Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mode For Joe

Undoubtedly, the most influential musical persona I have had in recent years is Joe Henderson. It has been my goal to understand what makes me love his music so much and try to incorporate it those elements into my playing. At times I feel I might be too influenced by him, but that's ok. I am confident that some of what I learnt from him will gradually be absorbed into me, the rest forgotten, and eventually my own sound will take its place.

When I hear people say they love Coltrane, I can hear it in their playing. But so far whenever someone told me they like Joe Henderson, I could never hear it.

There are a few characteristics that make Joe one of my favorite musicians. To start off, his sound is very unique and entirely his own. It has an uncanny darkness to it that attracted me from the first time I listened to him. The big difference between him and other dark sounding players such as Stan Getz, is that Joe's sound is also very focused and condensed. Usually when someone refers to a dark sound they mean the opposite of a bright, vibrant, metallic sound. Well, Joe somehow managed to combine the two together in a very special way. 

The freedom and spontaneity in his improvisation is admirable. In a day and age that everyone thrives for perfection and flawlessness, it's always nice to listen to Joe's albums that have a rough, earthy atmosphere to them. It didn't matter to him that he was in a studio, he still took chances, and understood that "mistakes" are a part of the music. Having said that, his lines are still coming directly from the chord progression and are making perfect sense.

Another interesting things is his rhythmicity. In an interview he had with Mel Martin for The Saxophone Journal, he mentioned he used to practice starting phrases in different places in the bar. This way he got more diversity from a single phrase or idea. In addition, except to up tempo tunes, his phrases are always rhythmically interesting, incorporating triplets and rests, and avoiding long eight-note-oriented lines.

Here's a list of my favorite Joe Henderson albums:
- Page One
- Our Thing
- In N' Out
- Inner Urge
- Mode For Joe 
- The Kicker
- Four
- Straight No Chaser
- The Tetragon
- Live in Japan
- Live at The Lighthouse
- Double Rainbow
- The Kicker (Bobby Hutcherson) 
- The Sidewinder (Lee Morgan)
- Cassandranite (Woody Shaw)
- Red Clay (Freddie Hubbard)

If you have other impressions of Joe Henderson's playing or any information you'd like to share, I would very much like to hear about it.

Thanks for reading,

Yaron Elyashiv.  

Click here to read the entire interview by Mel Martin.

A video of me playing one of Joe's songs - Punjab    

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