for a prospective début album, Lion dispatched him to come up with some original material. The result - ‘Takin’ Off’ and a hit title in ‘Watermelon Man’.
By 1954 Alfred Lion had aligned a team of supreme talents to work the alchemy of producing jazz records: photographer and business partner Francis Wolf, the fastidious New Jersey based recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who had transformed his parents home into a recording studio, and the remarkable graphic designer Reid Miles, who designed the most outstanding of album covers but had absolutely no interest in the contents; he exchanged the records for classical albums. Blue Note had entered its classic period - cutting edge music that honestly expressed the identity of African-American society at that time. It was firmly rooted in the jazz heritage of blues and gospel, and at Alfred Lion’s insistence would always ‘schwing’, but so challenging that it veered towards the avant-garde.
Lion paid his musicians well. Trumpeter Freddie Hubbard used his first pay cheque to buy two new suits and a car. Perhaps, even more importantly, unlike most other record labels, he paid them to rehearse, so that the music was perfectly prepared in advance of the recording.
The same might be said of Stuart Henderson’s brilliant quintet which enthralled the near sell-out audience for the first half of the evening, presenting an astonishing 11 numbers drawn from the ‘golden era’ of Blue Note between 1954 and 1966. Make no mistake, this was no pale imitation of the ‘real’ thing, this WAS the ‘real’ thing. Music of the first order, played with impeccable musicianship and charged with an explosive force of emotional power and creative energy. There were times when, if you closed your eyes, you could have been listening to an original recording rather than a live band.
No tribute to Blue Note would be complete without Bobby Timmons’ ‘Moanin’’ and the faithful anthem, mainstay of a thousand jazz compilations opened the set, albeit as a short statement rather than the full-blown tune. Brief it may have been, but Simon Price’s Blakey-ish backbeat couldn’t fail to impress.
The band moved quickly on to ‘Blue Minor’ a number by the sadly short-lived pianist Sonny Clark. It bore all the qualities of great ‘hard bop’; an attention-grabbing theme, searing solos and hard driving ‘schwing’.
Horace Silver’s ‘Split Kick’, once a feature for Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson on ‘The Live at Birdland’ album of 1954, set off at an even faster rate of knots and left one in no doubt about the expressive skills of Stuart Henderson on trumpet and Ollie Weston on tenor or the deft support of the rhythm section.
Horace Silver was a composer of tremendous versatility and his pioneering contribution to ‘Fusion’, the funky cocktail of jazz, blues and Latin rhythms is perhaps under-rated. ‘Cape Verdean Blues’ helped to set the record straight, and simply burst with the joyous vigour of a carnival parade.
In complete contrast, the brooding combination of Raph Mizraki’s bass and Tom Berge’s keyboard painted an unbearably desolate landscape of loss and regret in their introduction to ‘Autumn Leaves’, from the Cannonball Adderley/Miles Davis 1958 collaboration ‘Something Else’. Stuart Henderson sustained the mood to brilliant effect with his closely miked muted solo, while Berge’s coda, echoed by a final cymbal toll by Simon Price, was full of the pathos of what ‘might have been’.
The introverted tenor style of Hank Mobley was a great favourite of Alfred Lion, another case of him sensing something special about a player that escaped the attention of other listeners. Ollie Weston’s warm toned tenor paid a tribute to Mobley on ‘This I Dig for You’, a fine example of understated swing complemented by a tremendous and deservedly well received solo by Raph Mizraki.
In contrast to Mobley’s seemingly straightforward approach, Wayne Shorter expressed his ideas in a much more angular and abstract manner. Someone was heard to mutter ‘Good luck’ before the band embarked on the tricky configuration of ‘Witch Hunt’. They needn’t have worried. They completed the opening theme in masterful fashion and opened up the number to a string of fabulous solos – Henderson’s incisive trumpet, Weston’s haunting tenor and the economic ‘make every note count’ Fender Rhodes effect of Tom Berge’s keyboard. And all this, firmly underpinned by Mizraki’s bass and the propulsive drums of Simon Price.
Like Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock could (and still does) operate across the full spectrum of styles from funk to the most extreme avant-garde without ever losing his identity or musical integrity. ‘Dolphin Dance’, from the 1965 album ‘Maiden Voyage’ is one of his most lyrical compositions. The band, with Henderson on flugelhorn, captured the reflective mood to perfection.
‘Moment’s Notice’, from ‘Blue Train’, John Coltrane’s only outing on Blue Note, is that unique thing; a tune of incredible complexity that remains firmly fixed in your mind as the soloists work through all its possible variations. The band, with Ollie Weston to the fore, rose to the challenge magnificently, generating nail-biting excitement in the process.
