Born: September 21, 1949 Primary Instrument: Piano
There are long shadows cast from the piano giants that are rooted deep in New Orleans music.
Henry Butler is from New Orleans, but is doing much more than playing on a tradition as he writes his own story and plays his own song. He knows all too well what went down yesterday but here he comes today.
His immersion into music began at childhood, at five he was enrolled in the Louisiana State School for the Blind, beginning formal music lessons at eight, he went on to master the baritone saxophone, valve trombone, drums and piano. In his high school years he would undertake formal vocal training. This would continue as he enrolled in Southern State University in Baton Rouge, where he majored in German lieder, French and Italian art songs and opera. He went on to receive his Masters Degree in Vocal Music at Michigan State University. He also received personal tutelage with Alvin Batiste in piano jazz improvisation. Upon graduation he received an Endowment for the Arts, and expanded his jazz studies with Cannonball Adderley, George Duke and Sir Roland Hanna. He established and taught at music workshops and seminars around the country. He was artist in residence at the Missouri School for the Blind and has taught at the University of New Orleans and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
Well prepared with such an academic background, he has also been playing on the club circuit since he was a teenager. He is well versed in the ways of the streets, and can play the low down dirty blues with an authority that only comes from being there doing that. His grasp of the jazz idioms, classical training and innate sense of all that is music is evident in his unique and original voice. He is able to draw from a deep well spring of styles and genres all performed with phenomenal technical ability and prowess. Henry Butler can play like anybody but sounds like no one. He stands alone.
His recordings as leader have been as diverse as his own piano style. There seems to be a little something for everyone, and for every taste. Going back to his first release, “Fivin Around” (MCA 1985) he went for a straight jazz set and was accompanied by Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins. He was introduced to the music world as a jazz pianist, and followed this up with another jazz influenced effort in “The Village” (MCA 1987) this time with sidemen Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette. The caliber of the musicians on these two sessions is absolute. Henry had arrived on the jazz scene, but soon went back home.
Back home for Henry Butler is of course New Orleans, so there was no better venue than Tipitina’s to record “Orleans Inspiration” (Windham Hill 1989). On this date he takes us through the alley, in the back door, to the table in the front. This is a live set, and is highlighted by his tributes to Professor Longhair, and James Booker, two of his musical heroes.“Blues and More” (Windham Hill 1992) is a solo acoustic effort, offering a mixed bag of renditions.
There was a return to a more sophisticated jazzy sound in “For all Seasons”, (Atlantic 1995), again with a trio format, there is a feeling of expansion and wide open space.Then in a complete turnaround there is “Blues After Sunset”(Blacktop 1998), where he teams up with Snooks Eaglin on guitar, and recorded in New Orleans , He does a haunting rendition of “Death has no Mercy”, in which his voice really conveys the darkness of the song.
In 2000 he did a joint effort with bluesman Corey Harris on “Vu-du Menz (Alligator) and he would spend a few years touring with Harris during this time. After signing with Basin St. records which is out of New Orleans, he has released two solid discs for them in a R&B vein “The Game has just Begun” (2002) and his most recent “Homeland” (2004). This latter one has a tight rhythm section and a juke joint feel to it. There is jumping piano, tasty ballads, he even covers Jerry Butler’s “I Stand Accused”, and has the pipes to pull it off, cooks up a taste of gumbo, and nods to Fess.
There is a compilation of artists that did “Patchwork, A Tribute to James Booker” (STR 2003) in which he contributed two selections “Dr. James” and “Booker Time”.
Henry Butler is one of the musical seeds scattered across America in the wake of the big storm that was Katrina, and has relocated to Denver. Not looking back he has a forged ahead with a strong will to play his music his own way. He is currently in high demand, and is constantly touring and performing. He played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and was on several dates with Dr. John and the New Orleans Social Club,in the summer of 2007.
He took his music on the road in late 2007 with HENRY BUTLER'S NEW ORLEANS ALL-STARS. which included guests Dr. Michael White, Donald Harrison and Kermit Ruffins.
Henry has just released a new record in April of 2008, PiaNOLA, Live, on Basin Street Records. Here is an excerptof the review by Alex Rawls from Offbeat Magazine out of New Orleans.
Henry Butler’s new album is exactly what the title promises, a pure, uncut blast of New Orleans piano. Solo piano albums at their simplest present the musician in the midst of a raw, physical pleasure, and you can hear that during some of Butler’s more athletic passages. Not only is he obviously enjoying the fact that he can play a ridiculously complex tangle of notes, but he can’t help but laugh a time or two out while doing it.This is the album that people have been waiting for Butler to make, and the wait has been worth it.
Blues and More
For All Seasons
Blues After Sunset
The Game Has Just Begun
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