Joe Henderson – a remarkable Jazz improviser

Joe Henderson

We’re wrapping up Black History month by featuring Joe Henderson, one of Jazz music’s most remarkable tenor saxophonists and composers. Henderson was one of the greatest saxophone improvisors in the period from the 1960s to the present. Henderson played with many of the leading American players of his day and left a lasting legacy on jazz.


Joe Henderson grew up in Lima, Ohio in a large, loving family. He was encouraged to study music from an early age by his parents, and learned drums, piano, saxophone and composition. As a young boy, Henderson listened to jazz records of musicians like Lester Young, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, and Lee Konitz. While in High School, Henderson was active in the school band, and wrote several scores.

After high school Joe Henderson studied at Kentucky State College, then Wayne State in Detroit from 1956-60. Henderson was active on the Detroit jazz scene of the mid-1950s, playing in jam sessions with visiting New York City to explore the music scene in the big apple, and playing with some of the stars. In 1960, he led his own band in Detroit until entering the Army that year, playing in the Army band until 1962.

After the Army, Joe Henderson moved to New York, where his career largely took off. Henderson’s first recording as a leader in 1963, Page One, was one of the most popular releases for the Blue Note label and led to one of his richest recording periods both as a leader and sideman. He played with jazz greats like Horace Silver, Andrew Hill and Herbie Hancock.

Read fully biography of Joe Henderson HERE


Joe Henderson’s style would wildly revolutionize the tenor sax sound of the 1960’s and onward. He is praised for flawless technique, lyricism, unique tone and compositional skills. Henderson’s sound was influenced by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane but he was able to fuse the two and use his own unique style across a wide spectrum of genres. His aggressive playing was often balanced by a melodic touch on ballads. Henderson’s playing has gone from straight ahead, to free and modal jazz, into jazz fusion.

Here’s a performance of Joe Henderson, demonstrating his brilliant technique and beautiful sound.


Joe Henderson played with many of the leading American players of his day and left a lasting legacy on the jazz artists of today, among them a few Arkadia artists. 

Joanne Brackeen
Joanne Brackeen

“I think Joe Henderson is fantastic, as a performer, composer and as a person. I had the good fortune to work with him for many years. My favorite composition of his is Gazelle. It’s amazing, and so many musicians love this song. It’s really a challenge to play. It has a 7/8 rhythm on top of a 4/4 time signature – and the melody of the tune also creates a mystique against the two time feels.”
-Joanne Brackeen

Javon Jackson
Javon Jackson

“Joe Henderson has played a significant role in my musical life. Therefore, I appreciate and welcome this opportunity to honor and pay tribute to Mr. Henderson for his wonderful and dynamic artistic career.”
-Javon Jackson

“When the name Joe Henderson is mentioned, adjectives that immediately come to mind are creative, articulate and genius, all of which describe Mr. Henderson as a person, as well as a musician. With this said, the opportunity to participate on a project that paid tribute to a gentleman of his stature was an honor. In one’s life, one will recall special musical highlights, and this project will be considered one of those moments.”
Terrell Stafford

Eric Reed
Eric Reed

“Playing with Joe taught me how to truly listen on the bandstand. He isn’t like a John Coltrane. Everything Joe plays is subtle and rather understated, so if you aren’t listening to what he is playing, as a pianist you will just get in his way, which is why he played trio a great deal of the time. I consider myself blessed that he decided to use me for a year.”
-Eric Reed


“Joe Henderson is one of the great voices of jazz. Mr. Henderson’s compositions and saxophone work brings to mind words such as alteration, innovation and revolution. The sound of jazz will be forever changed by his presence.”
-Rodney Whittaker


We created a commemorative Album “Arkadia Jazz All-Stars: Thank You, Joe”. The Album creates a memorable tribute to Joe Henderson, one of Jazz music’s greatest tenor saxophonists and composers We at Arkadia Jazz feel it is important to honor the legacy of some of Jazz’s greats. For our “Thank You” series of musical homages, we asked our artists go into the studio and record an all new, previously unreleased song either derived from or influenced by the enduring legacy Jazz’s royalty. In this case, we honor tenor saxophone legend Joe Henderson.
“The tunes are well-chosen, and include some oft-recorded gems. A warm-hearted and well-conceived tribute…” – Dave Wayne, Jazz Weekly
Learn more about “Thank You, Joe! – Our Tribute to Joe Henderson” on the Album’s page
Join us in celebrating Joe Henderson, a brilliant saxophonist and composer. 


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