Joe Henderson at North Texas State University, 1985

A little while back, I came across a blog post by David Valdez that linked to a couple
recordings from a Joe Henderson master class from 1985. These appear to be from the same masterclass as recordings in the University of North Texas library, which unfortunately are unavailable to me. I thought I'd take a break from practicing and transcribe some of Joe's responses to student questions:

Any kinds of questions that anybody has about anything that has to do with this thing called jazz: sociologically, psychologically, financially, anything—just ask it. 
Some of your tunes are in illegal fakebooks; how do you feel about that? Do you have any recourse and maybe would some of your tunes possibly be published by Jamie Aebersold or anybody in the future?
To answer your first question: I’m of two minds about that sort of stuff. I appreciate and realize the good that having this kind of literature around does because there was a lack of it for a long time. But that was a good thing for me—the lack meant that I had to do all of this work myself. I couldn’t just go and plop down ten bucks and go to the store and buy a bunch of sheet music that had all this work that you need to do yourselves in it. Since it wasn’t there, I had to transcribe a whole lot of solos myself and, in transcribing these solos, I think I got a little bit closer to the music and the musicians than you get with the printed page. Now, that’s not to say that the printed page shouldn’t be there. 
The second question: the Real Book—and I don’t mean to mention any names like that, but books like that: you notice how there aren’t any return addresses in these books. There’s one guy in San Francisco—his name is Chuck Sher, a very fine bass player who plays upright and Fender bass—he put together a book the way that it should be done. This book is really laid out and was sent to a printer and done in very fine fashion. You can read everything in there, there’s an address in there you can write to: the publisher of the book. He has a way of doing this and the people whose tunes he uses in there—they get paid for this the same way you do if you make a record. You get a certain percent, if you’ve got a tune on this given record, you get paid for this. I feel the same way about these books. I mean, great—it’s good for you to have all this literature here. I got to this stuff without those books, so you can get to it without the books, but let’s deal with the fact that the books are here. 
The books are here, so just make use of them, but be aware of the fact that when you leave these ivied halls and become writers and stuff like that—great, the first couple of times that you see one of your tunes in print, I mean it’s all well and good, but you think about ten bars down the street, ‘Wait a minute, I’m supposed to get paid for that, right?’ And then perhaps your position will change on it, but in the meantime, while those books are here make use of them. I just didn’t come that route and if there were a way for most of those books to be done like my friend has done in San Francisco, then great, I’d be for it because I really believe that you should be paid for the use of your music and you should see to it that people, perhaps like myself, get paid for the use of our wares.

Joe, I’d like to know from your viewpoint, what are the day-to-day realities of the performing musician as yourself and the difficulties of being a musician. 
Well, that’s very interesting: there are as many variables there as there are musicians. I mean, what works for me may not necessarily work for another individual, but I think this being involved in this game out here, bebop, has been pretty good for me. I can’t think of any other way that I’d like to exist out here on this planet, other than being involved in music one way or another. (Yeah) And I think it’s a delightful way to make a contribution. I mean, we all have to do that in some form or fashion, and that’s the best way I know how. I think I’ve been able to give something back. I’ve arrived at that point with all these gray hairs jumping out here, but I really feel like I should plant some seeds around and leave a few trees here because it’s done some nice things for me. That is, I think I’ve developed some extremely talented students, some people, some players in the while that I’ve been out here as a musician. There are a couple people who play with Ray Charles band—I mean, that’s just a couple—and I think I had a hand in that so, for me, I’m just delighted to know that as the same was done for me. Kenny Dorham laid a lot of things on me, Charlie Parker, Prez, Bird, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, you name it, I think I’ve absorbed something from all of these players, and I think it’s right for me to do the same thing.  
Some players find a rough way out here. They do their instrumentalizing around and they just find that there’s not enough gigs to make a living, to pay the bills, and take care of the nutritional needs of your other half and your children and stuff like that. For those of you who have talents as writers, composers, instrumentalists, and all that, while you’re here, take advantage of this great place. I hope you realize that this is one of the better places in this country here, (Yeah) and it’s been here for a long time, and this is my first time here. I don’t feel too happy about having waited so long, but I had to be here now, and I hope to come back here and do some more performing here and perhaps some one-to-one teaching with some saxophone players. I teach improvisation in San Francisco; I have all kinds of students: bass, piano, drums, saxophone, flute players, trumpet, all that kind of thing. But, if you’re serious about it, give it a good shot—give it your best and you got to do something out here on this planet; this is the best thing I know. This is the best way I know how to be involved; if you’re a musician, really give it a good go. Try to have fun at it, try to pass on some good notes and some good sounds to your fans. I don’t think you’ll find that you’ll have wasted your time as a musician. 
On the reality side, some musicians out here have to do a lot of things. They play music, they drive taxis in the daytime, you know, which is kind of a drag, but I know a guy, Elliot Zigman, he likes to do this. There is a point when—I’ve been a musician for a long time, and I’ve never been one to want to work six nights a week. I think I’d get burned out on six nights a week so fast. Give me two nights, three nights a week and I can do that forever, but the business being the way that it is, you work for a month every day, and then you may be off for the next two months so you have to learn to budget your time, your energy, your bread, and all that kind of thing, to get from one tax time to the next (laughter). Taxes—we know about those.

