Ernie Henry: Last Chorus (1956) Riverside

A break from the Boogaloo and later ’60s directions, back firmly in the ’50s mainstream when music giants roamed the earth,  mono  ruled absolutely, and for some, life was but  a short, temporary gift.

Selection: Autumn Leaves (Kosma/ Prevert)

. . .

Artists by track:

Behind that illustrious list of names on the cover is not a bebop jazz super-group, but a complex piece of Bill Grauer jiggery pokery, sewing together tracks from various Riverside recording sessions left unfinished due to rising star Ernie Henry’s unanticipated departure. Grauer was never one to let a crisis go to waste. The line up of ’50s jazz alumni is worth a moment’s examination:

Cleo’s Chant (alternate version) :Kenny Dorham (trumpet) Ernie Henry (alto sax) Kenny Drew (piano) Wilbur Ware (bass) Art Taylor (drums)  Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, August 30, 1956

 Autumn Leaves, Beauty And The Blues , All The Things You Are, Melba’s Tune: Lee Morgan (trumpet) Melba Liston (trombone ) Ernie Henry (alto sax) Benny Golson (tenor sax) Cecil Paine (baritone sax) Wynton Kelly (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums)  Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, September 15, 1957

 Ba-Lue Bolivar Ba-Lues-Are: Ernie Henry (alto sax) Sonny Rollins (tenor sax) Thelonious Monk (piano) Oscar Pettiford (bass) Max Roach (drums)  Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, October 9, 1956

Like Someone In Love (alternate take): Ernie Henry (alto sax) Wynton Kelly (piano) Wilbur Ware (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) Reeves Sound Studios, NYC, September 30, 1957

S’posin’ (alternate take) : Kenny Dorham (trumpet, piano) Ernie Henry (alto sax) Eddie Mathias (bass) G.T. Hogan (drums) NYC, November 13, 1957

Artist profile:

Brooklyn-born altoist Ernie Henry started out in the late ’40s  scene, earning places with Tad Dameron,  Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra and Illinois Jacquet. After a few years in the shadows Henry emerged in 1956 to play alongside Sonny Rollins on Monk’s Brilliant Corners. Thanks to that exposure his musical career was given a big shot in the arm, leading three Riverside LP’s in 1957, a career cut short before the year was out by a heroin overdose, at the age of only 31.

Henry’s discography is short but sweet, his Riverside debut “Presenting” and follow up “Seven Standards and The Blues” sessions contributed tracks to The Last Chorus, and part from an unfinished album with Kenny Dorham, “2 Horns/ 2 Rhythm” and part from an unfinished album featuring Lee Morgan, And that’s it, Henry was gone, life unfinished.

Music: Autumn Leaves.

According to French pianist and jazz writer Philippe Baudoin,  “Autumn Leaves” is the most important non-American jazz standard, recorded over 1400 times by mainstream and modern jazz musicians, making it the eighth most recorded tune in the jazz canon.

The piece was a favorite of Miles Davis, who apparently had an affair with Juliette Greco in Paris in 1949, the year she recorded the equivalent French lyric “Les feuilles mortes”,  which Baudoin suggests could explain Davis’s attachment to the tune, trust a French writer to opt for the romantic explanation. Miles didn’t seem the romantic kind. A more likely reason is that it has an attractive melody, an unusual minor key chord progression and resolution through verse and chorus, and  the chord structure is a perfect foil for improvisation. So much for romance.

The Dead Leaves , not as picturesque as Autumnal ones, but the composition had many fans, some in unlikely quarters:

As Bond neared the end of the corridor, he could hear a piano swinging a rather sad tune” wrote Ian Fleming in his 1956 novel Diamonds are Forever. “At the door of 350 he knew the music came from behind it. He recognised the tune. It was “Feuilles Mortes”

The lyric and the tune behind it taps into certain primal themes, perhaps the loss of love, or the arrival of Autumn, the turning of the seasons, or it is just a beautiful tune, take your pick, the listener brings to it their own baggage.

The Cannonball Adderley/ Miles Davis version on BLP 1595 Something Else, recorded in 1958 for Blue Note, delivers it to perfection. Adderley’s alto soars light-fingered over that chordal landscape with ravishing beauty. Ernie Henry’s version here is a more up-tempo vocalese delivery of the song, showcasing his burnished bitter-sweet tone.

