Monday, 1 April 2013

15. Fletcher Henderson: His Best Recordings 1921-1941

Until the career of Duke Ellington began to take of in the late 20's, Fletcher Henderson was probably the most popular and successful band leader and arranger in the 20's jazz scene, particularly in New York. He wasn't one for the limelight and preferred his star musicians to take centre stage. This is perhaps one of the reasons that I haven't focused on him exclusively in the main blog yet I have looked at a lot of the musicians that came into contact with his band throughout the 20's and 30's. Musicians like Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller, Tommy Ladnier, Chu Berry, Roy Eldridge and (sadly unrecorded) Lester Young.

And so we have a collection from the excellent "Best Of Jazz" label that showcases the music of Henderson's career from 1921 to 1941. A twenty year span that encompasses the very early days of jazz right through to the end of its most popular form. The collection kicks off quite inauspiciously with the track "Pretty Ways". it's a very stiff number that may not even be considered jazz - more of a ragtime number. Yet it serves as a nice reminder of where the subsequent music emanated from. Coleman Hawkins joined Henderson's orchestra as far back as 1923. A colossus in terms of his impact on jazz yet in the early years his style and technique were decidedly wooden. It took the arrival of Louis Armstrong to the band in 1924 to shake things up and to alter the direction of Henderson's orchestra and to leave a considerable impression on the likes of Hawkins (check out track 18 "Big John's Special" for evidence of this). Satchmo's playing is represented well in the tracks "Everybody Loves My Baby" and "Sugar Foot Stomp".

Despite being the top big band of the time, Henderson's recordings at this time were not exactly prolific.Yet there are some great tracks on this collection from the period 1926 -1927 featuring Fats Waller on the piano on "The Henderson Stomp" and "The Chant". Armstrong's replacement in Tommy Ladnier is the man on the horn on the tracks "Fidgety Feet", "I'm Coming Virginia" and "Hop Off".  Henderson and his brother Horace took over the arrangements after the departure of Don Redman and effected a more nuanced swing sensibility to the band in the early 1930's. The track "Hot And Anxious" features an extremely familiar riff from a track that would become one of the most instantly recognisable songs in popular music history - Glenn Miller's "In The Mood".

With Coleman Hawkins deciding to embark on new musical adventures in Europe coinciding with the rise of the new "King Of Swing", Benny Goodman, Henderson's musical fortunes began to wane in the mid 30's and he turned his attention to arranging. He did however find time to make one more big hit in the form of "Christopher Columbus" featuring a young Roy Eldridge and Chu Berry. This along with the recording of "Blue Lou" and "Stealin' Apples" are featured in this collection. The final track is a great choice as it features a nice piano solo from the man himself.

1. Pretty Ways
2. Unknown Blues
3. Hard Hearted Hannah
4. Everybody Loves My Baby
5. Sugar Foot Stomp
6. What-Cha-Call-'Em Blues
7.  Henderson Stomp
8. The Chant
9. Fidgety Feet
10.I'm Coming Virginia
11. Hop Off
12. Blazin'
13. Somebody Loves Me
14. Hot and Anxious
15. The House of David Blues
16. Honeysuckle Rose
17. It's the Talk of the Town
18. Big John's Special
19. Christopher Columbus
20. Blue Lou
21. Stealin' Apples
22.  Let's Go Home

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