CELEBRATING WILLIAM “BILL” HENDERSON, AKA: KEMANG SUNDUZA

CELEBRATING WILLIAM “BILL” HENDERSON III – AKA: KEMANG SUNDUZA (1945 – 2019)

By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 21, 2019

The last time I saw Kemang perform (I always pronounce his name Kamon) was in Detroit, Michigan at the annual Jazz Festival five years ago. He was playing piano with the great Pharoah Sanders and as usual, he was innovative and artistic on his instrument. He’d been working with Pharoah Sanders for over three decades. In 2007, he recorded on both the “Moon Child” and the “Finest” albums with Pharoah Sanders. Before that, as far back as 1985, Bill Henderson recorded with Pharoah on “Softly for Shyla” and again in 1993, Pharoah released that same title on a different record label. You may remember when Pharoah Sanders featured vocalist, Leon Thomas, on his “Shukuru” LP. I believe that was in 1985. Kemang played on that one too. In 2010, the talented pianist recorded with John Carter and Bobby Bradford on the Mosaic label, a three-record box set. In 2013, Verve Records released a Hugh Masekela project he played piano on titled, “Grazing in the Grass.” In 2017, he joined Bob Shad’s production of “In the Back, In the Corner, In the Dark.” It was labeled a record that resonated spiritual funk and jazz gems. Back-in-the-day, he also was part of the Bobby Hutcherson Quartet and recorded on Hutcherson’s album, “With A Song in My Heart” in 2006. He’s been on a number of other recordings including The Ray Charles “Spirit of Christmas” CD and the Billy Higgins 1994 album release, “3/4 For Peace.” He joined Eddie Harris to be part of the popular LP, “The Real Electrifying Eddie Harris” in 1983. Bill Henderson has been making amazing music in and around Los Angeles and worldwide for many years. I found him to be a quiet, thoughtful man until he sat down at the piano and his fingers began battering those 88-keys. He was a passionate player. In the early 70’s, Henderson (our beloved Kemang) recorded with iconic reedman, Harold Land Sr. on an album called “Our Home” and later, on a couple of albums with bassist Henry Franklin. Bill Henderson appeared on the “Henry Franklin – The Skipper” LP in 1972 and “Blue Lights” was another Henry Franklin recording in 1976. In 1977, he played the blues on Big Bear Records, as part of a compilation album titled, “Homesick Blues Again.” I remember him working with the original female singer with Earth, Wind and Fire, Ms. Sherry Scott. That was back in the early 1970’s, when he was playing in her band. There have been more recordings, so many more performances in festivals and concerts across the globe.

Kemang was also a fine composer and an arranger. In 2016, I interviewed jazz bassist, Henry Franklin. Henry was very close to Bill Henderson. That was clear when Henry was explaining to me how he got his nickname of “The Skipper.”

“On our first album for Black Jazz Records in 1971, we titled the LP, The Skipper,’” Henry shared. “Pianist, Bill Henderson (Kemang), had written a tune for my son, (who is his God son) and he named the composition, Skipper. People associated the album title with my name and they started calling me ‘The Skipper’. My son’s a Junior, but he’s the original Skipper.

“Early on, Roy Ayers (the iconic vibraphonist) had the Latin Jazz Quintet that included Bill Henderson on piano, or sometimes Elmo Jones on piano, me, and Carl Burnett on drums. After high school, Elmo left and went to school at Howard University. Nobody’s heard from or seen Elmo since,” Henry told me.

Henry Franklin was only eighteen years old at that time and Bill Henderson was a teenager too. Still, at that young age they were both serious musicians determined to make their mark in the jazz world. For a while, Franklin played with a group called Little Joe and the Afro Blues Quartet. They formed that ensemble in 1963. It was led by Joseph “Little Joe” DeAguero. In 1967 their group featured Little Joe on Vibes, Franklin on bass and Bill ‘Kemang’ Henderson on piano. Varner Barlow was on drums and Jack Fulks played flute and alto saxophone.

Over his long and passionate career, Bill Henderson worked with legends like Donald Byrd, Billy Higgins, The Afro Blues Quintet Plus One, Cannonball Adderley and Brazilian master, Moacir Santos, to list just a few. He was a highly praised pianist and the jazz community warmly embraced him.

It’s with a heavy heart that I received the news, a few days ago, that William Henderson III had left his seat at the piano to join the heavenly jazz band in the ever-after. You will be missed, Kemang, but never forgotten. Rest in Peace, my brother.

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One Response to “CELEBRATING WILLIAM “BILL” HENDERSON, AKA: KEMANG SUNDUZA”

  1. jazzmandel Says:

    Nice appreciation, jazz journalist..

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