Joe Henderson on Modern Jazz

An excerpt from a 1994 interview with jazz saxophonist Joe Henderson
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.
Joe Henderson in October 1963. Photograph: Francis Wolff.

A broad freedom of expression was available in the jazz vocabulary. And Henderson says he misses it these days.

“I’ve done some free things because there’s a part of me that is a bit of an iconoclast and was especially so at that time. Part of the spirit then was just to reject all that stuff like bar lines and key signatures. We didn’t want to know about it.

“So part of the thing then was just to get up on the bandstand. I became a little self-conscious about people coming in with their own music and parts written out for everyone to play and totally displacing what others might want to bring. I just said, ‘Let’s play’ and didn’t want to interfere by even suggesting a title for a tune.

“We’d just start playing and see what came out of it. We’d be able to deal with it and figure out afterwards what we did. It was such an interesting time and I don’t understand why that spirit didn’t have a longer life.

“People like Albert Ayler [the seminal avant-garde tenor player who died in 1970] aren’t around any more, of course. But Ornette still is, although he’s much more traditional and conservative than he was . . . and I‘m surprised by that. I was asking someone just a week ago, ‘Whatever happened to …’ and a whole list came out of people who were connected with that free movement who just seem to have evaporated or vanished.

“Today there doesn’t seem to be too much interest in that free spirit of jazz where you just play and you don’t have to have gone to this or that university to ensure we all know similar things so we can make music together.

“That idea of saying, ‘If you play saxophone, come on up and we’ll figure out something’ seems gone now,” he concludes ruefully. [Read More]

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