Monday, January 5, 2009

BILL SWINGS, BILL SINGS

Mr. Henderson, last week publicist Terri Hinte sent me a promotional copy of your soon to be released album Beautiful Memory Bill Henderson Live at the Vic. I planned to review it after the release date, but I liked the live album so much I couldn’t wait. I wanted to share my feelings about it with my friends right away like a juicy piece of gossip.

So far, Beautiful Memory is my favorite albums of 2009. I know that’s premature, but I’ve heard enough jazz music to spot a great album, and this one qualifies as such. You and the late jazz vocalist Joe Williams sound alike.

After I listened to Beautiful Memory the first time, I rummaged through my record collection for a Joe Williams album because I wanted to examine his voice to make certain my comparison was correct. I dug out a date the vocalist made with the Count Basie Orchestra titled Count Basie Swings Joe Williams Sings. That’s a catchy title. I played that album twice, and decided my comparison was on the money.

Mr. Henderson I should level with you. Beautiful Memory is the first time I heard you sing, and I’m thankful Hinte introduced me to your work. Now I have another jazz musician to obsess over. I googled you after I listened to your album. I wanted to know more about your career.

I learned Beautiful Memory is your 11th album. 81 years ago, you were born in the Chicago, Illinois. You worked with such greats as pianists Ramsey Lewis, trumpeter Booker Little, and saxophonist Yusef Lateef. I discovered you are an established actor as well. Your acting credits are too numerous to list.

I remember your role as a bartender in my favorite episode of Good Times. It's the episode where James and Florida Evans had a big altercation because Florida wanted to enroll in night school classes. James was against it. They argued, and James stormed out their rented apartment. He went to your bar, drank a few beers, ate a few boiled eggs, and played pinball with a friend who was also there to blow off some steam. Do you remember that scene? James reconsidered. He apologized to Florida. Then he decided enroll too.

Let me stop reminiscing about a role you played on Good Times 30 years ago, and give you the reasons I feel compelled to blog about Beautiful Memory weeks before its official release date. No pun intended, Mr. Henderson, Beautiful Memory is a beautiful album, indeed. You got the crowd’s undivided attention. Then you wrapped your deep and soft voice around them Iike a warm housecoat.

I’ve listened to many live jazz recordings such as the albums saxophonist Sonny Rollins made at the Village Vanguard and pianist Thelonious Monk made at the Black Hawk, a jazz club in San Francisco. At both venues, the patrons were noisy, and they treated the icons like old furniture. You, on the other hand, had the crowd at Vic’s panting and begging for more. The album feels like a big house party, and you’re the gracious host.

On the standards All the Things You Are, Sleepin’ Bee and Old Black Magic your voice was so relaxed I wanted to take a nap. You turned Never Make Your Move into a blues, belting out the lyrics with the gusto of a performer half you age.

Mr. Henderson, January 20th, the date Ahuh Production will release Beautiful Memory Bill Henderson Live at the Vic, I will encourage friends to purchase two copies so they will have a spare if they wear out the first.
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