If you were to learn jazz all over again, like us, you’d rather learn the way you learned it, rather than how we’re learning it from the Aebersold albums and the transcription books?
Well, I don’t want to cast any bad aspersions because I think we have to deal with the reality of the fact that those things are here, but don’t let them keep you from getting to an even deeper involvement with the music. I mean, that can keep you from the music at a level—that book is out there, all these great things are out them, and all you have to do is go buy them, and you say, ‘Well, I’m done. I bought the record here, listen to these things for 4-5 weeks, then go out and do some gigs.’ Didn’t work that way for me, you know (laughter).  
And I think I enjoyed it better getting closer to it the way I did, and I’m not putting that down the way that Mr. Aebersold, who serves a great purpose out here, providing these things because being in institutions like this, you have to have literature like that around. I just prefer the way that I came through it. As a matter of fact, I teach improvisation in San Francisco and we don’t deal with written music. I’ve been around written music—I read very well, I’ve been reading for a long time, ever since day one—but in improvisation, you’re dealing with that—you see there’s no music stands up here; we’ve got all this stuff committed to memory. I teach improvisation, I think I have developed a fairly good system, fairly successful system of teaching improv, which is very difficult to teach—I’m sure you must appreciate that—and I have people learn things. They learn by rote, and that’s not to say that the book thing doesn’t have a place out here—definitely in paces like this, the book has a place—but I think you get closer to it when you get with that record. 
It was me and a record player, and every now and then, in the town I came from—it was a small town—there were a few players who went through and I got to see live saxophone players now and then—live musicians. Otherwise, it was me and a record player. But that did me so well that by the time I got to college, my instructors all thought that I had perfect pitch because I had done so much transcribing that these things they would lay on me to do in sight-singing and dictation class and stuff like that was really nothing to it. I must have transcribed ten million notes and here we go and they do this, ‘da da da da, da da da da, etc.’ ‘Won’t you write that down.’ I’d say, ‘Well, wait a minute, are you kidding?’ (laughter) I had done much more than that, I had it so well that they swarmed down that I had perfect pitch, and unless you have perfect pitch, you can’t get down inside somebody’s head and figure out what that phenomenon is. You have to get inside somebody’s head to really understand what that is. I didn’t know whether I had perfect pitch or not. I just knew an A when I heard it, but I knew it from hearing it so much—is that how you develop perfect pitch, or is that what you call good relative pitch, or what? Or how do people who have perfect pitch—how do they know they have perfect pitch? (laughter) I just knew a G when I heard it, but I don’t think that’s perfect pitch—there’s something else at work there, that helps me to recognize a Bb and tell the difference between a Bb and an A, for example. Did that offer you anything in there?

What specific things do you ask your students to do?
To make the experience different from one person to the next, and this will depend on what an individual comes to the lessons with—different people have different things worked out; one person’s been at it for a while, so their experience level is higher. I’ll assign them—and this is the way I write, I write every day—I’ll assign them things to memorize from one week to the next. They’ve got six days to get this thing together. And I’ll create this right then and there. I play piano, and I’ll play for a soloist and I’m assigning them lines. We just develop this thing, like in a twelve bar blues, I’ll give them four bars and we’ll work that out, get it under their fingers. I’ll run upstairs and get a drink of water or something like that while they get that down. I’ll come back down and give them another four bars, then etc., another four bars and they’ve got twelve bars. They work this out and I try to discourage them from writing this down. I discourage them from bringing a tape recorder because this also is relying on another situation that might break down on you. 
Once you get this brain working for you—I teach them to practice retention, and to retain things. And I’ve done it so well that after a couple years of this, I’ve had people go out—we go out and listen to some music and I’ll have them write down twelve bars right as they hear it, in a club where there’s a band playing. Not a real involved twelve bars, but a fairly, not too difficult twelve bars. And they’ll do it. I’ll have to use a tape recorder because I won’t be able to remember what that is, I’ll say, ‘Okay, well here it is right here. This is what you wrote down and this is what was played.’ I think that works better on the level that somebody can teach you something in a matter of minutes and you can learn it. They put it down on the music paper for you and here comes a good gush of wind and blows the paper away and there goes your gig! (laughter) As well as doing your book learning and stuff like that, try to put the brain in there as well. Trust yourself. You have to practice learning the things that you learn and when you walk out to that microphone, you’re not going to bring five music stands out there and a whole bunch of music and play. You’re going to go out there and create things that you have sorted out in your brain. You’ve been practicing this system all the while, so when you get out there you’ll know something about it.