ALTHOUGH he had many of the qualities of a first-division jazz soloist, the baritone saxophonist Haywood Henry always seemed to be regarded as a second-division player. Most great musicians at some time need the luck of being in the right place at the right time. Henry managed to be often at the right place but the time was always wrong.
An exuberant and articulate soloist, he substituted for Harry Carney in the Duke Ellington Orchestra when Carney was ill, but dead men's boots wouldn't fit, for Carney remained with Ellington from 1927 until his death in 1974 and then the British baritonist Joe Temperley was given the job, because he had risen to such eminence and surpassed Henry's abilities.
Haywood Henry took up the clarinet while a student at the Alabama State Teachers College in Montgomery. He was a prodigious athlete and during his college career ran the 100 yards in less than 10 seconds. Were it not for the racial barriers in contemporary Alabama he would undoubtedly have become an outstanding professional football player. One of his classmates was the trumpeter Dud Bascomb and together with the trumpeter Erskine Hawkins they joined the co-operative band the 'Bama State Collegians in 1931. Hawkins was a flashy player, who won audiences by playing 100 top Cs on the band's version of 'Shine' (when Louis Armstrong had done it earlier on a record it didn't sound contrived). The band elected Hawkins their leader in 1936 and Henry stayed there until Hawkins's cut down to a quartet in 1960, but Henry returned for the many band revivals.
His work with Hawkins allowed Henry plenty of time to work with other leaders and he joined the rhythm-and-blues band of Tiny Grimes in the early Fifties. He held the baritone chair in the Fletcher Henderson Reunion band in 1957 and in 1958, apart from distinguishing himself with the Henderson band, made his finest solo recordings with the ex-Ellington cornettist Rex Stewart.
In the early Sixties he joined Wilbur de Paris and his New New Orleans Band and gained world-wide notice when he toured with the ubiquitous pianist Earl Hines from 1969 to 1970. He recorded with Sy Oliver and Ella Fitzgerald during 1971 and toured Europe again with Oliver and then with the New York Jazz Repertory Company. He returned to Europe again during the 1980s with Panama Francis and His Savoy Sultans, visiting Britain with them, where his remarkable facial resemblance to the actor Sid James was noted if not admired.
During one of his trips to Europe he told the British publisher Alyn Shipton that he had written an autobiography which he described as sensational in jazz terms. Shipton's hands were tied since Henry refused to let anyone see the work. Henry continued to freelance in New York until recently often leading his own groups in clubs.Reuse content