Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, 1924-25

Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, 1924-1925
(The Chronological Classics, 633)

Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) was very important to early jazz as leader of the first great jazz big band, as an arranger and composer in the 1930s, and as a masterful talent scout. Between 1923-1939, quite an all-star cast of top young black jazz musicians passed through his orchestra, including trumpeters Louis Armstrong, Joe Smith, Tommy Ladnier, Rex Stewart, Bobby Stark, Cootie Williams, Red Allen, and Roy Eldridge; trombonists Charlie Green, Benny Morton, Jimmy Harrison, Sandy Williams, J.C. Higginbottham, and Dickie Wells; clarinetist Buster Bailey; tenors Coleman Hawkins (1924-1934), Ben Webster, Lester Young (whose brief stint was not recorded), and Chu Berry; altoists Benny Carter, Russell Procope, and Hilton Jefferson; bassists John Kirby and Israel Crosby; drummers Kaiser Marshall, Walter Johnson, and Sid Catlett; guest pianist Fats Waller; and such arrangers as Don Redman, Benny Carter, Edgar Sampson, and Fletcher's younger brother Horace Henderson. And yet, at the height of the swing era, Henderson's band was little-known.

Fletcher Henderson had a degree in chemistry and mathematics, but when he came to New York in 1920 with hopes of becoming a chemist, the only job he could find (due to the racism of the times) was as a song demonstrator with the Pace-Handy music company. Harry Pace soon founded the Black Swan label, and Henderson, a versatile but fairly basic pianist, became an important contributor behind the scenes, organizing bands and backing blues vocalists. Although he started recording as a leader in 1921, it was not until January 1924 that he put together his first permanent big band. Using Don Redman's innovative arrangements, he was soon at the top of his field. His early recordings (Henderson made many records during 1923-1924) tend to be both futuristic and awkward, with strong musicianship but staccato phrasing. However, after Louis Armstrong joined up in late 1924 and Don Redman started contributing more swinging arrangements, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra had no close competitors artistically until the rise of Duke Ellington in 1927.
-Scott Yanow

01 - Prince of Wails (Schoebel)

02 - Mandy, Make up Your Mind (Clarke, Johnston, Meyer)

03 - I'll See You in My Dreams (Jones, Kahn)

04 - Why Couldn't It Be Poor Little Me? (Jones, Kahn)

05 - Bye and Bye (Nelson, Pease, Vincent)

06 - Play Me Slow (Hagen, O'Flynn, Oflynn)

07 - Alabamy Bound (DeSylva, Green, Henderson)

08 - Swanee Butterfly (Donaldson, Rose)

09 - Poplar Street Blues (Mont, Short)

10 - 12th Street Blues (Heagney)

11 - Me Neenyah (My Little One) (Brown, Spencer)

12 - Memphis Bound (Banta, De Rose)

13 - When You Do What You Do (Johnson, Parish)

14 - I'll Take Her Back If She Wants to Come Back (Leslie, Monaco)

15 - Money Blues (Coleman, Eller, Leader)

16 - Sugar Foot Stomp (Armstrong, King Oliver)

17 - What-Cha-Call-'Em Blues (Roberts)
18 - I Miss My Swiss (Baer, Gilbert)
19 - Alone at Last (Fio Rito, Kahn)

20 - T N T (Schoebel)

21 - Carolina Stomp (Bloom, Costello)

22 - Sleepy Time Gal (Alden, Egan, Lorenzo, Whiting)

23 - Then I'll Be Happy (Brown, Clare, Friend)



Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, 1924 vol.3
(The Chronological Classics, 647)

During the autumn of 1924, Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra continued to make hot little records for many different labels. The front line begins to look impressive, with trombonist Big Charlie Green sitting not far from Coleman Hawkins and Don Redman. "Forsaken Blues" has an ooh-wacka-ooh brass line and a big nasty bass sax solo by Hawkins after someone -- probably Redman -- makes a noise like an enraged ferret. On the catchy "Cold Mamas (Burn Me Up)," the bass sax is accompanied by a goofus, or melodica, played by the ever-resourceful Redman. Conventional jazz history states that the addition of Louis Armstrong to the Henderson orchestra in September of 1924 initiated a change in this organization's overall chemistry, which would soon become evident. This particular CD provides audible evidence. The diminutive trumpeter from New Orleans-cum-Chicago really did transform Henderson's band beginning with his participation in the session of October 7, 1924. First heard on "Manda," composed by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Armstrong stands out as King Oliver's right-hand man. "Go 'Long, Mule" has a bizarre novelty solo by Redman using only the mouthpiece of his horn to generate a sort of Punch & Judy cartoon voice.

Four tunes recorded for Pathe Actuelle on October 13, 1924, are notable for the insistent burping sound of Ralph Escudero's tuba. The exciting "Shanghai Shuffle" comes across in two distinctive interpretations, with an oboe solo by Redman on the first version. "Copenhagen" is real jazz with a hot solo from Armstrong, strong trombone breaks from Charlie Green, and a Redman arrangement to make it cook properly. The first of three versions of "Naughty Man" has a fine solo by Green, while on the second he seems to be getting his licks in quickly, and by version number three he muscles in for two solo breaks. But the real highlight here is definitely Armstrong. Everything he blows is remarkably fine, and it's easy to see why he quickly went from being an object of ridicule to the most imitated musician in all of jazz. The man had a lot of soul, and his solos -- along with Redman's arrangements -- quickly transformed Henderson's records from run-of-the-mill dance music into real jazz. The crowning glory on this CD is "Everybody Loves My Baby," both an instrumental take and Armstrong's very first recorded vocal, consisting of merrily shouted outbursts during the coda. Listening to all of these sides in sequence, it is obvious what a difference Louis Armstrong made in this band, and the chronology spells it out unmistakably.

01. He's The Hottest Man In Town
02. I Never Care 'Bout Tomorrow
03. Forsaken Blues
04. Cold Mamas (Burn Me Up)
05. Manda
06. Go 'Long, Mule
07. Tell Me, Dreamy Eyes
08. My Rose Marie
09. Don't Forget You'll Regret Day By Day
10. Shanghai Shuffle
11. Words
12. Copenhagen
13. Shanghai Shuffle
14. Naughty Man
15. One Of These Days
16. My Dream Man
17. The Meanest Kind Of Blues
18. Naughty Man
19. How Come You Do Me Like You Do?
20. Araby
21. Everybody Loves My Baby (Vocal)
22. Everybody Loves My Baby (Instr.)
23. Naughty Man



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