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Daniel Henderson

Daniel Henderson

Assistant Professor
Faculty of Culture, Language & Performing Arts


Dr. Daniel Henderson teaches Songwriting, Jazz Improvisation, Street Band, the
World Jazz Orchestra, and is the Music Production & Technology lead for the
instrumental music area at BYU-Hawaii. Before moving to Hawaii, Daniel taught Jazz Harmony and Jazz Improvisation at Harvard University, where he was an 8-time recipient of the Harvard University Certificate of Teaching Excellence, was awarded grants from the Elson Family Foundation and the Harvard Provostial Fund for innovation in undergraduate education, and scored a perfect 5.0 out of 5 on Harvard’s “Q” rating system in both the “Overall Instructor” and “Overall Course” categories, making him the highest-rated teacher at all of Harvard during his last year on the faculty. At the heart of Daniel’s teaching is his belief that intellectual rigor, a sense of humor, and a love of truth and beauty are essential elements in the college classroom.

Daniel holds DMA and MM degrees in Jazz Composition with Academic Honors
from the world-renowned New England Conservatory, where he studied privately with Bob Brookmeyer, Ken Schaphorst, and Michael Gandolfi. Upon graduation, NEC bestowed on Daniel the Gunther Schuller Medal—the Conservatory’s highest honor, awarded to one “extraordinary” graduate per year. He taught in NEC’s Jazz Studies, Musicology, and Music Theory faculties for four years with an “Overall Instructor” rating of 4.85 out of 5.

While Daniel still plays trumpet and sings with BYU-Hawaii’s CrossCurrent and the viral-sensation jazz band The New Hot 5 when possible, his latest passion is mastering Pro Tools, MIDI virtual instrument software, and the art of the Jacob-Collier-style One-Person-Music Production-Studio. He has begun releasing a new YouTube music-video song cycle for which he is the composer, lyricist, vocalist, instrumentalist (playing up to 35 different instruments per song), and recording and mixing engineer. Check out Songs from the News: “Nigel, the Lonely Seabird” on YouTube.

A Word of Appreciation for my Teachers and Mentors:

I became a music professor because my whole life has shown me what a positive and profoundly beautiful impact a devoted music professor can have in the life of a student—and actually, in the life of an entire community. I want to acknowledge briefly some of the mentors and teachers that have given so much of themselves to me. My parents—both of whom are music professors—started me in music lessons at age 2 and continually nurtured my curiosity and passion for the wide world of music. I love them and am grateful for their dedication to my education.

I became a jazz composer because of Billy May (1916—2004). He was, and still is, my musical hero. We met and became fast friends in the last year of his life while I was cataloging hundreds of his hand-written scores as an archivist in the Capitol Records Manuscript Collection at BYU (scores he had written for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, the Billy May Orchestra, and so many others). I wrote my doctoral dissertation about his music and have spent more than one thousand hours studying his manuscripts. I think no one had a better sense of musical humor than Billy did and I can still hear his laughter to this day each time I listen to his music.

I went to New England Conservatory to study composition with legendary pedagog Bob Brookmeyer. Bob shaped the way I listen to and think about music. He could somehow make a deeper impact with one pithy sentence (or even a grunt, for that matter) than most others can with a thousand words. Bob got cancer and retired toward the end of my MM degree, but he kept encouraging me from afar. Though Bob was gone, I stayed at NEC for my doctoral degree to continue my studies with Dr. Ken Schaphorst (chair of Jazz Studies), who taught me private composition lessons every week for five years. I’ll bet nobody knows more about music than Ken does, and he quietly remains a role model for me in so many ways. I also studied privately with Michael Gandolfi (Head of Composition, Tanglewood), who blew my mind every week, exhibiting a level of analytical detail and intellectual rigor I had never experienced in music. Other NEC teachers who shaped me the most include Allan Chase (jazz studies), Bob Labaree (musicology), Jerry Leake (West-African drumming), and Ran Blake (contemporary improvisation). Guest Artist-in-Residence composers at NEC who made a huge impact on me included Django Bates, Steve Reich, John Hollenbeck, and Roscoe Mitchell.

At Harvard, I was shaped into a better scholar by my world-class colleagues, first among them Professor Ingrid Monson, who believed in me from day one. I was lucky to overlap at Harvard for three years with my childhood trumpet idol Wynton Marsalis, whose series of lecture/recital/sermons I considered masterpieces; and for one year with Herbie Hancock, who not only dispensed wisdom during his recurring Norton Lecture series, but also let me visit his “office hours” to ask tough questions (one answer was so profound and theatrical and humorous that I can only retell it in person—ask me sometime!). Joshua Redman co-taught my class with me one day, as did Wallace Roney, and each was a model of warmth and generosity. Vijay Iyer joined our faculty full-time during my last year at Harvard, pushing me into new musical territory; we put on a concert together—I conducted a large jazz ensemble playing my own new arrangements of Iyer’s compositions, while he played inspired piano. And my stellar, hand-picked teaching assistants were the ones challenging me and offering useful suggestions on a day-to-day basis, in the classroom and over countless lunches: Omar Thomas, Nick Grondin, Austin McMahon, and Evan Allen.

Earlier teachers who shaped and inspired me along the way include Dr. Steve Call (BYU and longtime bandleader in The New Hot 5), trumpet teachers David Brown, Bill Sullivan, and Dan Rich, and musicologist Steven Johnson (BYU). There are many, many more. I am indebted to so many for so much, and am genuinely thrilled to have found a career teaching music.

Area of Expertise:

Jazz Composition, Brass, World Music