Rick Henderson was born in Washington D.C., and was a 1946 graduate of Armstrong High School who excelled on the alto saxophone. Henderson began playing in middle school and with the encouragement of his mother, he was soon playing in school jazz bands for dances. He was a thorough accomplished musician and his influences included Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, and Charlie Parker.
After leaving the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir in late 1953 Henderson joined the house band of the Howard Theatre. He recruited many of his fellow colleagues from the 75th Army Band at Fort Belvoir into his musical projects around Washington. The Howard Theatre gig, though prestigious, was never steady enough to support a musician full time. Henderson also aspired to greater accomplishments. He began working with Duke Ellington's band as an arranger about 1954. He would work on-and-off with Ellington as both an arranger and as a musician for many years to come. As the big-band era was fading in popularity Henderson brought the modern bebop sound to Ellington's band. Henderson recorded on Ellington's Capitol Records releases which included two of his compositions "Commercial Time" and "Frivolous Banta." And he composed "Carney" in tribute to fellow Ellington bandmember and reeds player Harry Carney. After leaving Ellington's that he was the Howard Theater bandleader from 1956 until 1964.
During his career he worked as a composer and arranger producing music scores for ensembles from military bands to the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras, to ensembles led by pianist and pianist Billy Taylor, who also grew up in Washington D.C., and saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Many an amateur vocal group showed up at the Howard unprepared for a professional engagement and left with written musical arrangements for their self-composed songs courtesy of Henderson. A consummate professional, Henderson established the music publishing company, Federal City Publishers to market his compositions and arrangements for big-bands. And he performed a number of dates in groups lead by Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie. In the 1970s Henderson conducted the University of Maryland Jazz ensemble. Henderson passed away in May of 2004 at his home in D.C.
Courtesy of Jay Bruder