A soulful improviser, alto saxophonist Vincent Herring plays with a warm, throaty tone and an ear for combining swinging, blues-based acoustic jazz with advanced harmonic ideas. Fittingly, given the early influence saxophonist Cannonball Adderley had on Herring, it makes sense that he first came to prominence alongside cornet player Nat Adderley in the late '80s. Since then, he has remained a vital proponent for carrying forward the hard bop tradition.
Born in Kentucky in 1964, Herring grew up in Vallejo, California, where he moved with his mother after his parents' divorced. It was there, around age 11, that he first picked up the saxophone, playing in school band and taking private lessons. By age 16 he had earned a scholarship to study at the California State University, Chico. After a year at CSUC, he joined the United States Military Academy band the Jazz Knights and relocated to West Point. In the early '80s, after his tour was up, he moved to New York City and furthered his studies at Long Island University.
Upon leaving school, he scored his first professional touring job with the Lionel Hampton Big Band. It was during this period that he caught the attention of cornetist Nat Adderley, and spent close to a decade touring and recording as a member of Adderley's group, debuting on 1989's We Remember Cannon. Along with Adderley, he also performed with such highly respected artists as Cedar Walton, John Hicks, Freddie Hubbard, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and many more.
As a leader, Herring debuted in 1989 with Scene One. Recorded just prior to joining up with Adderley, the album featured the saxophonist in a high-energy date backed by pianist Darrell Grant, bassist Robert Hurst, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. More well-received albums followed, including 1990's American Experience, 1993's Secret Love, 1994's Days of Wine and Roses, and 1999's bossa nova-themed Jobim for Lovers. Also during the '90s, he appeared on albums by Phil Woods, Carl Allen, Louis Smith, the Mingus Big Band, and others.
Beginning in the 2000s, he formed a productive relationship with the HighNote label, delivering albums like 2001's Simple Pleasure, 2004's Mr. Wizard, and 2006's Ends and Means. The concert album Live at Smoke appeared in 2007. In 2010 he delivered the third installment of his funk-jazz-influenced Earth Jazz project, Morning Star, with Anthony Wonsey, Richie Goods, and Jordi Dudli. He then paired with fellow saxophone giant Eric Alexander for Friendly Fire: Live at Smoke in 2012. In 2017 Herring released Hard Times, recorded once again at Smoke in New York City, and featuring Nicolas Bearde, Russell Malone, Steve Turre, Brad Mason, and Sam Dillon. ~ Matt Collar