Seven Standards and a Blues: ERNIE HENRY Quartet
Ernie Henry (as) Wynton Kelly (p) Wibur Ware (b) Philly Joe Jones (drs)
Recorded in New York; September 30, 1957
I Get a kick Out of You (4:33) (Cole Porter)
My Ideal (2:40) (Chase – Whiting)
I’ve Got the World on a String (6:25) (Koehler – Arlen)
Sweet Lorraine (4:59) (Parish – Burwell)
Soon (5:55) (George & Ira Gershwin)
Lover Man (2:38) (Sherman – Ramirez – Davis)
Specific Gravity (6:32) (Ernie Henry)
Like Someone in Love (5:13) (Burke – Van Heusen)
Ernest Albert Henry died unexpectedly on December 29, 1957. At that time, this LP was in the final stages of production, and the notes that follow this paragraph had already been set in type. On reading them over, it seemed to me that those comments should stand as originally written. Set down when Ernie was alive, they are therefore free of that self-consciousness that even the best-intentioned of posthumous obituaries must contain. Their enthusiasm is for a living man, and that is fitting, since it is of course one of the virtues of recordings that an artist can continue to live on through the music he recorded. The belief that we at Riverside had in the further promise of Ernie Henry’s music will never have a chance to be fully substantiated, but that does not prevent this album from standing on its own as a very strong indication of his talent and its promise.
Most horn men would readily admit that their idea of a really good time is to stand up in front of an outstandingly strong rhythm section and just wail. There is of course much to be said for the pleasures of working alongside one or two other horns, and for the full sound of larger groups and detailed arrangements. But there is something special about being on your own, something that is both freer and more challenging. When you can neither be held back nor pushed along by other horns, that’s when the chips are down: your sound and your ideas are on display. On this LP, ERNIE HENRY is given this challenge and opportunity.
Not everyone, not by a long shot, is equipped to take advantage of such a situation. We happen t think that Ernie is, and that he proves it here. He stars off ahead – and also indicates something about the soundness of his jazz tastes – by selecting three of the most impressive rhythm men to be found in the East (or for that matter, nay place) these days. EYNTON KELLY, WIBUR WARE and PHILLY JOE JONES are not only formidable supporters and most able soloists; they are also musicians who know Ernie well, have worked with him often, and happen to agree that he is currently among the most consistently interesting and creative musicians on his instrument. They are consequently not only able but eager to provide him with excellent and enthusiastic cooperation.
Henry’s first album for this label (RLP 12-222) was largely devoted to his own compositions; but the present album, as befits this sort of loose-limbed, ‘blowing’ showcase, is – except for the gentle blues titled Specific Gravity – entirely concerned with standards. These were not selected with any particular worries in mind about either familiarity or strangeness: they are simply Ernie likes and wanted to deal with. As a result, they range from an old-timer like Sweet Lorraine (in what, if my recollection is accurate, is probably its modern jazz debut) through a surprisingly fresh solo on as well-worked-over a number as Lover Man. In some (cases, Henry has devised special treatments; for example, the Latin-esque approach to Gershwin’s Soon. In others, it’s strictly head arrangement. In some cases, these are songs he has been fond of for years; at the other extreme, he heard a vocal version of Like Someone in Love (which has rarely been recorded as a jazz instrumental) on the radio just a few days before the recording session, and decided that it must be added to his list.
What matters most, of course, is not what the tunes are but what he accomplishes with them. Operating by choice primarily in the medium-tempo range, Ernie can soar or bite, as the situation demands. Henry of course belongs to the large group that has been deeply influenced by Charlie Parker (quickly now: try to name a current jazz artist, particularly on alto, who hasn’t been). But he is decidedly not part of the group that begins and ends with Bird imitations. His tone may not be at all times the purest (an admission I am quite willing to make because I happen to think that mere empty ‘purity’ all by itself is one of the least consequential and most overvalued of instrumental accomplishments), but at its frequent best it is warm and singing. And in such things as his phrasing, his quite personal attack and way of building solos, Ernie Henry makes it clear that he is an individual, moving artist on alto, a musician who has already reached an impressive level of emotional impact and depth, and who seems certain to keep growing.
Ernie is actually one of those performers, not at all as uncommon in jazz as you might think, who remain for quite some time at a given plateau and then, gaining – for one reason or another – an astonishing sort of second wind, go on to confound those observers who thought they had them safely pegged in a “pretty good, but …” category. Erie, born (in 1926) and raised in Brooklyn, began his full-fledged professional career in the late ‘40s, just after emerging from army service. He played on 52nd Street with Tadd Dameron in 1947, spent the next two years with Dizzy Gillespie’s earlier big band, can be heard on records of that period with Dameron, Howard McGhee, Fats Navarro and others. All this established his as one of several more-than-competent journeymen of bop; in the early ‘50s, after a stint with Illinois Jacquet, he moved into a more unsettled period of free-lance activity, greater emphasis on developing his writing and arranging skills, and personal self-searching and self-finding. It was at the tail-end of this period, early in 1956, that we at Riverside were first touted onto Henry, heard him at a session at a Brooklyn bar, and were quickly impressed enough to sign him to a recording contract. Shortly thereafter, he worked for a while with Thelonious Monk, and then took over form Phil Woods the alto chair in Gillespie’s present big band. He had, when this recording was made, been with Dizzy for almost a year, and had attracted considerable attention and respect from fellow-musicians – who are naturally enough apt to be at least one or two big steps ahead of the critics and the public in noting the emergence of important “new” talent.
Of his three sidemen here (all of whom, incidentally, have recorded as leaders for Riverside), pianist Wyton Kelly has worked most closely with Henry, having been a fellow bandsman with Gillespie for several months. Kelly is an inventive and earthy stylist who is also quickly gaining some long-overdue appreciation. Wilbur Ware’s name can be found on quite a number of Riverside LPs, for the simple reason that it is our opinion (though certainly not ours alone) that he is one of the most impressive – and most original – bass players to come along in a long time. Philly Joe Jones, best known for his formidable work with Miles Davis since 1856, is a highly sought-after drummer for record sessions. One reason for this, which is in evidence on this LP, is his unusual degree of awareness of the special problems and demands of drumming under recording conditions (as distinguished from the circumstances off ‘live’ club work). Together, these three help to make this album, we feel, an important forward step in the career of Ernie Henry – and, as well, a highly satisfying listening experience.
Henry’s other Riverside LP is –
Presenting Ernie Henry; with Kenny Dorham, Kenny Drew, Wilbur Ware, Art Taylor (RLP 12-222)
He can also be heard on –
Brilliant corners: Thelonious Monk; with Sonny Rollins, Clarke Terry, Ernie Henry (RLP 12-226)
Jazz by Gee; Matthew Gee’s All Stars; featuring Kenny Dorham, Frank Foster, Ernie Henry (RLP 12-221)
2 Horns/ 2 Rhythm: Kenny Dorham 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 KEEPNWES
Cover designed by PAUL BACON
Engineer: JACK HIGGINS (Reeves Sound Studios)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street, New York 19, New York