Eddie Henderson, Witness to History Review
Echoes of a Storied Trumpet: Eddie Henderson’s Witness to History
by Icrom Bigrad
Eddie Henderson’s Witness to History is a resonant journey across the epochs of jazz; it is a profound statement of aural memoirs, encapsulating the transformative journey of a remarkable artist through half a century. As the trumpeter commemorates the golden anniversary of his debut as a leader with Realization (1973), Witness to History is a celebration of his enduring vivacity and his indelible influence on the jazz canon. This review will touch on the narrative of Henderson’s latest work, exploring its sonic landscapes and the dynamic interplay among its seasoned contributors.
At the crux of Witness to History lies a narrative steeped in the evolution of jazz itself. Henderson, having been bequeathed an informal trumpet lesson by Louis Armstrong in 1949, interlaces the strands of his vast experiences to create a tapestry reflective of the past while staying firmly grounded in the present. This album, beyond its auditory appeal, serves as an educational tome, inviting listeners to traverse the corridors of history alongside Henderson’s trumpet calls. From the nascent glow of bebop to the fiery zenith of hard bop and beyond, Henderson’s horn has sung through the years with a versatility that mirrors the genre’s evolution.
“Scorpio Rising,” the inaugural track, is a confluence of generational talents, with the addition of guest drummer Mike Clark supplements the rhythmic foundation laid by Lenny White. The ensemble’s cohesion radiates profound intimacy, showcasing Henderson’s acuity in selecting compatriots who speak a similar musical dialect. The dialogue between Henderson and saxophonist Donald Harrison, notably on this tune and “Freedom Jazz Dance,” is imbued with an eloquence that celebrates their shared legacy within The Cookers. Henderson’s tone, notably on “Why Not,” exudes a storied warmth, encapsulating his narrative approach to improvisation.
There is a poignant sentimentality that Henderson invokes, particularly in his rendition of Rodgers and Hart’s “It Never Entered My Mind.” The muted trumpet, an emblem of introspection, paves a lyrical pathway through which the listener is invited to tread softly, hanging on every note. The evocative “I Am Going to Miss You, My Darling” is a poignant crest in the album’s landscape, with Henderson’s trumpet articulating beyond words the depth of intimacy and loss, an aria of the heart that contributes to the album’s chronicle of personal and collective history. In this composition, Henderson’s horn becomes a conduit for shared humanity, a whisper in the grand conversation that jazz has always fostered about life’s intertwined beauty and melancholy. Each melody Henderson crafts is a thread in the fabric of memory, while every harmony calls forth a solace, a soliloquy in the dialect of musical grace that speaks to the resilience and elegance of the human spirit.
Henderson’s mastery in sequencing the album ensures a seamless narrative flow, avoiding the predictable linear trajectory of many straight-ahead jazz recordings. Through the variance of styles and tempos, he achieves a conversation that is both engaging and enlightening. The album’s vitality lies in its ability to be simultaneously cohesive and exploratory, reflecting Henderson’s adventurous spirit in musical form.
The album is a microcosm of the cultural renaissance and social upheaval Henderson has witnessed. Henderson’s trumpet has not only been a witness but a voice through the tumultuous eras of social change, echoing the civil rights movement’s cries and the Afrocentric rhythms that powered the cultural revolutions of the ’60s and ’70s. These experiences bleed into his music, making Witness to History as much a cultural artifact as it is a musical one.
In listening to Eddie Henderson’s Witness to History, one does not simply hear music; one is invited into the sanctuary of an artist’s soul. At 83, Henderson’s musical narrative is far from its denouement. Instead, with this album, he reaffirms his role not as a mere spectator but as a creator of history, continuing to etch his narrative into the bedrock of jazz. The vitality of his trumpet speaks of a spirit unyielded by time—a spirit that, through every note played, continues to write a story for the ages.