About the Skipper
How it all began
Born October 1st, 1940, Henry Franklin is a native of Los Angeles whose earliest memories of jazz were through his father, Sammy Franklin, a renowned trumpeter and bandleader.
As a child, Henry was encouraged to take music seriously and with that he understood its emotional power. Though he would take to the clarinet, piano and tap dancing early, it wasn’t until the day he picked up the bass that music began to define him. So began Henry’s life-long love affair with music.
“It just felt natural,” he said.
Soon there were lessons – arranged by Sammy – with some of the classical bass players that helped establish his foundational knowledge of the instrument. Later Henry studied with Al McKibbon and George Morrow and spent many hours pouring over the offerings of such bassist greats as Paul Chambers and Doug Watkins.
Henry was still attending the Manual Arts High School when he played with his first professional band – the Roy Ayers Latin Jazz Quintet.
“Roy went to a different high school from me”, he said, “but we played together along with Bill Henderson, Carl Burnett and Elmo Jones.” Around that same time, Henry met and worked with Harold Land and Hampton Hawes. Years later he would tour Europe with Hawes and record five albums with him.
“I was influenced very much by Hawes and Land – I still am,” Henry said. “Those guys are great heroes to me.”
Skipper finds the groove
Jazz continued to heat up the scene in Los Angeles, with scores of clubs packing the houses from Adams Boulevard to Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards to across Central Avenue. Jazz was king in L.A. and a young Henry Franklin held court with the likes of Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins and Scott LaFaro.
Henry continued to study, listen and hone his craft, but in 1968 received a call from Willie Bobo. The call led to a year-long tour of the East Coast, where on his off days, he worked gigs with Archie Shepp, Lamont Johnson, Beaver Harris and Roswell Rudd. Then one night, Hugh Masekela heard Henry play and made him an offer. Three and a half years later the two would collaborate on Grazing in the Grass and then part ways with a great friendship and a gold record.
Henry’s touring continued over the next few years, working internationally with singer O.C. Smith, The Three Sounds, Freddie Hubbard and Count Basie. Henry collected another gold record with Stevie Wonder on The Secret Life of Plants (1979).
Henry began experimenting outside of the bebop genre with John Carter and Bobby Bradford and produced two albums: Self-Determination Music (1970) and Secrets (1973). His style was more avant-garde – but only for a short time.
“I always try to fit in – whatever the musical occasion, but it’s not permanent,” Henry said, referring to his affinity for tradition. “I guess I’ve been a bebopper all of my life.”
America’s greatest art form
The jazz world continued to embrace him and Henry’s work continued to be elevated. He would team with Dennis Gonzales, John Purcell and William Richardson and perform with them on five albums that were critically acclaimed throughout Europe. Henry also played extensively with Pharoah Sanders, Joe Williams, Sonny Rollins, Bobby Hutcherson, Sonny Fortune and Milt Jackson.
There are more than 100 albums on which Henry appears, with many of them produced under his leadership. They include: The Skipper and The Skipper at Home (Black Jazz label), Three Card Molly, Bassic Instincts, The Hunter, Bass Encounters (Resurgent Music label), Colemanology, Ears Wide Open, Three Worlds, A Musical Tribute to Gene Harris featuring Three More Sounds, Summer Serenade (Beezwax Records), Shalabongo, We Came to Play (Jeru Records), Tribal Dance (Catalyst Records), Blue Lights (Ovation Records), Sakura (WJ3 Records), All God’s Children (SP Records), Music to the 5th Power (SP Records), 3Bop (SP Records), If We Should Meet Again (SP Records), O, What a Beautiful Morning! (SP Records), Soul of the World (SP Records), June Night (SP Records) and High Voltage (SP Records). Henry also published a method book for all bass players entitled, Bassically Yours.
The Skipper performed for about thirteen years with his group at The Mission Inn in Riverside, California. For many years, he played 5 nights a week. Difficult times reduced that to 2 nights on weekends. This long run of great jazz came to an end September 17, 2011. His presence there was greatly appreciated by the community.
He continues to produce artists on his SP Label – including his latest CD High Voltage – to keep his and the world’s love of jazz alive.
“I strive and work hard to do the best for Jazz,” Henry said. “It’s America’s only art form.”