When the native Chicagoan Bill Henderson started singing at Stelzer's Lounge on the south side--sometimes sharing the stage with the young pianist Ramsey Lewis--he must have answered a few modern-jazz prayers. Hip and savvy, unencumbered by excessive angst or showy virtuosity, Henderson sang in a clear, luminous voice; like his hard-bop jazz contemporaries, he could weave gospel roots into a down-home soul bag, most notably on his recording of Horace Silver's "Senor Blues" in 1958 and on songs like "Moanin'" and "Sleepy" (now available on the CD Complete Vee-Jay Recordings). But then as now, you wouldn't want to pigeonhole Bill Henderson. Delving into the Great American Songbook, he recorded beautiful, understated versions of classics by Arlen and Rodgers and Kern; he could also mine the bluesy mainstream territory staked out by Joe Williams and Count Basie--and you should hear his version of Ray Charles's "The Little Girl of Mine." Henderson moved to California in the 60s and, for the most part, stopped making records; in fact, for several years people outside LA knew of Henderson mainly through his acting gigs. (He had a recurring TV role as David Janssen's mechanic on Harry-O and appeared in the mid-80s cult film Buckaroo Banzai.) His voice has deepened with age, which makes him an even better blues shouter, though it robs some effect from his youthful swoops and melismata. But Henderson still has plenty of chops and all of his instincts, and his sound still seems to smile like a small sun on whatever material he chooses. (And if I could remember the last time he'd sung here in his hometown, I'd tell you.) The solid and knowledgeable pianist Mike Melvoin--another midwesterner transplanted to southern Cal--will accompany Henderson as part of the free Jazz Unites Jazzfest, which also stars Max Roach, pianist Gene Harris, and the young drummer Carl Allen's ensemble featuring saxist Teodross Avery. Saturday, 5 PM, South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.; 734-2000 or 667-2707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Bill Henderson.