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Daniel Henderson

Daniel Henderson

Assistant Professor
Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts

Daniel Henderson was thrilled to join the faculty of BYU-Hawaii in 2016. Before moving to the islands, he taught at Harvard University for four years, where he was Lecturer on Music in Jazz Harmony and Jazz Improvisation. With a passion for creativity and excellence in jazz education, Daniel is an eight-time recipient of the Harvard University Certificate of Teaching Excellence, has been awarded grants from the Elson Family Foundation and the Harvard Provostial Fund for innovation in classroom teaching, and scored a perfect 5.0 on Harvard’s “Q” ratings in the categories "Overall Instructor: and "Overall Course" during his last year on the faculty, making him the highest-rated professor across the Harvard Campus. At the heart of Daniel's teaching is his belief that intellectual rigor, a robust sense of humor, and a joyful pursuit of truth and beauty are essential elements in the ideal classroom.

Daniel’s dynamic approach to teaching Jazz was shaped in large part by his years on Harvard’s Music faculty. After establishing a teaching reputation across the river at New England Conservatory, Daniel was hired at Harvard by renowned musicologist Ingrid Monson and given complete freedom and ample resources to realize his ideal jazz classroom. Daniel hired a team of well-qualified Teaching Assistants, and with the help of an outstanding administrative and technical team, he set about joyfully educating a steady flow of passionate and imaginative students. It felt to Daniel like something of a Golden Age of Jazz at Harvard: Ingrid Monson was renowned as a scholar of jazz and was an encouraging mentor, Harvard President Drew Faust was an avid and outspoken lover of jazz music, Wynton Marsalis delivered genre-bending lecture-performances as a visiting lecturer for three years, Herbie Hancock was in residence as Harvard’s Norton Lecturer for a semester, Vijay Iyer joined the full-time faculty and partnered with Daniel for a concert premiering Daniel’s big-band arrangements of Iyer’s Threnody and Atlantean Tropes, and classroom guests included Joshua Redman, Dave Liebman, Wallace Roney, and Don Braden, all of whom challenged and invigorated Daniel’s approach to teaching, thinking, and talking about jazz.

Prior to joining the faculty at Harvard, Daniel taught on the Jazz Studies, Musicology, and Music Theory faculties at historic New England Conservatory (NEC) in Boston, where he also completed his Master of Music (M.M.) and Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in Jazz Composition with Academic Honors. Daniel initially came to NEC to study with legendary composer and provocative pedagog Bob Brookmeyer, who inspired Daniel (and many others) to stretch the limits of his ears and imagination; Bob could make a deeper impact with one pithy sentence than most teachers could in an hour. Dr. Ken Schaphorst became Daniel’s long-time private composition teacher and mentor and still serves as a role model in so many ways. Other teachers at NEC who played a major part in shaping Daniel’s education include Allan Chase, whose systematic teaching and perpetual curiosity charted a clear course for Daniel’s own classroom; Michael Gandolfi, whose classical composition lessons blew Daniel’s mind for two years; Jerry Leake, whose boundless energy and laser-focused intensity in private West-African drumming lessons pushed Daniel’s rhythmic skills further than he ever anticipated; Dr. Bob Labaree, the leader of NEC’s marvelous doctoral seminar in Musicology, who taught Daniel how to think, how to converse, and how to ask questions like a scholar; Frank Carlberg, who oversaw Daniel’s work as Assistant Director of the phenomenal Jazz Composers’ Workshop Orchestra for three years and quitely taught him how to balance group discipline with flexibility, and gave pointed and humorous insights into the psychology of composer/performer relationships; and distinguished pedagog Ran Blake, whose gentle criticisms and subtle encouragement were always crystallized in one-sentence-only gems like these: “Your paper was okay but I wanted it to be smashing,” “Please follow my guidelines more enthusiastically,” and “You have quite an incredible reputation at this school; please make it obvious why.” Intensive visiting-artist residencies at NEC also allowed Daniel to interface with and be shaped by many other world-class composers, including John Hollenbeck, Django Bates, Roscoe Mitchell, Dave Holland, Jim McNeely, 100-year-old Elliott Carter, and Steve Reich. NEC was a marvelous place to study jazz, and to teach on the faculty, and Daniel still feels like it is his musical home-away-from-home. Upon graduating with his doctoral degree, NEC awarded Daniel the Gunther Schuller Medal, considered the conservatory’s highest individual honor.

