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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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FLETCHER HENDERSON

A Study in Frustration

Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55511

 

 


CD1
1. The Dicty Blues
2. Teapot Dome Blues
3. Go `long Mule
4. Shanghai Suffle
5. Copenhagen
6. Everybody Loves My Baby
7. How Come You Do Me Like You Do
8. Alabamy Bound
9. Sugarfoot Stomp
10. What-cha-call `em Blues
11. T.N.T.
12. The Stampede
13. Jackass Blues
14. Henderson Stomp
15. The Chant
16. Snag It
17. Rocky Mountain Blues
18. Tozo
19. St. Louis Shuffle
20. Whiteman Stomp
21. I'm Coming Virginia
22. Variety Stomp
23. St. Louis Blues
24. Goose Pimples

CD2
1. Hop Off
2. King Porter Stomp
3. D Natural Blues
4. Oh Baby
5. Feeling Good
6. I'm Feeling Devilish
7. Old Black Joe Blues
8. Easy Money
9. Come On Baby
10. Freezy And Melt
11. Raisin' The Roof
12. Blazin'
13. Wang Wang Blues
14. Chinatown, My Chinatown
15. Somebody Loves Me
16. Keep A Song In Your Soul
17. Sweet And Hot
18. My Gal Sal
19. Sugarfoot Stomp
20. Clarinet Marmalade
21. Hot And Anxious
22. Comin' And Goin'
23. Singin' The Blues
24. Sugar

CD3
1. Blue Moments
2. New King Porter Stomp
3. Underneath The Harlem Moon
4. Honeysuckle Rose
5. Yeah Man
6. Queer Notions
7. Can You Take It!
8. King Porter Stomp
9. Christopher Columbus
10. Stealin' Apples
11. Blue Lou
12. Rhythm Of The Tambourine
13. Back In Your Own Backyard
14. Chris And His Gang
15. Sing You Sinners
16. Moten Stomp
17. Wild Party
18. Rug Cutter's Swing
19. Hotter Than `ell
20. Liza (All The Clouds `ll Roll Away)
21. I'm A Fool For Loving You
22. Moonrise On The Lowdowns
23. I'll Always Be In Love With You
24. Jangled Nerves
25. Grand Terrace Rhythm
26. Riffin'

Collective personnel
Fletcher Henderson - Piano
Lonnie Brown - Vocals, alto sax, C-melody sax
Les Reis - Vocals
Freddie White, Bob Lessey, Lawrence Lucie, Bernard Addison - Guitar
Charlie Dixon, Clarence Holiday - Banjo
Edgar Sampson - Violin, alto sax
John Kirby - Bass violin, tuba
Elmer James, Israel Crosby - Bass
Arville Harris, Don Redman, Eddie Barefield, Russell Procope, Budd Johnson, Hilton Jefferson, Omer Simeon, Jerome Pasquall - Clarinet, alto sax
Jerry Blake - Alto clarinet
Don Pasquall - Alto sax, baritone sax
Buster Bailey - Clarinet
Harvey Boone, Hilton Jefferson, Benny Carter, Scoops Carry - Alto sax
Coleman Hawkins - Tenor sax, baritone sax, bass sax
Chu Berry, Franz Jackson, Elmer Williams, Ben Webster - Tenor sax
Elmer Chambers, Emmett Berry, Howard Scott, Henry "Red" Allen, Russell Smith, Joe Smith, Joe Thomas, Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Tommy Ladnier, Dick Vance, Bobby Stark, Russell Smith, Irving "Mouse" Randolph, Leora Henderson - Trumpet
Rex Stewart - Cornet
Teddy Nixon, Dicky Wells, Fernando Arbello, Al Wynn, George Washington, J. C. Higginbotham, George Hunt, Milt Robinson, Jimmy Harrison, John McConnell, Sandy Williams, Benny Morton, Claude Jones, Ed Cuffee, Charlie Green, Keg Johnson, Fernando Arbello - Trombone
June Cole, Bob Escudero, Del Thomas, Ralph Escudero - Tuba
Fats Waller - Piano, organ
Horace Henderson - Piano
Pete Suggs - Vibes, drums
Joseph "Kaiser" Marshall, Sid Catlett, Walter Johnson - Drums

 

In 1961, a boxed set of four LPs was issued which made a strong impact on the jazz fraternity. Bandleader/arranger/pianist Fletcher Henderson had been neglected for many years and this set tried to put things right with a generous selection of Henderson's best recordings. He might have been neglected because many of his best arrangements only became widely popular when they were used by Benny Goodman, consolidating Goodman's reputation as "The King of Swing". The original Henderson recordings had suffered because his orchestra consisted entirely of African-Americans.

