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Eddie Henderson and Delfeayo Marsalis Brighten Hartford’s Weekend Fare

Nov 2, 2016

Hartford is transformed this weekend into “the Jazz Brass City” of Connecticut as two of its venerable downtown landmarks flow with molten music forged by trumpet great Eddie Henderson at the Polish National Home and by trombone virtuoso Delfeayo Marsalis at the Hartford Club. 

Henderson, a genuine master practitioner of jazz with a bona fide medical degree, leads his quartet on Friday, November 4, at 8:00 pm as the headliner for The Hartford Jazz Society’s fall offering in its Concert and Workshop series at the Polish National Home, the art deco delight at 60 Charter Oak Avenue.

Henderson, who first seized national attention in the early 1970s during his three-year stint with Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking Mwandishi sextet, is accompanied by pianist Peter Zak, super bassist Essiet Essiet (a musician so good they named him twice, just like New York, New York), and drummer Sylvia Cuenca.

As part of the HJS’s longtime focus on young talent, West Hartford’s Hall High School Jazz Combos open the concert at 7:00 pm, and an admission-free student jazz workshop will be held at the venue from 4:30 to 6:00 pm, conducted by maestro Henderson. A noted educator, he has been on the faculty at the prestigious Juilliard School since 2007 and the Oberlin College Jazz Department since 2014.

General admission tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door: $10 seniors, $5 students; HJS members $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Tickets available at the Polish National Home, Integrity 'n Music in Wethersfield and via PayPal at hartfordjazzsociety.com.

Delfeayo Marsalis
Credit Steven Sussman

Marsalis’s Mighty Brunch Bunch

Delfeayo Marsalis, a member of the renowned New Orleans jazz dynasty, leads an all-star quintet on Sunday, November 6, at the West Hartford Rotary Club’s 11th annual jazz brunch from noon to 4:00 pm at the posh Hartford Club, the Georgian and Colonial Revival jewel gracing 46 Prospect Street.

The trombonist/bandleader -- who has toured with Ray Charles, Art Blakey, and Abdullah Ibrahim -- and made a number of acclaimed recordings as a leader, is, among other talents, also well-known as a prolific producer of acoustic jazz recordings.

For the jazz brunch set, the composer/arranger/educator serves a sumptuous feast of talent, including the legendary, 87-year-old drummer, Jimmy Cobb. An invaluable collaborator and close friend of Miles Davis, he played on many of the iconic trumpeter’s milestone recordings, including Kind of Blue, a 20th century masterwork and the best-selling jazz album in the music’s history.

Jimmy Cobb.
Credit Steven Sussman

A boundlessly inventive, tasteful percussionist, in more recent years he’s been a nourisher of young talent in his Cobb’s Mob bands, including such original Mobsters as pianist Brad Mehldau, guitarist Peter Bernstein and bassist John Webber. His encyclopedic accomplishments stretch back to his early days with such figures as Earl Bostic and Dinah Washington, and include countless memorable collaborations, such as his recordings with the Wynton Kelly Trio and with that splendid trio united with guitarist Wes Montgomery.

Playing on the frontline with Marsalis is top-seeded tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, director of The Hartt School’s Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz at the University of Hartford. Rounding out the quintet’s simmering rhythm section is the celebrated Cyrus Chestnut, a pianist blessed with classical chops and graced with a sanctified sound, and, last but not least, the fleet, steely-fingered bassist David Williams.

Cyrus Chestnut.
Credit Steven Sussman

Master Chef Leslie Tripp, who was classically trained in culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, provides the gourmet buffet, which is described as “A New Orleans Cajun Jazz Brunch.” Presented by the West Hartford Rotary Club, the annual brunch bash benefits the Gifts of Music and other Rotary Club local charities. A non-profit group, Gifts of Music provides musical instruments and lessons to talented public school students who could not otherwise afford them.

Tickets are $85 and include two sets, brunch and free parking in the Hartford Club’s parking garage. For tickets and information call Hap Leabman at (860) 409-6883 or online at westhartfordrotary.org

Portrait of the Artist

Maybe from day one, music seemed to be Eddie Henderson’s destiny, and even more so after he graduated from medical school to general practice, heading towards specializing in psychiatry.

It all started at home with his mother, a dancer at the Cotton Club, and his father -- who died when Eddie was only 9 -- a noted singer in the Charioteers, a once famous gospel and vocal group. Early in her showbiz career, his mother was a roommate with Billie Holiday and best friends with Lena Horne.

When Eddie was about 9, his mother, joined by Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, took him to the Apollo Theater as part of his musical education. A dream-like experience, it culminated with his being brought backstage by this awesome female threesome. There he met Louis Armstrong, who gave him tips on how to get a sound with the trumpet, revealing the mysteries of the mouthpiece.

A year later, Eddie returned with his mom to the Apollo, went backstage again for yet another royal audience with the trumpet king. This time, however, the wunderkind dazzled King Louis with his trumpet version of "Flight of the Bumblebee."

After Eddie’s father died, his mother remarried, wedding a prominent doctor whose upscale music clientele included such eminences as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.

Miles, who’d stay on visits with the family, also gave young Eddie trumpet tips, encouraged and inspired him, even providing a kind of jazz beatific vision by bringing him to his gig at the famous Blackhawk jazz club to see his band of superheroes, including an even then godlike Coltrane.

Early on, Henderson, who was an excellent student and multi-talented athlete, enjoyed youthful success as a champion figure skater at a time when blacks weren’t welcome on the ice, much less to compete, particularly when they won. That racist chill put Eddie’s focus off the rink and onto jazz.

Later, there were his years as a physician by day, musician by night. His eventual specialty in psychiatry included his treatment of a mentally distressed patient and genius named Thelonious Monk. Part of Dr. Henderson’s Rx included taking Monk along with him on his gigs in clubs.

With a life packed with achievements and a rich array of anecdotes, you’d think there would be more than enough material for a biography. Or at least a memoir, a PBS documentary, or maybe even a biopic about this jazz doctor, who, for a long stretch, juggled the two seemingly disparate worlds of medicine and jazz that somehow share certain healing powers.

Eddie Henderson's "Collective Portrait."

Although none of these potential life history accounts of Henderson have materialized, the next best and easiest way to get a personal sense of this hugely talented, sorely underappreciated figure is through his 2015 release, Collective Portrait (Smoke Sessions Records).

Along with his amusing first-person recollections in the liner notes interview with Damon Smith, his CD’s repertoire is itself a musical memoir.

Often reflective and lyrical, the autobiographical music also grooves, as on Henderson’s romp through Jimmy Heath’s "Ginger Bread Boy." With himself on trumpet and flugelhorn, Dr. Henderson’s colleagues here are the great Gary Bartz on alto and the no-less-great George Cables on piano and Rhodes, bolstered by the flawless playing of bassist Doug Weiss and drummer Carl Allen.

While the CD’s title, Collective Portrait, comes from a piece of advice that Miles Davis once gave to Henderson about the sometimes collaborative nature of composing, the entire album itself is very much a portrait of the artist himself.

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