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HENRY BUTLER,
1948-2018

New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, universally praised for carrying on the traditions of Jelly Roll Morton, James Booker and Professor Longhair while also pushing deep into modern jazz styles, died Monday in a hospice facility in the Bronx. He was 69.

His manager, Art Edelstein, told the New York Times he had been receiving treatment for metastic colon cancer. Butler gave his final show 6/18 in New York.

Butler went blind as a small child. He studied piano, drums and trombone in infancy at the Louisiana State School for the Blind in Baton Rouge and learned to read classical music in Braille. He attended Southern University, majoring in voice with a minor in piano; he earned a master’s degree in music at Michigan State University in 1974.

A regular at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival since the first one was held in 1970, he started recording as a jazz sideman in 1980 after moving to Los Angeles.

His 1990 album Orleans Inspiration (Windham Hill) was his first exploration of New Orleans funk, blues and R&B and it led to him touring as a headliner. He would record for MCA, Atlantic, Basin Street, Blue Note/Impulse and others.

Butler taught at Eastern Illinois University in the early 1990s and in started several jazz camps blind and vision-impaired musicians.

In 1996, he returned to New Orleans and recorded with a wide array of musicians, among them Irma Thomas, Cyndi Lauper and Afghan Whigs. Whigs leader Greg Dulli tweeted “He made the world smile. I will never forget his warmth, twisted humor and friendship. A great man who I and many, many others will miss.”

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home, which housed his piano, recording equipment, master tapes, live recordings and Braille music manuscripts.

Post-Katrina, Butler eventually moved to Brooklyn, forming the band Jambalaya and, with trumpeter Steve Bernstein, the Hot 9.

 

 

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