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ERNIE HENRY: Last Chorus

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg

On Side 1- ERNIE HENRY Octet: Ernie Henry (as) Lee Morgan (tp) Melba Liston (tb) Benny Golson (ts) Cecil Payne (brs) Wynton Kelly (p) Paul Chambers (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs)

(All the Things You Are by Henry, Morgan and rhythm only.)-- New York; September, 1957

On Side 2: S’posin’ is by the KENNY DORHAM Quartet: Kenny Dorham (tp) Ernie Henry (as) Eddie Mathias (b) G. T. Hogan (drs) --November, 1957.

Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are by a THELONIOUS MONK group: this excerpt includes solos by Thelonious Monk (p) Ernie Henry (as) Sonny Rollins (ts) Oscar Pettiford (b) Max Roach (drs)--November, 1956.

Like Someone in Love by the ERNIE HENRY Quartet: Ernie Henry (as) Wynton Kelly (p) Wilbur Ware (b) Jones (drs). -- September, 1957

Cleo’s Chant by the ERNIE HENRY Quintet: Ernie Henry (as) Kenny Dorham (tp) Kenny Drew (p) Ware (b)

Art Taylor (drs) --August, 1956


1. Autumn Leaves (3:15) (Mercer – Prevert – Kosmo arr. by Benny Golson)

2. Beauty and the Blues (6:26) (Benny Golson)

3. All the Things You Are (7:46) (Hammerstein – Kern)

4. Melba's Tune (2:37) (Melba Liston)


1. S'posin' (alt. take) (4:50) (Razaf – Denniker)

2. Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-are (6:54) (Thelonious Monk)

3. Like Someone in Love (alt. take) (4:35) (Berke – Van Heusen)

4. Cleo's Chant (7:29) (Ernie Henry)

   It is difficult to imagine anyone listening to ERNIE HENRY at his best (and Autumn Leaves, on this album, is a very good example of his best) and not agreeing that this man, if he had lived, would most probably have gone o to reach a position of real jazz importance. . .

   This LP is a final presentation, largely in terms of new material (or preciously unissued versions) of the artistry of a young alto sax man who was deeply appreciated, respected and enjoyed as a musicians; was warmly loved by those who knew him closely as a human being; and was unfortunately undervalued by, or simply unknown to, a large portion of that amorphous group known as “the public”.

   These liner notes are an admittedly highly prejudiced piece of writing. For Ernie Henry, who died suddenly on December 29, 1957, was my friend. He was also one of the very first modern jazz artists whom we could look upon as a Riverside “discovery,” and we had great faith in his talent, both actual and potential, and a conviction that he would ultimately be generally recognized as a performer of stature and significance.

   But even a prejudiced friend must admit that a certain portion of the blame for his failure to reach ‘big name’ status rested with Ernie himself. He was 31 when he died, which is terribly young, but he had been playing professionally for decade, and had worked and recorded back in the late 1941s with such as Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro and Dizzy Gillespie, among others. His advancement was delayed for a time by illness, and also at times by a mental attitude that found him with less confidence in himself that others had in him. Then, although he did not really like big band playing, he spent the last year of his life with Gillespie’s large orchestra. He did not have too much opportunity to ‘blow’ in that group, and it’s doubtful that the security of regular paychecks (which he gave as a prime reason for making the move) proved sufficient compensation; but he was in with some stimulating company, most notably his friends Wynton Kelly and Benny Golson.

   When the band returned to New York form the road in the Fall of ’57, Ernie seemed really ready to roll. He took part in several recording sessions during the last months of the year – most of the material from this LP is drawn from those sessions – that gave strong indication that he decidedly had found himself. But there were other signs, too: he had been under a doctor’s care for high blood pressure; he complained of “nervousness” that kept him from the writing he wanted to do for his never-to-be-completed Octet album. Nevertheless, his work those last months seemed to bear out the contention that he was really finding self-confidence and real direction. (Comparison between that 1956 Cleo’s Chant, included here, and his playing of little more than a year later does indicate, I think, impressive strides.) He was displaying true beauty on ballads, real fire at up tempos. His tone, which some found strident and discomforting at times, had in my opinion become demonstrably a relevant part of his personal style, fitting with his quite individualized attack and sense of phrasing to indicate that this was a man with something definite and valuable of his own to say in music. He had passed out from under that shadow of Bird that all contemporary alto players must begin under; particularly on the Octet numbers he seems to show that he had learned his Bird lessons, had paid his dues to that master, and was now flying on his own. We are never going to know exactly how far Ernie might have gone. 1958 might really have been his year; but he was just short of living into it. . . .

   The selections on this LP actually touch on most of the significant musical associations of Henry’s life. The four Octet numbers on Side 1, issued here for that first time, include four of Ernie’s associates in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band: Kelly, Golson, Melba Liston and Lee Morgan. For this session, Melba contributed an extremely pretty ballad, while Golson (one of today’s most notable young jazz arrangers and one of Ernie’s closest friends) provided one of his unusual originals and also a fresh scoring of Autumn Leaves designed specifically as a showcase for Henry’s alto. On All the Things You Are, talented young trumpeter Lee Morgan seems to stimulate Henry to some of his best ‘free-blowing’ solo work. Wynton Kelly, one of the top piano men in the East, who also appears on the alternate take of Like Someone in Love (another version of which can be heard on RLP 12-248), had been a musical and personal friend for many years.

   Thelonious Monk was an imprtant influence; just before joining Dizzy, Henry worked with Monk’s quartet and played on one for Thelonious’ most celebrated and successful albums: Brilliant Corners (RLP 12-226). From that LP we have selected and excerpt from a long blues – a Monk solo and the Henry solo that immediately follows it, showing the two men in close juxtaposition. The rhythm section here includes another long-standing friend, Max Roach, with whom Ernie grew up in Brooklyn.

   Finally, there is the musical rapport between Henry and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. This was still another close personal relationship, one that involved much ‘wood-shedding’ together in the basement of the Henry family home and that led to an exceptionally tight-knit, almost instinctively attuned ensemble sound. Kenny played on Ernie’s first Riverside LP (RLP12-222, from which Cleo’s Chant is taken); and Ernie’s last recorded performances were on one of Dorham’s albums (RLP120255, represented here by an alternate rake of S’posin’). It had been their intention to follow up that album by working together on a regular basis in a small group.

   So, in this album of “last choruses” Ernie plays in the company of men who knew him well and appreciated him and found positive enjoyment in driving this rather self-belittling musician to do his best. In such company he leaves us with a bittersweet memory – with pain that he will play no more, but with pleasure that he has left this much for us to hear and be moved by.

   Henry can be heard, as leader or as a featured sideman, on these Riverside LPs –

Seven Standards and a Blues: ERNIE HENRY Quartet; with Wynton Kelly (RLP 12-248)

Presenting ERNIE HENRY; with Kenny Dorham, Kenny Drew (RLP 12-222)

Brilliant Corners: THELONIOUS MONK; with Sonny Rollins, Ernie Henry, Max Roach (RLP 12-226)

2 Horns/ 2 Rhythms: KENNY FORHAM Quartet; featuring Ernie Henry (RLP 12-255)

A HIGH FIDELITY Recording – Riverside-Reeves SPECTROSONIC High Fidelity Engineering

   (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve)

Produced, and notes written by, ORRIN KEEPNEWS

Cover by PAUL WELLER (photography) and PAUL BACON (design)

Photograph of Henry by Lawrence Photo

Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)


553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.

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