Fifty years ago today, a 26-year-old Joe Henderson recorded his debut album, Page One, for Blue Note Records at Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in New Jersey, featuring the stellar lineup of Kenny Dorham (trumpet), McCoy Tyner (piano), Butch Warren (bass), Pete La Roca (drums).
2013 being fifty years after 1963, there are many great jazz anniversaries to celebrate… as there will be all decade long. In fact, I’ll be paying extensive tribute to another amazing recording, Art Blakey’s Ugetsu, in a series of concerts later this month. But Page One is one of my all time favorites, and I’d like to give it a special nod.
Two of the songs that made their first appearance on the album went on to become mega-classics of modern jazz… played at jam sessions worldwide and essential knowledge for every jazz musician. Those are Kenny Dorham’s Blue Bossa and Joe Henderson’s Recorda Me (which, incidentally, Joe wrote as a teenager in 1955, not as a bossa nova but as a swing song). But the other four songs, also by Henderson and Dorham, are memorable compositions as well. (In fact, I just recorded one of them for release on my next CD…)
With the exception of a brief period when, despondent over the theft of his saxophone, he stopped playing altogether—an interesting story that could merit a separate blog post—Joe Henderson remained a brilliant and productive musician from his early days straight until shortly before his death in 2001. And while his music continued to grow and deepen over the years, there is a side to his playing in his 20’s that one doesn’t hear in his later work. Namely, an incredible precision to his tone and his technique. In his later years, that precision gives way to a looseness of expression. He created brilliant art all during his life, but never was it as beautifully and carefully executed as in his early days… and Page One is perhaps the best example. In this regard he reminds me of a number of other great artists. Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie are prime examples. There’s plenty reason to fall in love with Getz’s playing on his later albums; but if you don’t know his pre-bossa nova work, back to the early 1950’s, you will be blown away by his playing on, for instance, the Storyville sessions—which are now available on the Complete Roost Recordings
Every album has its quirky stories. I don’t know much about the recording of Page One, but you may notice that the album cover lists four of the five musicians. Only McCoy Tyner is omitted, and in his place is the word “ETC.” That’s because McCoy had just signed with Impulse Records, and his appearance on Blue Note was arguably in violation of his Impulse contract.
And if you’re wondering where the cover photo of Joe was taken… Francis Wolff took that in front of the then-brand-new Lincoln Center in New York.