Musical genius in Budapest: is Cory Henry the new Franz Liszt?

“My new album Best of Me is a collection of songs written and inspired by my musical heroes. These songs capture the entire essence of my musical journey so far. I hope they inspire you on your journey.”

(Cory Henry)

Everyone knows about Franz Liszt that he was a virtuoso, with a legendary piano play that sounded like a whole orchestra and awesome compositions. The Liszt Fest which opened its doors on 8 October is not only there to commemorate him, but also to ask: who are those contemporary artists whose life, works, stage performance can evoke the Liszt phenomenon? Cory Henry, a 34-year-young American artist has a rightful place in this group. With only two years of age, he already played the piano and the Hammond organ, and if that’s not enough: he was five when he became famous for improvising piano accompaniment to any song in any key. He was just a little boy among the tall adults, but they already called him “Master Henry”. And unlike some less fortunate child prodigies, his series of success is still going on…

Church and jamming

Just like his great predecessor Liszt who, as we wrote earlier, had quite a few works with a transcendent connotation, church played a huge role in Cory Henry’s start. He visited services with his parents, and from four years of age he already played to the community every week. He remembers this as the first time he imagined how it feels to live consequently with and from music. However, church music itself wasn’t enough for his development, so he didn’t stop here. He liked sports, particularly basketball, and realised that he also looks for a space where music can happen in the same friendly competitive way. During his high school years, he became a constant member of “jamming” music events, where he could develop his musical and improvisational skills in a strong field. Even his current works have gospel and jazz influences.

All that joint work…

We know that Liszt didn’t only create alone but had a strong working relationship and friendship to many of his contemporaries, such as Berlioz and Wagner. Cory Henry is also like him in this regard: his works include many joint recordings and concert tours. He was nineteen when he became a member of jazz-saxophonist Kenny Garrett’s tour group for three years, and ever since he has a list from gospel singer Yolanda Adams to rapper P. Diddy, and even huge names like Bruce Springsteen or Lenny Kravitz. He used to play in a band called Snarky Puppy that mostly has instrumental, improvisational jazz for a profile. Henry left them in 2018, though, to have more time for his solo career.

A life in six titles

Even though he started touring in 2006, the time for his first solo album only came in 2014. The title speaks for itself: First Steps. On the Billboard list it immediately made it to be among the best jazz albums and the best debut albums. Henry’s next one is called Revival and based on a concert recording. Two years later he started his own band, so Art of Love, the third, was already published by Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles.

In early 2020, Henry and Lenny Kravitz were preparing for a joint tour when the pandemic suddenly started: the tour was cancelled and Henry could only rehearse with his loyal “apostles” on Zoom. But he still had a lot to say, as we can guess from the fourth album: Something to Say. By the end of last year, he also published a Christmas EP. And this year there is the sixth, Best of Me, possibly the most intimate and honest of all. It includes instrumental and singing pieces: Henry plays at least four instruments and his lovely humming voice is so relaxing to hear. The last song is both a thankyou for the audience, an expression of love and compassion, and the verbalisation of a musical credo. As Henry says there:

“Music is a universal language, something we all can understand.”

No coincidence that he took this thought to be part of his announcement of his upcoming concert at the Liszt Fest. He will play music to commemorate that Franz Liszt of whom many said: no matter how many European languages he spoke fluently, his main native language must have been music. And if we see his past and present works, we might need to wonder whether this is true for Cory Henry, too…