But is was an unexpected relationship with celebrated and hilarious pop/jazz arranger Billy May that initially inspired Daniel to pursue a serious future in jazz composition. While still an undergraduate student in Trumpet Performance at beautiful Brigham Young University (BYU), Daniel worked in the Capitol Records Manuscript Archive at BYU, where for three years he identified and cataloged nearly 10,000 original, handwritten musical scores which had been recorded at Capitol Records from the 1940s through the 1960s by vocalists Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Peggy Lee, June Christy, Dean Martin, Nancy Wilson, the Pied Pipers, and many others, and then was stored away in an archive that made its way to BYU’s Music & Dance Library. Daniel spent countless hours admiring, studying, and crying over the arrangements, harmonies, and creativity of master arrangers Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Pete Rugolo, Paul Weston, Frank DeVol, Benny Carter and others. Billy May was 86 years old when he and Daniel were introduced by 94-year-old bandleader and guitarist Alvino Rey (for whom Daniel had already cataloged boxes of old manuscript scores), and Billy quickly became Daniel’s musical hero and the funniest composer he has ever known. Daniel visited Billy at his home in Southern California, recorded a video interview, and enjoyed a brief period of mentoring, phone calls, and the exchange of cassette tapes, CDs, and memories before Billy passed away a few months later. Billy-May-related projects eventually found Daniel hosting interviews with Billy’s long-time friends in the arranging field including Sammy Nestico, Bill Finnegan, Van Alexander, Gerald Wilson, Neal Hefti, Frank Comstock, and several surviving members of the 1950s Billy May Orchestra, all of whom gave Daniel further insight into the genius and humanity of Billy May. Billy’s lighthearted and joyful approach to music-making, his wild sense of musical humor, and his quest for creative excellence still profoundly inspire Daniel’s work. Daniel’s 180-page doctoral dissertation was titled Big Fat Brass: The Music of Billy May: The Early Years, and his writing on May’s masterful music for children’s records is published in the journal Jazz Perspectives under the title “Jazz Harmony for Kids: The Capitol Records Children’s Albums of Billy May, 1946-54.” He plans to write a full book about the music of Billy May someday.

Daniel has a growing profile as an engaging public speaker. Selected as the youngest member of the Harvard Alumni Association Speakers Bureau in 2013, Daniel received invitations to speak to Harvard alumni across the country on a variety of musical topics. He has spoken twice at the national conference of the Society for American Music, at the Echoes of Ellington Conference, and spoke at BYU-Hawaii’s annual Christmas devotional in 2017 on the history of the Christian nativity in visual art.

Daniel is also a dynamic musical entertainer. As the trumpeter and vocalist with the New Hot 5, Daniel has recorded four CDs of New-Orleans-style jazz and starred in the viral video “Jazz for Cows,” filmed in the French Alps and featured on Conan O’Brien, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America, and is one of YouTube’s most-viewed and highest-rated “jazz” videos of all time. He was a founding member of the Vintage Vocal Quartet, played and sang with the Beantown Swing Orchestra for nearly ten years, and was a member of numerous Boston-based contemporary jazz big bands. He now sings, plays the trumpet, and composes new music for CrossCurrent, BYU-Hawaii’s faculty jazz and world-music ensemble.

Daniel is thrilled to now serve on the faculty of BYU-Hawaii, where he teaches Jazz Improvisation, Songwriting, Music Theory, World Music, and directs the World Jazz Orchestra and the Street Band. Daniel lives in beautiful Laie with his wife Michelle and their four kids. In addition to his musical interests, Daniel loves bird watching, hiking, world cuisine, gardening, and a variety of topics in religious studies, including Christian iconography, biblical and theological studies, liturgical studies, and Ignatian contemplation.

Area of Expertise:

Jazz Composition, Brass, World Music