Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Tenor saxophonist Joe HenderesonI woke up this morning thinking about you, Joe. Years have past since I've listened to your music. Since I began this jazz blog, I've been flooded with new albums, and I've neglected some of the classic jazz albums I have. When jazz became a vital chunk of my life, a decade ago, I used to play "Inner Urge" and some of Mile Davis' albums daily, especially when I had a writing assignment. Joe, I can't explain the influence "Inner Urge" had on me. I could hammer out an assignment easily. That changed over the years. Now when I write an article, an album or a concert review my home office has to be spick-and-span, and completely silent. Anyhow, I've digressed. I’m sure you're not interested in my habits. You're probably wondering why I'm bugging you.

Last Friday night, I spotted saxophonist Steve Woods at Borders Books and Music in Grosse Pointe. Steve was thumbing through the new Thelonious Monk biography, and I was debating if I should buy the "Crazy Heart" soundtrack. Steve and I exchanged greetings, and chatted awhile. Then he invited me to an upcoming concert Tuesday night at the Cadieux Cafe, a neighborhood hangout on Detroit's eastside where you can get a hearty meal, an inexpensive beer, and hear some fine jazz music twice weekly. Scott Gwinnell's ten-piece ensemble performed there Tuesday night. Are you familiar with Scott? He's a pianist, a bandleader, and a gifted arranger.

At the cafe, in January, his ten-piece ensemble performed the music of bassist Charles Mingus and trumpeter Lee Morgan. I patted and stomped my feet all night long, and when I returned home, my feet were so swollen I had to cut my shoes off. I'm being silly, Joe. I did have a good time. Tuesday night, Scott's ensemble dedicated the second set to your music. Scott and several members of the ensemble wrote new arrangement for your compositions "Recorda-me" "Shade of Jade" and "Lazy Afternoon". The latter piece you did not compose, but you rather immortalized it. Joe you would've had a blast listening to the ensemble's take on your music. By the way, Steve Woods was in the band. I can't praise the guy enough. Steve disagrees with the consensus that your brother Leon was a better tenor sax player.

Playing ballads is Steve's his natural habitat. Soloing on "Lazy Afternoon," he slow-dragged with the tune. Back to Scott, on "Recorda-me," the pianist rearranged your solo. He divvied it up among the baritone, the tenor, and the alto. They traded measures back and forth like cheat sheets. Baritone saxophonist Carl Cafagna stood out. Until last night, Joe, I was unaware Carl played that instrument. I've always experienced him either singing or playing the tenor. He sounded as if he'd channeled the late baritone sax God Pepper Adams. I chatted with Carl when the set ended about his resemblance to Adams. Carl blushed, and confessed the horn is tough to tame, and he actually dislikes playing it. That shocked me because he played the horn sweetly to borrow one of Dexter Gordon's expressions.

Joe, Scott handled your music carefully and respectfully. He's a serious bandleader. He runs a tight ship. There's no grandstanding allowed. Not that any of the members would dare try to hog the spotlight. Drummer Scott Kretzer and bassist Shannon Wade relish in their respective roles of keeping the ensemble on course. Thanks to Scott, I'm listening to your music again. I played "Inner Urge" last night.
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