New Orleans pianist and vocalist Henry Butler is a virtuoso jazz, blues and r&b pianist, a schooled vocalist naturally imbued with gospel credibility a fierce r&b performer and an expressive composer. “Once I sit at the keyboard it’s right there,” says Butler “I have an instrument on which I can express anything I want.” Calling himself a perpetual “work in progress “ Butler is a classically trained vocalist a critically lauded jazz recording artist and an accomplished photographer (all the more stunning considering Butler has been blind since infancy).
Born in the musical hotbed of New Orleans, Louisiana, Butler was attracted to piano at a very young age. By the time he was seven he had joined the glee club at the Louisiana School for the Blind where he was already studying piano. He was gigging by the time he was 14 and went on to study voice in high school.
Butler attended Southern University in Baton Rouge where he fell under the spell of jazz giant Alvin Batiste who quickly became Butler’s mentor. Batiste taught Butler the importance of playing what’s in the mind’s eye to improvise. With Batiste’s help Butler began adding the jazz legacy of Art Tatum Bud Powell Charlie Parker and John Coltrane to the Crescent City r&b he’d absorbed from Eddie Bo Tommy Ridgley James Booker and Professor Longhair.
After graduating from college Butler plunged into performing around New Orleans playing his own mix of jazz and r&b. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Michigan State University before returning to New Orleans in 1974 where he began gigging with every important jazz and r&b musician in the city. While teaching at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts Butler spent a few very intense afternoons in the living room of Professor Longhair learning Fess’ shuffle patterns trills and parallel thirds and sixths. “Fess showed me how he approached the piano and mainly taught by demonstrating,” recalls Butler. “I listened and tried to emulate what he had shown me.”
Butler moved to Los Angeles in 198 where he gigged and worked as a talent development consultant for Motown Records and the Stevie Wonder organization. After sitting in with bassist Charlie Haden Butler’s fortunes changed. He recorded his first album Fivin’ Around for MCA/lmpulse! in 1986. After a second MCA/lmpulse! release The ½llage Butler’s reputation as an important force in the jazz world began earning him hordes of new friends and tans. Critics raved about virtuoso pianist who mixed soul with brains and about a live performer who consistently knocked audiences oft their feet with his scattering lightning-fast runs.
Butler recorded two albums for Windham Hill, 1990’s Orleans Improvisation and 1992’s Blues And More before heading back to New Orleans in 1996. He released For All Seasons that same year on Atlantic Jazz again to massive critical acclaim. He won the 1998 “Best Of The Beat” Award from OffBeat Magazine for Best New Orleans Piano Player and continues to impress critics fans and fellow musicians with his massive talents.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.