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Fletcher Henderson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time

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Fletcher Henderson: the 100 most inspiring musicians of all time

Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., (born James Fletcher Henderson) (b. Dec. 18, 1897, Cuthbert, Ga., U.S.—d. Dec. 29, 1952, New York, N.Y.) was an American musical arranger, bandleader, and pianist who was a leading pioneer in the sound, style, and instrumentation of big band jazz.

Henderson was born into a middle-class family; his father was a school principal and his mother a teacher. He changed his name (James was his grandfather’s name, Fletcher Hamilton his father’s) in 1916 when he entered Atlanta University, from which he graduated as a chemistry
and math major.

In 1920, he moved to New York, intending to work as a chemist while pursuing a graduate degree. Although he found a part-time laboratory job, he immediately began getting work as a pianist. Within months he was a full-time musician, and he began working for W.C. Handy’s music publishing company as a song plugger (i.e., promoting songs to performers). In 1921, he took a position as musical factotum for Black Swan records, the first black-owned recording company, for which he organized small bands to provide backing for such singers as Ethel Waters. He played piano for leading black singers on more than 150 records between 1921 and 1923 and then began a full-time career as a bandleader.

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Although Henderson had shown an interest in music from childhood, when his mother taught him piano, he knew little about jazz until he was in his 20s. His orchestra, made up of well-established New York musicians, at first played standard dance-band fare, with occasional ragtime and jazz inflections.

The band became more jazz-oriented in 1924 when Henderson hired the young trumpeter Louis Armstrong. At about the same time, the band’s musical director and alto saxophonist, Don Redman, conceived the arrangements and instrumentation that would become
the standard for big bands. The rhythm section was established as piano, bass, guitar, and drums; and the trumpet, trombone, and reed sections composed the front line. Arrangements were constructed in the call-and-response manner (e.g., the brass section “calls,” the reed section “responds”), and many tunes were based upon “riffs,” identifiable
musical passages repeated throughout the song.

Henderson was a superb arranger but a poor businessman. Although the band had played major venues and been heard on the radio and in recordings, the band’s finances were frequently in disarray, and musicians often left without notice to join other bands. He nevertheless managed to keep his band going until the mid-1930s, at which time he sold many of his arrangements to Benny Goodman, who used them to define the sound of his new band. “King Porter Stomp,” “Down South Camp Meetin’,”
“Bugle Call Rag,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” and “Wrappin’ It Up” are among the Henderson arrangements that became Goodman hits.

Through the Goodman band, Henderson’s arrangements became a blueprint for the sound of the swing era. Henderson arranged for Goodman for several years and formed a short-lived band of his own in 1936. That year, Henderson issued “Christopher Columbus,” which became the biggest hit released under his own name. Henderson had little success in his subsequent attempts to organize bands and spent most of the 1940s arranging for Goodman, Count Basie, and others. He formed a sextet in 1950 that became the house band at New York’s Cafe Society, but he suffered a stroke soon thereafter and was forced to retire .

Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra – The Best of “Smack” Henderson

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Track List:

SMACK’S BEST Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra 1926-1934

(00:00) The Stampede 1926 solos: Fletcher Henderson (p), Rex Stewart (cn), Fletcher Henderson (p), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Joe Smith (tp), Rex Stewart (cn) (03:15) St. Louis Shuffle 1927 arr.: Don Redman / solos: Coleman Hawkins (ts), Jimmy Harrison (tb), Tommy Ladnier (cn), Charlie Dixon (bj), Buster Bailey (cl) (06:04) D Natural Blues 1928 arr.: Bill Challis / solos: Bobby Stark (tp), Jimmy Harrison (tb)

(09:36) Freeze And Melt 1929 arr.: Benny Carter / solos: Coleman Hawkins (ts), Rex Stewart (cn), Jimmy Harrison (tb), Harvey Boone (cl), Rex Stewart (cn) (12:43) Raisin’ The Roof 1929 arr.: Benny Carter / solos: Rex Stewart (cn), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Buster Bailey (cl), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Harvey Boone (as)

(15:25) Somebody Loves Me 1930 arr.: Benny Carter / solos: Bobby Stark (tp), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Jimmy Harrison & unk. quartet (voc) (18:31) Sweet And Hot 1931 arr.: Benny Carter / solos: Bobby Stark (tp), Claude Jones (tb), Jimmy Harrison (voc) Rex Stewart (cn), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Claude Jones (tb) (22:00) Hot And Anxious 1931 arr.: Horace Henderson / solos:: Coleman Hawkins (cl), Clarence Holiday (g)

(25:23) Comin’ And Goin’ 1931 arr.: Benny Carter / solos: Benny Morton (tb), Bobby Stark (tp), Russell Procope (as), Benny Morton (tb), Bobby Stark (tp), Morton (tb), Horace Henderson (p) (28:35) I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby 1931 solos: Bobby Stark (tp), Claude Jones (tb), unknown (voc), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Russell Procope (cl) (31:48) Just Blues 1931 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Claude Jones (tb), Bobby Stark (tp), Rex Stewart (cn), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Bobby Stark (tp), Benny Morton (tb)

(35:00) Sugar Foot Stomp 1931 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Claude Jones (tb), Rex Stewart (cn), Fletcher Henderson (p), Benny Morton (tb), Coleman Hawkins (ts) (38:07) Singin’ the Blues 1931 arr.: Bill Challis / solos: Rex Stewart (cn), Russell Procope (cl) (41:23) The House Of David Blues 1931 solos: Coleman Hawkins (ts), Bobby Stark (tp), Edgar Sampson (vn), Benny Morton (tb)

(44:36) Strangers 1932 solos: Coleman Hawkins (ts), John Dickens (voc), Rex Stewart (cn) (47:50) Blue Moments (Henderson) – March 11, 1932 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Rex Stewart (cn), Coleman Hawkins (ts) (50:27) Honeysuckle Rose 1932 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: J. C. Higginbotham (tb), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Bobby Stark (tp), Fletcher Henderson (p) (53:42) King Porter Stomp 1933 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Bobby Stark (tp), Russell Procope (cl), Dickiy Wells (tb), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Red Allen (tp)

(56:41) It’s the Talk of the Town 1933 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Hilton Jefferson (cl), Red Allen (tp), Coleman Hawkins (ts) (1:00:15) Queer Notions 1933 arr.: Horace Henderson / solos: Coleman Hawkins (ts), Red Allen (tp) (1:03:06) Hocus Pocus 1934 arr.: Will Hudson / solos: Buster Bailey (cl), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Red Allen (tp) (1:06:23) Big John’s Special 1934 arr.: Horace Henderson / solos: Irving Randolph (tp), Hilton Jefferson (as), Horace Henderson (p)

(1:09:14) Down South Camp Meetin’ 1934 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Red Allen (tb), Hilton Jefferson (as), (1:12:13) Wrappin’ It Up 1934 arr.: Fletcher Henderson / solos: Hilton Jefferson (as), Red Allen (tp), Buster Bailey (cl) (1:14:56) Rug Cutter’s Swing 1934 arr.: Horace Henderson / solos: Red Allen (tp), Buster Bailey (cl), Claude Jones (tb), Ben Webster (ts), Keg Johnson (tb), Red Allen (tp)