Fletcher Henderson: A Study In Frustration

CD reissue of the 1962 LP set reminds of Henderson's big-band innovations, their appropriation by others causing the frustration of the title


This three-CD set is a reissue in full of the acclaimed CBS four-LP set from 1962, a 64-track selection of orchestral recordings spanning 1923-1938. A generous 10 bonus tracks (1934-36) are added. The title refers to the injustice Henderson must have felt when his personal important contribution to the style and development of orchestrated jazz became overshadowed by the achievements of many who had benefited under his direction.

A stickler for the highest professional standards, he assembled and drilled an impressive group of talented young black musicians (including Coleman Hawkins) in 1924, and was duly hired to play in New York’s most prestigious ballroom, the Roseland Theatre. Initially the orchestra played hot dance music, similar in style to Paul Whiteman for the all white dancers. Meantime, however, Henderson’s talented young arranger Don Redman was busy creating new ideas which would influence big-band arranging for many years. This involved interplay of brass and reed sections, often in call-and-response manner, sometimes with one section riffing in support behind the other. Brief stand-out solos were interspersed between arranged passages which began to feature clarinet trios.

On CDs 1 and 2, Copenhagen, The Stampede, Clarinet Marmalade and the three versions of King Porter Stomp are classic examples. Original, rather than routine stock arrangements, was groundbreaking stuff in 1924. The band was learning to play in a hotter jazz style to meet growing public demand, and Henderson shrewdly hired the sensational young cornettist from New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, who had recently left King Oiver.

Louis is heard here on tracks 3-11 on CD1, in brief but arresting solo passages. Shanghai Shuffle and Sugarfoot Stomp became popular hits. His inspired playing spurred on his colleagues, who went on to become a top-class orchestra that could really swing. After Armstrong, Rex Stewart sets out his stall convincingly in The Stampede and blues specialist Tommy Ladnier impresses in Snag It and St. Louis Blues. CD1 reaches 1927 with striking contributions from Buster Bailey, Coleman Hawkins and Fats Waller.

On CD2 (1927-31), Bobby Stark and Rex Stewart, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter, Buster Bailey and Russell Procope all strut their stuff with gusto on colourful upbeat tracks such as Hop Off, King Porter Stomp, Raisin’ The Roof, Wang Wang Blues and Chinatown. On CD3 (1932-38), luminaries such as Henry “Red” Allen, Roy Eldridge, Emmett Berry, Dickie Wells, J. C. Higginbotham, Chu Berry and Ben Webster take full advantage of solo spotlight opportunities, keeping standards sky high. Upbeat specials Yeah Man, Rhythm Of The Tambourine and Hotter Than ’Ell swing vigorously.

Henderson’s arrangement of Christopher Columbus became a big hit, quickly seized on by other bands with great success. Fletcher, with failing business acumen exacerbated by a road accident, neglected to exploit this chance to hugely boost the band’s bookings. Adding to his frustration, his arrangement of King Porter Stomp, passed on to Benny Goodman, helped catapult Benny into prominence in 1935 as the “King Of Swing”. In 1939 Henderson folded his full-time orchestra and became Goodman’s full-time staff arranger.

It needs to be noted that the discography is somewhat slipshod and lacking in places. There are typos such as “Shanghai Suffle” for Shanghai Shuffle, and “Freezy and Melt” instead of Freeze An’ Melt. Cootie Williams is wrongly included in the front cover list of featured personnel. The several featured vocalists are not identified. Matrix numbers are not given to establish which takes have been used.

However, this otherwise excellent reissue, packed with swinging performances from the finest jazzmen of the era, offers great listening enjoyment besides a window on the Henderson band’s influence on the development of classic era big-band jazz, and on its role in triggering the swing era boom which followed.

CD1: (1) The Dicty Blues; Teapot Dome Blues; Go ’Long Mule; Shanghai Shuffle; Copenhagen; Everybody Loves My Baby; How Come You Do Me Like You Do; Alabamy Bound; Sugarfoot Stomp; T.N.T.; The Stampede; Jackass Blues; Henderson Stomp; The Chant; Snag It; Rocky Mountain Blues; Tozo; St. Louis Shuffle; Whiteman Stomp; I’m Coming Virginia; Varsity Stomp; St. Louis Blues; Goose Pimples (72.56)
CD2: Hop Off; King Porter Stomp; D Natural Blues; Oh Baby; Feeling Good; I’m Feeling Devilish; Old Black Joe Blues; Easy Money; Come On Baby; Freeze An’ Melt; Raisin’ The Roof; Blazin’; Wang Wang Blues; Chinatown, My Chinatown; Somebody Loves Me; Keep A Song In Your Soul; Sweet And Hot; My Gal Sal; Sugarfoot Stomp; Clarinet Marmalade; Hot And Anxious; Comin’ And Goin’; Singing The Blues; Sugar (75.25)
CD3: Blue Moments; New KIng Porter Stomp; Underneath The Harlem Moon; Honeysuckle Rose; Yeah Man; Queer Notions; Can You Take It; King Porter Stomp; Christopher Columbus; Stealin’ Apples; Blue Lou; Rhythm Of TheTambourine; Back In Your Old Backyard; Chris And His Gang; Sing You Sinners; Moten Stomp; (2) Wild Party; Rug Cutter’s Swing; Hotter Than ’Ell; Liza; I’m A Fool For Loving You; Moonrise On The Lowdowns; I’ll Always Be In Love With You; Jangled Nerves; Grand Terrace Rhythm Riffin’ (75.12)
(1) Henderson and orch. as issued on the original LP set, NY, various dates, 1923-1938. (2) Henderson and orch. Bonus tracks, NY and Chicago, various dates, 1934 and 1936. Personnel includes: Fletcher and Horace Henderson (p, arr); Louis Armstrong, Rex Stewart (c); Tommy Ladnier, Bobby Stark, Henry “Red” Allen, Roy Eldridge, Emmett Berry (t); Don Redman, Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, Benny Carter, Chu Berry, Ben Webster (reeds); J.C. Higginbotham, Dicky Wells (tb); Fats Waller (p); John Kirby (b); Kaiser Marshall (d).
Poll Winners Records PWR 27380