Friday, December 18, 2015

Fletcher Henderson: The Quiet Pioneer Of Swing

Long-time readers know I enjoy birthday posts about Georgians who have made memorable contributions to the American experience. Today is no exception as we honor the contribution of Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) to the sounds of jazz, blues, and swing, three genres still very much alive more than fifty years after the beginning of the rock revolution. 

He was born in Cuthbert into a well-educated and musical family and earned degrees in mathematics and chemistry in Atlanta and New York. As a black man he had difficulty finding work in those fields and soon turned to music to make a living. That musical career took him from accompanying Ethel Waters, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and other blues singers, through the creation of an orchestra that included Don Redman and Louis Armstrong, to work as a composer-accompanist for Benny Goodman at a formative time for the swing era.

Henderson played an important role in bringing improvisational jazz elements into big band/dance band compositions. Both Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman credited his talent as an arranger for much of their success. It is interesting that his role in the development of American popular music was not well understood until academic studies of the history of jazz appeared late in the last century.

What was the Henderson sound? Here are two examples: a 1927 recording of the Henderson orchestra and a brief "arranging workshop" featuring Goodman and Henderson followed by the Goodman orchestra performing Henderson's famous arrangement of Blue Skies:


Compact disc cover, Imports release, ASIN: B01596RGW, October 16, 2015 

Text:, Fletcher Henderson, Fletcher Henderson, Jazz: A Film by Ken Burns, Fletcher Henderson biography

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