Alfred Lion’s role in launching the career of organist Jimmy Smith, and in the process setting up a completely new style of jazz expression, was amongst Alfred Lion’s greatest achievements. With Tom Berge switching his keyboard to Hammond Organ mode, he set the groove for one of Smith’s biggest Blue Note hits, ‘Minor Chant’, a soulful number originally recorded with tenorist Stanley Turrentine on ‘Back at the Chicken Shack’.
And so, to the final number of a fantastic set. What else but Lee Morgan’s ‘The Sidewinder’, Blue Note’s greatest hit, and the success of which inadvertently almost bankrupted the company (the dreaded problem of cash flow).
As the band cleared the stage and the audience retired for an interval drink, the question came to mind ‘How do you follow that?’ It’s true, nothing could quite match the excitement of the first set, but that shouldn’t diminish the excellence of Julian Benedikt’s 2015 documentary film, ‘Blue Note: A Modern Jazz Story’, screened by kind permission of EuroArts.
Presented as a sharply edited montage of archive film clips, with startling visual images of the Blue Note stars at work on the recording sessions captured in perfect detail by the lens of Francis Wolf’s camera, and personal interviews, riding over a soundtrack of Blue Note recordings. It offered fresh insight into the life of Alfred Lion, especially his formative years in inter-war Berlin, where his imagination was first inspired by the posters for Sam Wooding’s All-Black ‘Chocolate Kiddies’ review and later darkened by the growing menace of Nazism.
If at times, the clips were tantalisingly brief, there were wonderful compensations; a full length cut of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson in a dazzling display of boogie-woogie piano, a reminder that long before he lent an ear to bebop, Lion’s passion for jazz and inspiration for making records grew from his affinity with the blues.
Freddie Hubbard’s astonishing breath control as he took flight he on ‘Water Melon Man’ on a live date with Herbie Hancock; Tommy Turrentine, Bob Cranshaw and Al Harewood – three stalwarts of the Blue Note label, laughing and joking about Alfred’s inability to dance and his practise of paying by cheque, leaving them with the problem with where to cash it; shots of the label’s pressing plant - witness to the care that went into the production and packaging of each individual record; Lorraine Gordon’s wistful memories of life as Alfred’s first wife as she promised the ‘best seat in the house’ to a prospective customer in the chaos of her office at New York’s ‘Village Vanguard’ jazz club (clearly filmed long before the advent of TicketSource and their like…). She didn’t elaborate on the reasons for the marriage break-up. She didn’t need to. It was clear from the repeated testimony of musicians, jazz writers and his widow alike, that in ‘Alfred’s life, the music always came first’. ‘He wasn’t interested in making hit records or money,’ they would say. ‘Only great jazz.’ In an ocean infested with sharks, Alfred Lion stood out as a true gentleman.
The glorious chapter in the story of jazz documented in ‘Blue Note: A Modern Jazz Story’, may now be fading into the recesses of history, but the music lives on. The indefatigable figures of Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock remain active and as creative as ever and it’s possible to easily download those once elusive albums to a mobile phone at the touch of a button. No doubt you could store the entire Blue Note catalogue on one device? And for those with deeper pockets, there’s always the thrill of seeking an original album and to feast the senses on its sound, the touch of its cover, the visual splendour of the graphics and sleeve notes and the scent of finest vinyl. Blue Note heaven!
Meanwhile, let’s look forward to the Stuart Henderson Quintet cutting an album of Blue Note tracks and making a return visit to Progress for a full gig in the not too distant future. Club promoters and festival organisers please note: the Stuart Henderson Quintet is as tightly organised, exciting and profound as any band operating on the UK scene … BOOK THEM NOW!!!!
Thanks are due to EuroArts, the Progress Theatre for making it possible to stage this unique double-headed event and the House Team for the excellent quality of sound and lighting and for the provision and operation of the projection facilities. And of course, special thanks to the audience for such generous and enthusiastic support.
Trevor’s Star Rating for this event - 4.5 Stars
Jazz in Reading with Reading Fringe Festival
‘The Evolution of the Big Band – from the Birth of Jazz’
Tuesday 23 July 2019, Reading Minster, St Mary’s Butts, Reading, Berkshire.
The Remix Jazz Orchestra under the direction of Stuart Henderson and with special guests Simon Allen tenor saxophone and Fleur Stephenson vocals:
David Cunningham, James Lowe, Chris Preddy, Stuart Henderson trumpets;
Peter Phillips, Cliff Luke, Brian Haddock trombones;
Steve Waters bass trombone;
Brian Marrett clarinet and alto saxophone; Rod Kirton alto saxophone; Mike Booker tenor saxophone; Jim Philip baritone saxophone & bass clarinet;
Adrian Sharon piano;
Adrian Thoms guitar;
John Deemer bass guitar & tuba;
Dave Lambert drums.
