Tuesday, June 26, 2012



A Tale of two guitarists: Jimmy Raney and Scott Henderson

    Bach’s “Goldberg’s Variations” poured from the stereo speakers in jazz guitarist Jimmy Raney’s East End apartment.

    Sitting on a couch between the speakers was guitarist Scott Henderson, shaking his head and marveling at the music’s intricate patterns. “Scott’s about the only young jazz guitarist I know who likes to come over here and listen to classical music with me.” Raney said.

    But Raney and Henderson have a lot more in common than their love of classical music.

    Henderson, 27, has been an ardent fan of Raney’s music ever since Henderson’s family moved to Louisville during the early 1970s. Back then, he sought out the world famous guitarist and became one of his pupils. Last week, Henderson and Raney began playing together as a guitar duo on Sundays at the Phoenix Hill Tavern, 644 Baxter Ave.

    Henderson, who graduated from Westport High School in 1976, has come a long way since the days when he was so enamored by Raney’s playing he transcribed an entire book of his recorded solos.

    In recent years Henderson has traveled all over the United States and Europe playing and teaching jazz - but Raney is still his favorite guitar player.

    “I’ve always wanted to make my guitar sound clean and precise like a trumpet. I think Raney was the first jazz guitarist to get that kind of sound and feel,” Henderson said.

    Raney, who is a Louisville native, patterned his revolutionary guitar style after the bebop lines of alto saxophonist Charlie Parker. Raney’s “horn-like” improvisations on recordings with jazz greats like Stan Getz, and Red Norvo during the late 1940s and early 1950s were an important part of the evolution of the jazz guitar.

    Henderson said that Raney’s style is very compatible with his own.

    “I’ve studied a lot of Jimmy’s music over the year’s,” Henderson said. So, I’m very familiar with his technique. One of my friends said the other day that when we play together we almost sound like one guitar. That’s really the effect we’re shooting for.”

    Raney added, “It’s a traditional  thing for two guitars to play together. I even made an album in Jamey Aebersold’s play-along series called “Play Duets with Jimmy Raney,” for guitar players who live out in the boondocks and don’t have another guitar player to play with.

    “The guitar is a ‘complete’ instrument like the piano. But it doesn’t have a piano’s overbearing tonal qualities. Two guitars blend well together,” he said.

    The music Henderson and Raney create can be compared to classical chamber music, Henderson said. “We play a lot of standards like ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and ‘Our Shining Hour,’ plus a few originals. But it’s different from a lot of jazz you hear. We play many lines in counterpoint. And the volume is down real low.”

    Henderson just returned from New York City, where he led a trio with another Louisvillian, drummer Mark Plank. “Since I’ve been back in town, I’ve been playing all the Broadway Series shows. I get a lot of calls for those jobs because I read music well and can fit right in,” he said.

    But Henderson never intends to become just another everyday studio musician:

    “I know if I got involved with that studio nonsense it would hurt my playing. I think that it’s important that there are people around like me determined to play jazz. Jazz is the most significant art form of the 20th century, and someone has to keep it alive,” he said.

    In the near future Henderson hopes to go back to New York City and record a jazz album with an all-star rhythm section.

    Raney said he was very happy to see his former pupil doing so well. “He’s really come through the process perfectly. He has good phrasing and ideas, plus originality,” he said.
    Henderson, who has eclectic musical loves, has composed a ballet; his tastes in classical music range from Bach to Charles Ives. He said that jazz is an international language.

    “Last year when I was teaching jazz in Europe with Jamey Aebersold, some of the musicians I encountered couldn’t speak English well, but they knew all these jazz tunes. We couldn’t communicate verbally, but as soon as we started playing, bang! They were right on it. They were familiar with the jazz style, the stock endings, everything.”

Danny O’Bryan
The Louisville Times “SCENE Magazine
Sept 7, 1985

From the up-coming book “Derby City Jazz.”