Dipping into the archives this weekend for a club date from 1945 with the legendary Fletcher Henderson and his orchestra, recorded at Casa Mañana in Culver City, California in September of that year.
Fletcher Henderson (December 18, 1897 – December 29, 1952) was an American pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, important in the development of big band jazz and swing music. He was one of the most prolific black musical arrangers and, along with Duke Ellington, is considered one of the most influential arrangers and bandleaders in jazz history. Henderson’s influence was vast. He helped bridge the gap between the Dixieland and the swing eras. He was often known as “Smack” Henderson (apparently because of his skill as a batter playing baseball in college).
Henderson, along with Don Redman, established the formula for swing music. The two broke the band into sections (sax section, trumpet section etc.). These sections worked together to create a unique sound. Sometimes, the sections would play in call-and-response style, and at other times one section would play supporting riffs behind the other. Swing, its popularity spanning over a decade, was the most fashionable form of jazz ever in the United States.
Henderson was also responsible for bringing Louis Armstrong from Chicago to New York in October 1924, thus flipping the focal point of jazz in the history of the United States (although Armstrong left the band in November 1925 and returned to Chicago).
Henderson also played a key role in bringing improvisatory jazz styles from New Orleans and other areas of the country to New York, where they merged with a dance-band tradition that relied heavily on arrangements written out in musical notation.
Henderson differed from other musicians in his time. He made the idea of playing jazz exclusively popular to ambitious, young, black musicians. He made it financially stable and a way to seize cultural power during the time. Henderson was genuine when it came to the appearance of the band. He was all for making an impact on the era. Henderson would intensely see to it that each member had a clean-shaven face, a tuxedo, and polished shoes. It was recorded that he would do this before every performance, especially ones in predominantly white communities, such as Times Square. The men in his band had strong connections to the emerging group of blacks in Harlem. Henderson created a band that was capable of playing dance music and complex arrangements. Louis Metcalf said, “The sight of Fletcher Henderson’s men playing behind music stands brought on a learning-to-read-music kick in Harlem which hadn’t cared before it. There were two years of real concentration. Everybody greeted you with ‘How’s studying?'”
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