RIP Henry Butler

Even if he was calling just to tell me when a rehearsal was, we would have to try NOT to be on the phone for 4 hours..That’s how much we had to say, always..Philosophy, spirituality, personal issues, aesthetics, concepts and sometimes-music. I can definitely say that there is nothing I didn’t get to express to Henry Butler about how I felt about him, and vice versa, before he left us on Monday. But, as with his music, there were endless more things to say..endless amazing ideas.
He told me last year at one point-“you’re not going to like this but when I first started working with you, I thought-‘he has an up-side’ “. I said, “what do you mean by that?” He said, “you had SO much less energy than now, it’s unbelievable”. He saw that I had lost my way, but when playing with him, showed glimpses of my real potential and abilities-my original intent before being sidetracked in the “sideman” game: trying to fit in-to work more. When playing with him, I would have out of body experiences occasionally and reach conclusions about life and music-have important epiphanies. I would play PAST my top-he forced that out of me.
He made me realize (and feel again) that being a master or virtuoso was COOL and good. You don’t have to dumb it down for people. Be who you are and OWN who you are at ALL times, in every moment. Improve, grow, quest, excel because you want to. Explore every style, because you’re interested in it. Find your connection to it and stake claim on your style, your lane. In essence, take back your power and don’t exist just to please others. It’s ART-find your expression and be unapologetic about your work. This was his message, and he was the embodiment of that.
It took years, but eventually, I was completely different guy and player altogether. But, when I listen to the first gig recordings from 7/8 years ago, I can hear that chemistry we had. It was like going into battle together or a basketball game filled with fast ball passes, 3 point shots and slam dunks. We’d throw musical bombs at each other and be right on the dangerous edge of the music at all times. I never would say I was on the same level as him-no one was, but his energy would make me feel unafraid to go anywhere or try anything. Just being around him, I felt stronger, smarter and that all my radical ideas had validity because he was so open.
We had many plans we were throwing around: form a production company, produce a 3 album series (solo, jazz trio, Jambalaya w/ special guests), write a book on New Orleans rhythms, make a classical album w/string quartet/brass chorale/orchestra etc. So many things were in the air, but not to be. We sometimes were at odds with direction and sometimes our relationship was complicated but we always worked it out. He just didn’t want to give up control – independence was huge for him, which was very understandable.
The thing that started to really upset me in past few weeks was a feeling that this powerhouse, monstrous musical force was not going to finish his statement-his statement wasn’t done. But- to hear all that music coming out of someone from across the stage on any given night was like hearing entire lifetimes, dimensions, worlds of music. And sometimes that would happen in one song! Or just in the piano intro, before the band played a note. So, who’s to say when someone’s statement is finished? He said so much in every note-more than most say in their lifetime.
Sensei is gone, but he will live on thru everyone he touched. In fact, I think it will grow even larger than before. I truly hope his impact will go down as a massive, far reaching one that travels though all the tides of change; staying resilient, forceful and revealing new possibilities to all – just like his music.Young Henry B

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