When Freddie Hendrix was a seventh grade trumpet player at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, he auditioned for the middle school jazz band that included students from both his school and Benjamin Franklin Middle School. He failed to make the band.
Hendrix, who took up the trumpet in the fifth grade in Teaneck’s music program, was devastated.
That summer he began practicing diligently, aided by a Louis Armstrong record he discovered in a collection at his parents’ Overlook Avenue home.
"I didn’t know the importance of Armstrong, let alone who he was to the world of jazz, but I put on that record and the sound went through my soul," Hendrix said. "I started practicing and imitating Louis Armstrong, singing like him and learning the solos by ear."
The summer between the seventh and eighth grades was a turning point for Hendrix, now a Grammy award-winning jazz trumpeter and member of several major jazz orchestras, including the Count Basie Orchestra.
Hendrix recalls that in the seventh grade he was such a poor player that he occupied the last of 10 trumpet chairs in the Thomas Jefferson Orchestra.
But when he returned to school in the fall, he rapidly moved to first chair.
"The other orchestra members remembered me as someone who couldn’t play. Then they heard me and they knew I had grown a lot, and I have continued to grow ever since," Hendrix said.
An Overlook Avenue neighbor also played a role in his development.
"He would hear me practicing that summer and he told my mom to send me over to his house," Hendrix said. "When I got there he was playing jazz records in his living room. He told me about all the great jazz trumpet players like Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and Clifford Brown and he lent me a stack of records to copy and when I came back with them he lent me others. That was my introduction to jazz."
After graduating from Teaneck High School, where he played in the school’s jazz bands and ensembles, Hendrix majored in jazz studies and performance at William Paterson University, where his professor was Teaneck resident Rufus Reid, a renowned bassist and jazz educator. Hendrix first met Reid while he was still in middle school and considers Reid his major mentor. While in high school, he played in Reid’s Jazz Days at the Willowbrook Mall. His other major teachers include David Brown and Robert Hankle, of the Teaneck schools music department, and David Rogers, who Hendrix’s private instructor in high school.
After graduating at WPU, Hendrix earned a master’s degree in jazz from Jersey City State College.
Although he began his career as a jazz musician, today Hendrix performs both jazz and popular music. On Feb. 18, he performed with Aretha Franklin at Radio City Music Hall and in 2008 went on a world-wide tour with Alicia Keys. In 2012, Hendrix won a Grammy for a CD with bassist Christian McBride and his Good Feeling Band.
Although jazz and popular music are stylistically different, both have in African-American roots, Hendricks explains.
"I grew up listening to black American music, both popular and later jazz, so it is natural that I perform both," he said.
Hendrix first joined the Count Basie’s orchestra in 2007. He left the following year to tour with Alicia Keys. Then followed six months playing with Wynton Marsalis with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He rejoined the Count Basie band in 2010, where he remains one of its four trumpet players. On Sunday, Feb. 19, the Basie band played before President Obama at the White House.
Hendrix, who still lives in Teaneck, attributes the district’s music program as the foundation of his career. He notes that although his father did some singing as a young man, his family was not musical.
"The music program in Teaneck is fantastic," he said. "I have been blessed to have been surrounded by great teachers."