#1-4 : Recorded New York, September, 1957
#5 : Recorded New York, November, 1957
#6 : Recorded New York, November, 1956
#7 : Recorded New York, September, 1957
#8 : Recorded New York, August, 1956
Ernie Henry was a promising alto saxophonist who passed away prematurely on December 29, 1957, when he was only 31. He had recorded his album Seven Standards and a Blues on September 30, and four songs for an uncompleted octet date on September 23. This CD reissue has the latter tunes (which feature trumpeter Lee Morgan; trombonist Melba Liston, who contributed "Melba's Tune"; tenor saxophonist Benny Golson; and pianist Wynton Kelly), an alternate take from the Seven Standards set ("Like Someone in Love"), a leftover track from the preceding year ("Cleo's Chant"), the solos of Thelonious Monk and Henry (from the lengthy "Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are"), and an alternate version of "S'posin'" taken from the altoist's final recording (a quartet outing with trumpeter Kenny Dorham). Overall, the music is fine and, surprisingly, does not have an unfinished air about it. It does make one wish that Ernie Henry had taken better care of his health, as he was just beginning to develop a sound of his own.
All Music Guide
========= from the cover ==========
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 on to reach a position of real jazz importance...
This LP is a final presentation, largely in terms of new material (or previously unissued versions) of the artistry of a young alto sax man who was deeply appreciated, respected, and enjoyed as a musician by many-particularly by fellow 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 who 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 a decade, and had worked and recorded back in the late 1940s 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 than 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 from 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 the 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 the 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 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 important influence; just before joining Dizzy, Henry worked with Monk's quartet and played on one of Thelonious's most celebrated and successful albums: Brilliant Corners (RLP 12-226). From that LP we have selected an 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 longstanding 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 "woodshedding" 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 (RLP 12-222, from which "Cleo's Chant" is taken); and Ernie's last recorded performances were on one of Dorham's albums (RLP 12-255, represented here by an alternate take 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 more for us to hear and be moved by.