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Beautiful memory, beautiful jazz

Legendary vocalist performs for community

Posted: February 1, 2009 10:10 p.m.
Updated: February 2, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Jazz vocalist Bill Henderson performs at Christ Lutheran Church Jan. 22, 2009. Christ Lutheran preschool presented 'Children's Music from Around the World' and invited Henderson to perform.

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The Santa Clarita Valley is filled with undiscovered jewels. One of those jewels is known as Bill Henderson.

Henderson, born in Chicago and a resident of the SCV for three years, is a classic jazz vocalist.

According to The Los Angeles Times, he's "one of jazz's greatest living male vocalists."

Henderson comes from the old school in mainstream jazz, where lyric vocal interpretation reigns. His style is eternal, originally inspired by his peers, Joe Williams and Dick Haymes.

He began his career as the lead vocalist for The County Basie Band in the early 1950s. Frank Sinatra personally introduced the band once at The Sands in Las Vegas telling the audience, "I want you folks to listen, cause this guy, he really sings up a storm!"

Henderson performed and recorded with some of the greatest legends in jazz including The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Bill Cosby, Charlie Haden, Lalo Schiffrin, Cannonball Adderley, Yusef Lateef, Ray Brown, Bobby Timmons, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Philly Jo Jones, Wayne Shorter, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Elvin Jones, Milt Hinton, Pete Christlieb, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Thad Jones, John Coltrane, Gerald Wiggins.

"All the great jazz artists ... if he didn't play with them, he knew them," Henderson's son-in-law Marc Mrakich said.

Henderson remembers when Oscar Patterson, one of the "best piano players of all times," called him one day and asked him if he would be interested in playing with him.

"I thought someone was pulling my leg, so I hung up." Henderson admitted. "He called me back, and I accepted."

Henderson landed in Los Angeles to start his acting career in 1967. Among some of the films he appeared in are "Trouble Man," "Silver Streak," "Mother, Juggs & Speed," "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension," "Fletch, City Slickers," "White Men Can't Jump," "Maverick," "Conspiracy Theory," "Lethal Weapon 4," and "The Alibi."

Turning 83 years young in March, Henderson is celebrating his golden years recording more music. Last night was the debut of his fifth album, "Beautiful Memory: Bill Henderson Live at the Vic," at The Jazz Bakery in Culver City.

Henderson lives with his daughter, Mariko Mrakich, his son-in-law, Marc Mrakich, and his granddaughter, Mya Mrakich. Mariko Mrakich wanted to move to the SCV because she knew it was a great community to raise a child. She also wanted to live in a place with a good public education system.

"We were moving from South Pasadena where public school is excellent," she said. "I heard the school system out here was great."

Santa Clarita's family oriented atmosphere also was appealing.

Mya Mrakich goes to Christ Lutheran Preschool in Valencia, and everyone there knows Henderson.
"Bill as a grandfather is involved," Mariko Mrakich said. "People love that. When he comes in, all the kids surround him like he's Walt Disney."

Mariko Mrakich picked Christ Lutheran as her daughter's preschool because of their unique programs like "Music and Me." As part of the program, the preschool hosts periodic music nights where it invites an artist to come and perform for guests.

When the directors at the preschool found out Henderson's musical resume, they jumped at the idea to have him perform for the community.

Mariko Mrakich thought it would be a great way to introduce jazz to the children, especially since jazz, when performed, is usually geared for adults.

"The preschool staff made everything happen," Mariko Mrakich said. "It was great for the parents because they can bring their kids. You can't typically take your kids to a jazz event."

And thus, Christ Lutheran Preschool presented "Children's Music from Around the World," featuring "legendary jazz vocalist Bill Henderson" on Jan, 22. The performance took place at the Christ Lutheran Church Chapel off of Tournament Road, and it was free. It was also the first time they hosted a jazz musician.

Three days before the event, when Mariko Mrakich called the preschool, they informed her 150 reservations were already made.

"It was a full house," Henderson said.

Henderson and his band, who are also world class musicians, were delighted to perform for the community, especially since they welcomed his style and didn't request any changes.

"It was a very enthusiastic and satisfying event for me," Henderson said. "It's amazing when kids become aware of something new. They were giving me high fives afterwards."

Henderson mentioned his fellow band-mates equally enjoyed the event.

"There aren't a lot of singers over 80 still singing classic jazz," Marc Mrakich said.

"My dream is to go as far as I can go with this," Henderson said.

When he's not performing or recording, Henderson can be seen walking about Valencia.

"I am a walker," he said proudly.

"He's a meeter and a greeter," his daughter said. "He knows everyone."

Henderson takes regular strolls throughout town. He walks from his Valencia home to the Ralphs shopping center at the McBean and Decoro intersection. He walks the other direction to the new Rite Aid area off of Newhall Ranch Road.

"Kabuki only opened a week ago or so, and people already know him there," Marc Mrakich said.
"It's nice to be in a place where everyone is so nice," Henderson said.

For more information regarding Bill Henderson, to see upcoming shows, or to purchase his CD, visit www.billhendersonmusic.com or www.myspace.com/billhendersonjazzsinger.

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