Saturday, December 19, 2009


Musician, bandleader, jazz pianist, arranger Fletcher Henderson, was born on December 18, 1897, in Cuthbert, Georgia. Both of his parents and his brother were musicians. He began studying piano at the age of six and was educated in private school. He majored in science at Atlanta University and earned extra money playing piano. Young Henderson arrived in New York in 1920, with the intention of going to graduate school but he began playing piano on a river boat on the Hudson River, and decided to become a musician.

From 1920-1924, he was with the Harry Pace/W.C. Handy Music Company where he worked as a song demonstrator. Later, he became recording director and accompanist for the Pace Phonograph Corporation whose label name was Black Swan. The company was formed in January of 1921, with John Nail and William Edward Burghardt DuBois on the board of directors. William Grant Still was the music director and all of the employees and stockholders in the company were African Americans. Fletcher Henderson toured with the Black Swan Troubadours and Ethel Waters, promoting the company's recordings.

In 1924, Henderson organized a big band. They played regularly at various clubs and ballrooms in New York, and toured widely, recording a great deal. In 1939, Fletcher Henderson joined Benny Goodman's band as staff arranger. During the forties he reorganized his big band to play at the Roseland and Savoy ballrooms for special occasions. He arranged for Benny Goodman again for a short period in 1947 and toured with Ethel Waters again in 1948-1949. In 1950 he led a jazz sextet. He suffered a stroke which forced him into retirement.

Henderson is credited with being the first jazzman to organize a big band. His arrangements for both black and white orchestras were the foundation for what became known as the Swing Era. His orchestra was the first African-American band to broadcast regularly over the radio. Some of the most influential jazz musicians performed with his groups over the years. They include Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, Henry (Red) Allen and many others. Henderson never received the credit he deserved and some critics believe that he is rightfully the "King of Swing."

If Benny Goodman was the "King of Swing," then Fletcher Henderson was the power behind the throne. Not only did Henderson arrange the music that powered Goodman's meteoric rise, he also helped launch the careers of Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins, among others. In Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz: The Uncrowned King of Swing, Jeffrey Magee offers a fascinating account of this pivotal bandleader, throwing new light on the emergence of modern jazz and the world that created it.

Drawing on an unprecedented combination of sources, including sound recordings, obscure stock arrangements, and hundreds of scores that have been available only since Goodman's death, Magee illuminates Henderson's musical output, from his early work as a New York bandleader, to his pivotal role in building the Kingdom of Swing. He shows how Henderson, standing at the forefront of the New York jazz scene during the 1920s and '30s, assembled the era's best musicians, simultaneously preserving jazz's distinctiveness and performing popular dance music that reached a wide audience.

Magee reveals how, in Henderson's largely segregated musical world, black and white musicians worked together to establish jazz, how Henderson's style rose out of collaborations with many key players, how these players deftly combined improvised and written music, and how their work negotiated artistic and commercial impulses. And Magee reveals how, in the depths of the Depression, record producer John Hammond brought together Henderson and Goodman, a fortuitous collaboration that changed the face of American music.#

Fletcher was indeed a monumental musician who helped shape an entire musical era.

Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra introduced by Lena Horne.

Reference - Jeffrey Magee

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