Ernie Henry had a distinctive voice which showed considerable, promise unrealised, and you can see parallels with another associate of Max Roach, trumpeter Booker Little,  who’s untimely departure in 1961 at the age of 23 likewise left behind just a handful of titles. Tina Brooks (42) could be added on tenor,  Scott La Faro (25) on bass, and Sonny Clark (31)  on piano,  to complete the line up  of the Grim Reaper Sextet (vacancy – drums).   All that was needed was a contract with Blue Note Records, and the course of modern jazz history could have been quite different. Instead, clean-living longevity, academic tenures and White House invites sedately ran their course, leaving the youngbloods to deliver promise unfulfilled.

I was shocked to be reminded how soon many other of my favourite players joined the Grim Reaper Orchestra, in no particular order: Bobby Timmons (38) Clifford Brown (25) Doug Watkins (27) Eric Dolphy (36) Fats Navarro (26)  Grant Green (43) John Coltrane (40) Lee Morgan (33) Paul Chambers (33) Tubby Hayes (38) Wynton Kelly (39) Oscar Pettiford (37) Cannonball Adderley (46)  ….bad drugs, bad driving, bad health care, or just bad luck. It’s a reminder,go listen now, while anything lasts.

Vinyl: RLP 12-266 Riverside (1956)

US deep groove original pressing, pre-incorporation “Bill Grauer Productions” on regular 100mm labels, but Bill Grauer Productions Inc. on cover, 553 West 51st St address (Riverside Guide updated Feb. 21, 2018)

Research Craft Co. LA pressing (US and GB patents thick/thin rim groove guard stamp in the run out) On previous form, Riverside used Abbey Mfg.Co. for East Coast pressing, and Research Craft Co. for West Coast.

Billboard Nov 18, 1957

The patented rim drive was intended to protect record grooves from the operation of an auto-changer, a particularly unnecessary labour-saving device.  Etching-ogglers may see a few things of interest, a letter S, a wave type stamp, and a “T 11” hand-etch, absolutely none of which mean anything to me.

Collector’s Corner 

I chanced on this copy in an East London store notorious for over-pricing vintage albums imported from Canada, however the prices seem to suit the hipster local demographic, and the new mantra is “availability is king”. You don’t have to buy it, but at least it is there. I was just leaving the store after a purchase when I caught it unexpectedly in the corner of my eye mounted on the wall display top row, and immediately executed a double take.

Um, is that the original Riverside I see up there? Ernie Henry, Last Chorus? You see the Japanese around a lot, and OJC,  but I don’t think I have ever seen an original US copy in the flesh before, unusual. 

Yes, a Riverside “original”, and in decent condition. As I expected, no bargain, fully priced, though not outrageously so. In the era of the Internet, the bargain has long since become a distant memory. Sentiment kicked in. It’s only money. I’ll take it.  Sometimes it’s nice to have an original piece of history. Its price-history is respectable but not trophy territory.

Collectors Alternative:

’70s Japanese Victor pressing twenty years later, same track for comparison: Autumn Leaves: Victor Japan 1977 reissue

I quite like the Japanese, but it lacks the sense of jazz history attached to the original. Sometimes, Sentiment is King. You can’t reissue history. Here is a reminder of the “almost original”.  I hear an immediacy, freshness, direct engagement, whilst the Japanese sounds more restrained, a little more distant and muffled. Until you put them side by side, you will never know.

Up to you which you prefer. For some, provenance is all, original first… mine is maybe a year or two later, the cover advertising other titles give it away. I would love to pit it against a true first, but I can’t.  But no hesitation both early pressings out-perform the Japanese. Your call.

Incidentally, I do recommend “comparative listening”. It is worth listening to different editions of the same title, your own or a friend’s copy, it will open your ears to the differences between editions. They are real, but if you only ever hear one, you will never know.


24 thoughts on “Ernie Henry: Last Chorus (1956) Riverside

  1. In case anyone was left doubting I just want to reiterate that a small hole punch or a cut corner was used to differentiate was a way of marking overstock which was sold to secondary companies who sold them at a substatntial discount. It is possible to find first pressings in this state depending on how it sold, financial condition of label at the time, etc. Some companies even used a metal rivet instead of a simple hole punch. Some cut corners are small, some quite brutal in size. In my 50 years of record buying I can’t remember ever seeing a hole punch in the center of the cover. That’s pretty wild and risking damaging the record itself.

  2. Ref. Woodys Comment about the holes in the Riverside would that apply to other labels also,i have a Miles Davis on Prestige with the holes.

    • Geoff: Are the holes in the center of the jacket and label also? Did you buy them in the NYC area? My theory was if Riverside themselves didn’t do it they must have gone through the same company that was buying unsold stock for the 2nd hand market.
      I have quite a few titles with cut corners and drill holes in the corner of the jacket mostly 70’s pressings which were bought at that time….. but a random drill hole through the center of a cover/record is just so… Barbaric.

