Joe Henderson (April 24, 1937 - June 30, 2001) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Born in Lima, Ohio, he studied music at Kentucky State College and Wayne State University before playing in Detroit at the beginning of his career.
From a very large family with five sisters and nine brothers, Henderson was encouraged by his parents and an older brother James T. to study music. Early musical interests included drums, piano, saxophone and composition. He was particularly enamored of his brother's record collection. He listened to Lester Young, Flip Phillips, Stan Getz, Lee Konitz, Charlie Parker and Jazz at the Philharmonic recordings. By eighteen, Henderson was active on the Detroit jazz scene of the mid-'50s, playing in jam sessions with visiting New York stars. The diverse musical opportunities prompted Joe to learn flute and bass, as well as further developing his saxophone and compositional skills. By the time he arrived at Wayne State University, he had transcribed and memorized so many Lester Young solos that his professors believed he had perfect pitch. Classmates Yusef Lateef, Barry Harris and Donald Byrd undoubtedly provided additional inspiration.
After a two year spell in the U.S. Army (1960-1962), Henderson moved to New York where trumpeter Kenny Dorham provided valuable guidance for him. He also earned his first, and biggest, hit in 1962 with "Snap Your Fingers", which reached #8 pop and #5 easy listening. Although Henderson's earliest recordings were marked by a strong hard-bop influence, his playing encompassed not only the bebop tradition, but R&B, Latin and avant-garde as well. He soon joined Horace Silver's band and provided a seminal solo on the jukebox hit "Song for My Father". After leaving Silver's band in 1966, Henderson resumed freelancing and also co-led a big band with Kenny Dorham. His arrangements for the band went unrecorded until the release of Joe Henderson Big Band (Verve) in 1996.