The opening bars of Count Basie’s ‘All Of Me’ simply enveloped the two-hundred plus audience who gathered in Reading Minster on Tuesday 23 July, with the warm glow of its immaculate presentation and relaxed, effortless swing. The perfect opening shot in an evening dedicated to ‘The Evolution of the Big Band’ as told in music by the 17-piece Remix Jazz Orchestra and the illuminating narrative of its Musical Director, Stuart Henderson - for big band jazz is a story not just of the music itself, but of colourful locations, intriguing plot-lines and larger than life characters.
None more so than the self-styled ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman. ‘Whispering’ a loving recreation of a massive hit for Whiteman in 1920, featuring the ‘oom-pah’ tuba of John Deemer (playing in the lofty heights of the pulpit) and the swanee whistle of Stuart Henderson, evoked Whiteman’s determination to rub the rough edges off the then new-fangled craze of ‘jass’ and transform the music into a ‘respectable lady’.
Whiteman remained popular throughout the next two decades, but anyone searching for the ‘real thing’ needed to travel no further than New York’s Roseland Ballroom where African-American pianist Fletcher Henderson had assembled a ‘powerhouse rhythm machine’ band whose instrumentation wouldn’t have looked too different to that of the Remix Orchestra. Fletcher set the mould for all future big bands; top flight musicianship, written arrangements and scorching hot improvised solos! ‘King Porter Stomp’ was one of his most successful arrangements and with the brilliant Brian Marrett on clarinet, the Remix interpretation captured all the excitement of those pioneering days.
The muted trumpets and flawless saxophones of ‘Stompin’ at the Savoy’ celebrated the diminutive drummer Chick Webb whose band held court to the Lindy-Hopping dancers of Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. He regularly ‘cut’ visiting bands, like those of Fletcher Henderson, in thrilling battles of the bands. Chick also introduced a shy teenage singer to the bandstand in 1934 … a certain Miss Ella Fitzgerald!
In the same year, clarinet virtuoso Benny Goodman, modelled his new band on that of Fletcher Henderson and employed Fletcher as an arranger. Over the next four years he scored a string of hit records, set the nation dancing to his radio broadcasts and national tours, and earned the accolade ‘King of Swing’. The band was driven along by the drums of Gene Krupa, most famously at the historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, a mantle now taken up by Dave Lambert as he snapped the flag-waving ‘Don’t’ Be That Way’ into life, a feature for the full brassy tones of Peter Phillips on trombone.
Billie Holiday – ‘Lady Day’ - possessed the alchemist’s gift of being able to transform lyrical dross into solid gold, by turns, expressing the joy of the human spirit and its vulnerability in equal measure. Guest vocalist, Fleur Stevenson captured those qualities perfectly with a beautiful interpretation of ‘That Old Devil Called Love’, supported by the lush, string-like background of the Remix Orchestra.
‘Hawaiian War Chant’, on the other hand, a hit for Tommy Dorsey in 1941 and a feature in the movie ‘Ship Ahoy’, showcased the razzle-dazzle-showmanship beloved of swing fans - thundering tom-toms, a hand-clapping, head-swaying band, the trumpet section waving their derby mutes in swinging unison, a fiery tenor solo and to top it all, a mock dual between Dave Lambert and Stuart Henderson. Great fun!
Arguments raged throughout the ‘swing era’ as to whether Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw was the greatest clarinettist. Brian Marrett made his own claim to the title with an expressive and beautifully polished interpretation of ‘Begin the Beguine’.
Artie Shaw’s classic hit of 1938 led us neatly into the instantly recognisable introduction to Glenn Miller’s ‘In The Mood’, an anthem for the wartime years that never fails to set toes tapping, raise a smile, or even prompt a wistful tear to the eye. This fine version featured special guest Simon Allen and his fellow protagonist Mike Booker on tenor saxophones.
Chris Preddy, the youngest member of the Remix Orchestra, took the spotlight to evoke the sound and spirit of trumpet legend Harry James with a magnificent performance of the tear-jerking ‘You Made Me Love You’.
While Harry James made a name for himself with his Hollywood movie star good looks and the extravagance of his playing, William ‘Count ‘Basie could sit almost unnoticed at his piano, and with one note teased from the keyboard, set his band alight. Taste and economy were his signature words, as Adrian Sharon demonstrated to perfect effect in his introduction to ‘Satin Doll’, more than ably supported by the superb rhythm section of Adrian Thoms, John Deemer and Dave Lambert.
Charlie Barnet’s swinging ‘Skyliner’ brought a huge smile of delight to a nonagenarian gentleman in the audience. Not only did he buy the record when it was first released in 1944, but he saw the Barnet orchestra live in New York as a young trainee RAF pilot on a brief stop-over en route to a training base in the mid-west of America.
And to bring the first set to a close? What else but Stan Kenton’s atmospheric ‘Intermission Riff’.