      • The holes are pretty much in the center it was a ebay purchase with no mention of the holes but as it plays just fine I didn’t make a issue of it.
        I also have several titles with just the corner cut which I assume were for DJ identification purposes. Thanks for the reply.

  3. and, unfortunately, there’s a bunch of First Pressing Fundamentalits who study untiringly to let the true and only one first ed. to emerge. please remember that these studies cost us a lot of blood, sweat, tears (and money). how many curses in simply reading your pages? curses to our ignorance but, we learn quickly. any time you urge us, we’re ready to fight.

  4. Hi great LP that I have only on CD but someday…..I was just wondering about the clip. Is it recorded now in mono only with a mono cart? The file sure was mono all the way.

  5. I spent years in studying most of Riverside’s details and maybe it’s time to update.
    I think your 553 address ain’t a mystery at all.
    418 West 49: 12-201 to 12-228
    553 West 51: 12-229 to 12-314
    235 West 46: 12-315 to 477, then Orpheum.
    so this beautiful Henry record has the right address.
    INC on cover but not on label: from 12-263
    INC on cover and label: from RLP 334, being RLP 330 the first without 12-, with the exception of 12-332.

      • Andy and Dott, as always, I am so grateful to benefit from your research. I’d like to contribute a little from my own investigation into Riverside first pressing identification but, be warned, you may not thank me for complicating matters.

        I have discovered another factor that needs to be taken into consideration when establishing if a Riverside cover is a first pressing one: most rear covers advertise other Riverside records and the ones advertised can vary by pressing. To illustrate this, here’s an example: Blue Mitchell – Out of the Blue (Riverside 12-293). Andy, you have written about and photographed your copy previously so we can all see that in almost all respects it is consistent with being a first pressing. However, close inspection of the rear cover shows that it promotes two other Blue Mitchell LPs: Blue Soul (Riverside 12-309) and The Big Six (Riverside 12-273). The former ought to flag a warning since it’s a later release than Out of the Blue.

        I was recently fortunate to acquire a copy of Out of the Blue that bears the same features as yours except that the rear cover promotes only one other Blue Mitchell LP – i.e. The Big Six. My working hypothesis is that my version is more likely to be the first pressing cover becuase it isn’t clairvoyant about the future release of Blue Soul.

        And that’s before we consider the list of LPs led by other musicians that are promoted on the rear cover of this LP!

        And don’t get me started on laminated covers!

          • Thank you Rudolf. I forgot to mention that my copy is laminated. I’m beginning to think that I might start attempting to compile a detailed Riverside first pressing guide. I suspect it’ll take a long time but would be well worth the effort.

            • I agree, it is an interesting subject, which would be worth the effort. If you start to work on it, I would be happy to offer my modest contribution.

              • Rudolf, do you know if Riverside used to drill a small hole through the cover and label of lps because they were promos or returns? I’ve come across quit a few titles like that here in NYC and wasn’t sure if Riverside did this or someone else who specialized in buying unsold back stock for resale. There was one large estate collection I came across of unplayed Riverside lps with mint untouched factory issued wax paper inner sleeves but a large percentage of the titles had the drill hole through the cover and label. Unfortunately the owner had passed away so I’m still in the dark on where he acquired them.

                • I came across one album only which had the drill hole in the cover and through the label. It is Dick Johnson’s “Most Likely”, RLP 12-253. A gorgeous album, which did not sell. I am sure the drill holes were reserved for returns and deletions, not for promos..

        • Fortunately I am not a First Pressing Fundamentalist, though I know that many out there are of that church. I am Church of the Latter-day Pressings, who believe devoutly in the Second Coming, good enough for me.

          Interesting that the supply of “old stock” Riverside labels (no Inc) ran for longer than the supply of covers, which were updated more quickly.

          All in favour of more research on Riverside, raise your right hand. Now rub your tummy in a slow circular motion. with your left hand. Then slowly lower your right hand onto your tummy.
          You are a turntable.

        • I’ve noticed that too. Case in point, I have a DG white label copy of 12-204 but it lists albums on the back up to 12-225. I have seen one that only lists 12-201 and 12-203 plus 10″ records so that obviously must be a true first pressing.

          • Aaron’s right: my 12-204 has what indicated above, 12-201, 12-203, 2517, 2508, 2515, 2511, 2518. the label is white/pastel grey as it has to be up to 12-217, then white/blue

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