100 Great Records Of The 1920s, #77.

Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra
77. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra, “Copenhagen”
(Charlie Davis/Walter Melrose)
Vocalion 1426B, 1924 · mp3
Fletcher Henderson’s early band was an important step not only in jazz, but in pop — in the broader sense of non-classical music —as well. A member of the same black middle class as Duke Ellington, he was a member of the pioneering black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha and attented Columbia University before going into music about a half-decade earlier than the Duke. His band took after neither the funky, tear-em-up heat of New Orleans jazz combos, nor the sedate, highly orchestrated whiteness of New York dance bands, but a novel and subtle mixture of the two. With arrangements by Boston Conservatory-trained clarinetist Don Redman and a larger brass section than jazz was accustomed to, Henderson experimented with sonic textures in a way that would clearly inspire the young Ellington and set off a chain reaction in arranging and production that would find echoes in Nelson Riddle, Phil Spector, George Martin and Brian Wilson all the way through to the pop music of today, which makes its impact through sonic texture quite as much as, or in some genres much more than, through melody. The layering of different textural elements was a common enough idea in classical music, of course — composers like Mahler and Debussy built careers out of it — but it was a novel concept in jazz, which had previously been mostly rhythmic, or even comic, in appeal. (White bands like Paul Whiteman’s had flirted with intricate arrangements, but they mostly served to dampen the jazz, loading the tune up with strings and other non-hot sounds.) Once Redman left his band, Henderson took over the arranging himself, and proved so good at it that he’s best-known today as Benny Goodman’s big-band arranger during Goodman’s reign as the King of Swing; and of course Henderson more or less originated the big-band sound. Though this tune was first cut as a freewheeling caper by Bix Beiderbecke’s Wolverines, Henderson’s version stomps and dervishes like it means business.

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