The insistent call of Dave Lambert’s drums summoned the ‘congregation’ for the second half of the concert. Excitement mounted as his solo grew in volume and momentum. When he reached a crescendo of sound, he released the tension, hit a familiar groove and launched the band into spectacular flight with ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’, the thrilling climax to Benny Goodman’s Carnegie Hall concert, and no less exciting in this performance!
The next number brought a change in temperature and the distinctly ‘cool’ unison sound of four saxophonists - Brian Marrett, Simon Allen, Mike Booker and Jim Philip - playing ‘as one’, in a marvellous arrangement of ‘Four Brothers’, Jimmy Giuffre’s tightly swinging composition for Woody Herman’s band of 1947; known inevitably for ever after as the ‘Four Brothers’ Band.
The reappearance of Fleur Stevenson prompted a huge round of applause as she took centre-stage to sing ‘When the Angels Sing’. Once a feature for Martha Tilton with the Benny Goodman band she delivered the song to perfection, with a lovely sense of swing, crystal-clear diction and a vocal quality that filled the vast space of the Minster. However, ‘When the Angels Sing’ was never just a vocal feature. It’s composer, trumpeter Ziggy Elman, added a flamboyant ‘Fraulich’ chorus, emulated on this occasion by trumpet maestro Stuart Henderson over the rolling snare drumming of Dave Lambert. Sensational!
The enduring spirit of Duke Ellington looms large in the story of big band jazz. He led an orchestra for more than fifty years and composed over one-thousand pieces, many of which have become standard items in the big band repertoire. ‘Mood Indigo’, featuring the resonant low tones of Brian Marrett’s clarinet, presented Ellington at his most reflective; the imaginative lighting effects adding greatly to the atmosphere.
In contrast, the Remix Orchestra transformed ‘Caravan’ (forever associated with Ellington, but actually written by his band member Juan Tizol), originally conceived as an exotic camel ride across the gently undulating sand dunes of the desert, into a headlong flight into a desert storm, with Simon Allen’s ferocious tenor setting the pace.
Ted Heath was Britain’s foremost post-war bandleader, who also flew the flag with great success on his numerous tours of the States. He appeared in Reading on many occasions. On one such, at Reading Town Hall ,a wild mob of female fans tried to pull star vocalist Denis Lotis off the stage. They took his bow tie, his handkerchief, socks and his shoes. They eventually threw back the shoes … but not the socks!
‘Hot Toddy’ was one of Ted’s biggest hits, played here with the smooth precision of the Heath band, anchored by the gloriously fruity baritone saxophone of Jim Philip.
Johnny Dankworth was also a frequent visitor to Reading in his pre-TV/film writing days. The theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ instantly conjured images of its enthusiastic presenters Raymond Baxter and James Burke introducing the next techno-wizardry that would ‘undoubtedly’ change the course of world history … and some of them probably did! Better still the Remix Orchestra played the entire tune, not just the 30 seconds worth that used to accompany the titles.
A sparkling version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’, with a witty scat chorus a la Ella Fitzgerald, rounded off Fleur Stevenson’s contribution to the evening and added her name to the illustrious list of vocalists who have performed the Rodgers and Hart classic.
Changing tastes in popular music, the advent of rock n’ roll and the arrival of the Beatles, almost sounded the death knell for big bands in the 1960s. But band leaders like Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson were not to be outdone. How could one resist the gospel-soaked funk of ‘Mercy, Mercy, Mercy’ or James Lowe’s tour de force performance of spectacular trumpet pyrotechnics on ‘MacArthur Park’.
A high-voltage performance of Gordon Goodwin’s ‘Jazz Police’ brought the story bang up-to-date and declared emphatically that there is bags of life and plenty of new territory yet to be explored in the ever-evolving story of big band jazz.
Musical Director, Stuart Henderson, is to be congratulated on devising such an original and wide-ranging programme that mixed familiar warhorses with all manner of surprises – old and new, and for his informative and good-humoured commentary. Oh, that school music lessons could have been as much fun as this!
As for the Remix Orchestra? What can one say? Will ‘SUPERB’ suffice?
Thanks also to Reading Fringe Festival and Jazz in Reading for promoting the event; the Reading Fringe Festival ‘House’ Team for the excellent quality of the sound and lighting and for manning the bar; Reading Minster for allowing the event to take place in such beautiful surroundings; Sansome & George: Residential Sales & Lettings for their generous sponsorship and finally, but by no means least, all those wonderful people who supported the event and demonstrated that there is a healthy appetite for ‘LIVE’ big band jazz in Reading.
Promoters please note: Anyone seeking to present a Big Band concert with a broad appeal and a guarantee of success, should look no further than the Remix Jazz Orchestra.
Trevor’s Star Rating for this event - 5 Stars
For further information on Stuart Henderson please visit; http://www.stuarthendersontrumpet.co.uk/
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