In fact many of the band's arrangements were written by Don Redman, who worked as an arranger for Henderson until 1927, setting out conventions which were to become widely accepted for later big bands. Redman devised arrangements which used the brass and sax sections either in call-and-response patterns or to provide riffs behind instrumental solos. Fletcher Henderson was an excellent talent-spotter and he hired many of the finest black jazzmen, including Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Henry "Red" Allen, Fats Waller and Benny Carter. The band's arrangements allowed these musicians to play adventurous jazz solos in a style which the band imbibed from Louis Armstrong during his time with the band.

The set of four LPs of Henderson recordings opened many listeners' ears to his music, and these tracks are now reissued on these three CDs which add ten bonus tracks to the original 64. The recordings tend to sound old-fashioned - especially the early ones on the first CD, recorded in the mid-twenties. Yet these tracks were an advance on what most bands were doing at the time. Fletcher''s band was more sophisticated and polished than the rank-and-file. Even the first track, The Dicty Blues, has such advanced features as a four-in-a-bar bass and a swinging tenor solo from Coleman Hawkins. Only Paul Whiteman's orchestras could compare with Henderson's in terms of jazz affecting the world of the dance band.

Go 'long Mule is typical of the "jungle music' which many bands were purveying in the 1920s, with farmyard noises similar to those on early records by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. This was Louis Armstrong's first recording with the band and it took a while before his individualistic influence spread to the other musicians. Copenhagen still has the old-fashioned two-beat rhythm but it moves along unstoppably during Louis' solo. This track also shows how Don Redman contrasted reeds and brass, and offset these passages with sections of collective improvisation. And he ends the tune with triplets which surprisingly leave the music suspended in mid-air.

The next important track is Sugarfoot Stomp, which has a memorable solo from Louis and some interesting contrasts in the orchestration. It also seems to be moving away from the two-beat rhythm. Further breakthroughs are evident in The Stampede, which has an explosive introduction from newcomer Rex Stewart and a refined trumpet solo by Joe Smith. Henderson Stomp has energetic solos from Fats Waller and Tommy Ladnier, in a Don Redman arrangement which creates some marvellous orchestral textures. The Chant returns us to a more temperate beat, with majestic pipe organ from Waller.

Waller also contributed to the band such compositions as St Louis Shuffle, Whiteman Stomp, Hop Off and (one of the band's best-known numbers) Stealin' Apples. Apparently Fats supplied many of these to the band in exchange for Fletcher Henderson paying for a dozen hamburgers which the voracious Waller consumed at a restaurant!

This first CD covers the years 1923 to 1927 - a period when Don Redman's innovative arrangements made the band a force to reckon with. But Redman left in 1927 to lead McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and the Henderson band struggled for a while. At the start of the second CD, some of the tracks seem fairly routine, reverting to earlier styles, although King Porter Stomp was a success as recorded both by Henderson and Benny Goodman. Its status is underlined by the tune's appearance three times in this compilation.

The band seemed to be in the doldrums until around 1930, when newcomers like Benny Carter provided enterprising arrangements. Tracks like Blazin' show how Coleman Hawkins had developed into a major soloist on the tenor sax. Another significant change came in the early 1930s, when John Kirby switched from using the tuba to the string bass - an important element in the swing era's move from two to four-in-a-bar. This swing can be heard in such tracks as Somebody Loves Me. Benny Carter's alto solo in Keep A Song In Your Soul exemplifies the easy relaxation of the four-in-a-bar style. Hot And Anxious includes the riff which became In The Mood.

The third CD takes us from 1932 to 1938. Fletcher disbanded his orchestra in 1939 and joined Benny Goodman as a staff arranger, having paved the way for Goodman and other swing bandleaders to build on his innovations. Coleman Hawkins' solos in New King Porter Stomp and Honeysuckle Rose manifest how he had learnt to play across the beat to achieve a new legato style. Hawkins composed Queer Notions, as startling in 1933 as Dizzy Gillespie's Things To Come was in 1946: prophesying the weird voicings of later jazz.

The last ten tracks of the third CD are recordings from 1934 and 1936. Several of them seem lacklustre, perhaps explaining why they were omitted from the original four-LP set. I am sorry that this collection doesn't include Hot Mustard, one of the most melodious Henderson tracks.

Despite it being an essential addition to any jazz collection, this set is not without its flaws. A posting on the internet lists numerous faults in the editing which lead to some dropouts in such tracks as Alabamy Bound and Variety Stomp. And the personnel listings are not completely reliable. For instance, the vocalists on Tozo and Under The Harlem Moon are not listed, and I believe the growling trumpet solo on Raisin' The Roof is by the unnamed sideman Cootie Williams.

Nonetheless this is a classic compilation which may remind people what a pioneering group Fletcher Henderson's orchestra was. In some ways, its innovations may have been copied too slavishly by subsequent big bands, leading to tedious block arrangements and stereotyped tactics. Yet the band - and particularly such arrangers as Don Redman - advanced the options available to jazz groups. And the Henderson orchestra was the hothouse where many great musicians developed their skills to add to the richness of jazz.

Tony Augarde

www.augardebooks.co.uk



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