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TEA BREAK

The monthly Tea Break is a series of short, fun items in What's New Magazine
that also gives jazz musicians an opportunity to update us with what they are doing.

 

Mel Henry (Trombone) - September 2018

 

Mel henry

 

 

Trombonist Mel Henry was born in London in 1937 and is one of those musicians whose playing has evolved as jazz in the UK has changed over the years.

His early years at school in Enfield introduced him to the piano and violin. His parents were not musicians but were keen for their only child to have a good education, so when they moved for a short while to Shoreham in Sussex, they decided on their return to London to place Mel as a boarder at Brighton College. He was there until he turned eighteen and applied for medical school.

In Brighton, Mel played violin with the Sussex Youth Orchestra and then during one holiday a pianist friend took him to Brighton Jazz Club. He was intrigued. He had not heard music like this before. He learned that a Trad jazz band had a front line of trumpet, clarinet and trombone, but this band had no trombone. Mel bought a second hand Salvation Army trombone, took a term of lessons and then had the cheek to ask to sit in. Building on his classical violin and piano background, it was good experience for what would follow.

In his second year at Middlesex Hospital medical school, the interest in jazz increased. He played with the University College Jazz Band which had members from a number of different colleges and regularly had musicians such as Humphrey Lyttelton and Beryl Bryden guesting. It was the 1950s when Trad jazz was thriving. Mel’s band would play for free in the refectory and the place was Mel Henry Jazz Times Threeinvariably packed.

As his 5 years training went by, Mel noticed a number of students dropping out believing that they could make a good living as professional musicians at that time, but although he reduced his playing commitments in his final two years, Mel went on to qualify.

Doctor Henry journeyed to Bermuda to practice Paediatrics and did a locum on a cruise ship to the West Indies ending up in NewYork where he sat in for James Archey at Jimmy Ryan’s on 42nd Street. On return he joined a GP practice in Sheen in the London Borough of Richmond. He had taken his trombone abroad with him and on each occasion took the opportunity to play with local bands whenever he could.

On his return Mel formed a Quintet with reeds player Dave Bowen. Based at The Swan in Caledonia Road, the band would stay together for seven years during a period when ‘Mainstream Jazz’ was pushing at the edges of ‘Trad’, and the band welcomed guests such as Tony Coe, Bruce Turner, Sandy Brown and Phil Seamen. Eventually band members went their own way and Mel continued playing and sitting in with various bands in most of the London venues as jazz continued to ripen into what was termed at the time ‘Modern Jazz’. He discovered the 606 club in its early days and played there with on occasion Bobby Wellins, Don Weller, and once memorably with Tony Scott. He became a friend of the new owner Steve Rubie.

Mel formed a duo with guitarist Keith Graville (as Enclave MKII) as they were able to get gigs where the venues did not need a licence to stage under 3 musicians. This opened up opportunities to play in London wine bars and venues such as the Royal Festival Hall Foyer and Riverside Studios.

On retirement, Doctor Henry moved to Bath in the West Country, but he has not retired from playing. He joined the band Metropolis, an anarchic cross between Jazz and R&B with trumpet, alto and tenor sax, trombone, 2 guitars, bass guitar and keyboards, and then formed his own Quintet, both bands playing regularly at Ye Olde Farmhouse in Lansdowne, Bath. When the venue changed its approach, Mel returned to playing duo gigs with guitarist Terry Veale and from time to time adding bass player Bill Lynn for Trio gigs.

In 2017, Mel celebrated his eightieth birthday with a visit to New Orleans. He took his mouthpiece, was able to hire a trombone for ten days and took every opportunity to sit in with various bands including The Treme Brass Band and with Delfeo Marsalis.

As in many places outside London, opportunities to play have reduced, but Mel still gigs when he can. We met for a Tea Break.

 

 

 

Hi Mel, tea or coffee?

Tea, I think.

Milk and sugar?

Yes, both please.

I guess your trip to New Orleans last year was quite an experience?

It was. I think one of the highlights was meeting up with Delfeo Marsalis. We went to hear his band and I met him afterwards. I had my trombone with me and when he heard that I was celebrating my birthday, he insisted that we play ‘Happy Birthday To You’ together. It was fine and then he started off on a second and more elaborate chorus and I had to follow! I think it went OK.

 

 

Mel playing with the Treme Brass Band and with Delfeo Marsalis

 

 

 

You must have come across a wide variety of musicians over the years, have any surprised you?

I remember an occasion when drummer Phil Seamen guested with Dave Bowen and my band. We had asked if he would play and he seemed very happy to come. When he turned up, he looked very ‘out of it’, I wondered whether he had been drinking or something, and we thought it would be a disaster. Then he sat down at the drum kit, counted us in and we were blown away! On another occasion, I recall a twelve year old Martin Taylor sitting in when his dad, Buck, depped on bass. He knocked us out with his mature, beautiful playing.

 

How about a biscuit? I have a Bourbon, that might remind you of New Orleans, or a Hob Nob or a Kit Kat?


Bourbon sounds up my street, thank you.

 

You have seen much change in the styles of jazz over the time you have been playing. Are there trombonists that have influenced you through those stages?


I think as a ‘Trad’ trombonist I liked Kid Ory, of course. Vic Dickenson was someone I admired during the ‘Mainstream’ period and then came Bill Harris, Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana. Today, Mark Nightingale and Roy Williams are excellent English trombonists. Apart from the trombone, I enjoy listening to all the greats – Stan Getz, Basie, Ellington, and particularly Chet Baker. On the local scene, Gilad Atzmon, Art Theman, and the little known Damon Brown.

 

 

So if we asked two past musicians to join us for the Tea Break, who would you invite and what would you ask them?

Lol Coxhill

 

It would be nice to ask Lol Coxhill. I would remind him of the time when he guested with my quintet at the Assembly House, Kentish Town where he played an extended solo that went through all the jazz styles from New Orleans onwards ending with an Ornette Coleman pastiche.

 

 

Lol Coxhill

 

It would also be good to ask Jim Hall. Guitarist.Terry Veale and I have modelled our duo on Jim Hall’s duo with Bob Brookmeyer and I would like to ask Jim how that partnership happened.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Hall and Bob Brookmeyer playing My Funny Valentine at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1979

 

 

 

Although there are still young trombonists coming out of music colleges, the majority of bands today, apart from big bands, don’t seem to feature trombones. I wonder why?

Musicians coming out of academies can be more fluent and adept than ever, but I think a trombone can be a cumbersome instrument to play jazz well and perhaps sometimes there is a tendency to lose the link that jazz should have with its African – American heritage.

 

So, here’s a difficult ‘Desert Island Discs’ type question, Mel – if you could choose one track to take with you to a desert island, what would it be?

Hmm, that’s difficult! I think perhaps I’d choose Frank Rosolino playing Here’s That Rainy Day.

 

 

 

Frank Rosolino and Carl Fontana playing Here’s That Rainy Day, the first track on their 1978 album Trombone Heaven.

 

 

 

 

An excellent choice. Another biscuit?

Let's reprise the Bourbon, please.

 

Mel Henry

Mel Henry

Photo courtesy of Zuleika Henry

 

 

Utah Teapot

 

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