By the end of his opening set Tuesday at the Vine St. Bar & Grill, singer Bill Henderson was wishing it was the end of his two-night stay.
"That was the worst set, night of my entire . . .," he said in his dressing room after the set. "Nothing was happening."
Henderson, who came to fame in the 1950s with a recording of "Senor Blues" with pianist Horace Silver and further established himself with Count Basie, had indicated before the set that he would be trying some new and different things with his new trio. Unfortunately, the trio wasn't able to keep pace with the singer or provide Henderson with even the bare basics for his work.
The opening tune offered the first indication of trouble. "That Old Black Magic" had Henderson singing in his usual, heavily syncopated style. To be effective, the band should have provided a smooth backdrop of easily loping swing for contrast. It didn't, and it got worse with the first ballad offering of the evening, "I've Got a Crush on You."
Another swing tune failed to swing before Henderson turned back to the ballad and instructed bassist Jerry Watts Jr. and drummer Mike Shapiro to lay out. With Steve Bach at the piano, Henderson was finally in his element on Rodgers and Hart's "It Never Entered My Mind."
And so the evening went. An up-tempo blues was murdered by Watts' overbearing bass and Shapiro's feet-dragging drumming; then salvation came in the form of "Sleeping Bee," the first of two ballads from the pens of Truman Capote and Harold Arlen. "Say That You'll Be Mine" was supposed to swing and didn't, nor did "Tulip or Turnip." But the ballads "Sophisticated Lady" and "Prelude to a Kiss," both from the Duke Ellington song book and accompanied only by pianist Bach, were gorgeous efforts that had Henderson at his lyrical best, his phrasing as on-the-money as ever.
Oddly enough, the band came to life during a closing "The More I See You." But just as strangely, the band's wake-up call seemed to be for another date at another place with another singer.
Chalk it up to a bad night? Of course, but Henderson is too good to work with inferior players. Pianist Bach showed himself a capable player--a good catch, as it were. Henderson should throw the others back.