Henry Franklin

Laying in the bouquet of any jazz ensemble, of any era, playing any style, is the bass. Sturdy and stoic, but also capable of providing the emotional crux, the bass is an essential unit, a compass on which the rest of the ensemble relies on, the provider of the heartbeat, the rhythm, the feel. The conjurer of traditions, the conductor of an elastic orchestra, writing symphonies in real time. There is one such conductor whose own legacy, much like their instrument, has been obscured while remaining ever present. Take a closer listen, however, and the music and career of Henry “The Skipper” Franklin is among the most luminous of any jazz artist. A native of Los Angeles, Henry Franklin came of age while the city was producing some of the most exciting jazz talent in the nation. Early mentorship from his father, who was a bandleader, was foundational. In addition, Franklin took lessons from bassists George Morrow and Al
McKibbon. Morrow had logged sessions with Max Roach and Sonny Rollins, and Mckibbon is best known for appearing on Miles Davis’ Birth of the Cool. Paul Chambers became Franklin’sidol, whose subtle style he yearned to emulate. While still a teenager, Franklin began to perform
with a young Roy Ayers, and soon could be found sharing stages with trailblazers like Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, as well as Boogaloo king Willie Bobo. His earliest studio appearances, with South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, netted the hit “Grazing in the
Grass”.  Franklin’s solo output is best remembered for his two solo outings with the Black Jazz label-“The Skipper” & “The Skipper At Home”. Together, they form one of the most compelling diptychs in the entire post-bop canon. The first veers from kinetic workouts to Sanders-esque meditations, shifting stylistically but grounded by Franklin’s restraint. On the follow-up, the lines between genre blur even further, teetering between chaos and comfort; from “Venus Fly Trap”, the incendiary penultimate track which recalls Max Roach or Ornette Coleman, to the aptly titled “Soft Spirit”, later sampled by A Tribe Called Quest & The Avalanches. Here, as well as onequally important entries from labelmates Gene Russell, Calvin Keys, and Doug Carn, Franklin
reconfigures the bass into the emotional foreground, meshing rhythm with melody. Franklin’s lasting impact on jazz can be clearly evidenced by the long list of legends who sought  him out for tours and recording sessions. Throughout his career, he has performed and  recorded with Bobbi Humphrey, Freddie Hubbard, Hampton Hawes, Pharoah Sanders & Woody Shaw. 1n 1979, he collaborated with Stevie Wonder on the sprawling “Journey Through theSecret Life of Plants”, earning another hit record. You can hear young bassists today, such as
Eric Wheeler, emulate Franklin’s melodic and fluid style. Aside from his solo records, Franklin has appeared on songs sampled by Masta Ace, Earl Sweatshirt, Black Sheep, and Gang Starr, to name but a few. Prior to the pandemic, one could hear Franklin performing at La Sierra University, with legends like Airto and Azar Lawrence making guest appearances. Recognized by his peers and contemporaries, Franklin’s entry for Jazz Is Dead gives the living legend his flowers and recognizes the contributions The Skipper has made as one of jazz’s most influential