Vincent Herring is a part of the grand inventory of straight-ahead jazz alto saxophone players. His is not a name that leaps out, perhaps, which reduces Herring’s significance not one bit. The trouble with the gig is that down through the ages, there have been so many heavy cats who likewise found their muse in the alto sax. So what makes Herring stand out? His particular milieu. In the world of jazz alto sax head-cutters, one is known by the company one keeps. Or, kept. Herring has outlived most all of his employers, luminous jazz stars such as Cedar Walton, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Nat Adderley, and Dizzy Gillespie.
Vincent Herring at Jazzclub Bamberg
But Herring was born during jazz music’s last gasp, the mid-1960s. He came of age well after the firestorms of alto players (and obvious influences) such as Johnny Hodges or Charlie Parker. Born in the South, Herring grew up in California, did a turn in the Army band, and after his tour of duty was complete, he headed up north to the big jazz kitchen of New York. He fit right in with his large book of songs and lightning quick alto sax language. Over the years, he would appear on hundreds of recordings as a sideman.
As a band leader, Herring has released 20 records of his own, the latest being 2017’s Hard Times. His voice on the horn is always robust and flawless, unregretful, and a thoughtful reminder of times and jazzers long gone. In general, when it comes to defining a performer of Herring’s stature, jazz critics fall into cliché and throw words around like ‘muscular’ and ‘agile’ and ‘joyful’ to describe his music. Forget all that. Herring’s tutelage by the legends of jazz music give his sound weight and layers of genuineness that no emerging sax talent today will ever have. Be glad that Herring plays it like that music never died.
Vincent Herring Quartet: Saturday, June 16, Athenaeum Music and Arts Library