Jazz at 100 Hour 10: Birth of the Big Bands

In the last hour, we listened to the pioneering jazz orchestra of Duke Ellington. Large jazz ensembles, such as Ellington’s, soon to be known as “Big Bands”, evolved through the 1920s with significant innovations led by bandleaders Fletcher Henderson, Benny Carter, Jimmy Lunceford and Don Redman, and arrangers Carter, Redman, Edgar Sampson and Sy Oliver. By the mid-1930s Big Bands dominated popular music.

Don Redman Arranging for The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra.
Don Redman joined Fletcher Henderson in 1923 and rapidly became the chief arranger and author of the famous Henderson sound that celebrated the interplay of four units- reeds, trumpets, trombones and rhythm. Redman was arranging for Henderson when Louis Armstrong arrived and shook up the band. “The standard had been raised, and no one understood that better than Redman, who later acknowledged that he changed his orchestration style to accommodate Armstrong’s daring … Redman’s writing began to take on a commanding directness and sharper rhythmic gait. Nor was his fanciful use of breaks and popular melodies lost on Armstong, who employed them in the Hot Five sessions he initiatied after his year with Henderson.” – Gary Giddens & Scott Deveaux

The Dicty Blues. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
(Elmer Chambers-cor, Teddy Nixon?-tb, Don Redman-cl/as, Coleman Hawkins-ts/as/cl/bssx, Fletcher Henderson-p, Charlie Dixon-bj). 8/9/1923.
“Redman’s arrangement of “Dicty Blues” from the summer of 1923 already captures the essential quality of the new style: namely, the grouping of reed and brass instruments into separate sections, and their use as foils for each other.” – Ted Gioia
The Henderson Stomp. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra
(Russell Smith-tp, Tommy Ladnier-tp, Benny Morton-tb, Buster Bailey-reeds, Don Redman-reeds, Coleman Hawkins-reeds, Fats Waller-p, Charlie Dixon-bj, June Cole-tu, Kaiser Marshall-d). 11/3/1926.
“The Henderson Stomp from 1926, finds Redman experimenting with the structures of Harlem Stride – the performance features Fats Waller on piano, who apparently wrote the composition… – and tapping the inherently percussive and orchestral qualities of that idiom.” – Ted Gioia
Tozo. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
(Russell Smith, Joe Smith, Tommy Ladnier-tp, Benny Morton, Jimmy Harrison-tb, Buster Bailey-cl/as, Don Redman-cl/as/voc, Coleman Hawkins-cl/ts, Fletcher Henderson-p, Charlie Dixon-bj, June Cole-bb, Kaiser Marshall-d). 1/21/1927.
“By the time of ‘Tozo’, recorded in January 1927, Redman’s style is almost fully formed: the written parts, with their assured command of polyrhythms and instrumental textures, are as compelling as the solos.” – Ted Gioia

Fletcher Henderson and Swing.
As the country began to crawl out of the Great Depression, a brash new young people’s music arose as prompt for dancing. Jazz became the nation’s popular music with Fletcher Henderson leading the way. “His gift for rhythmic swing and melodic simplicity was so infectious that his music became the standard for numerous swing arrangers.” – Gary Giddens & Scott Deveaux

Wrappin’ It Up (The Lindy Glide). Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra
(Russell Smith, Irving Randolph, Red Allen-tp, Claude Jones, Keg Johnson-tb, Russell Procope, Hilton Jefferson-cl/as, Ben Webster-ts, Fletcher Henderson-p, Lawrence Lucie-g, Elmer Jamesy-b, Walter Johnson-d). 9/12/1934 (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
A virtual roadmap for swing arranging, punchy call-and-response passages lead to unison passages that restate the themes, flanking virtuoso solo work (note Red Allen’s fiery trumpet solo in the company of darting saxophones.) This was one of many arrangements that Henderson sold to the struggling Benny Goodman band, forming the background of his sound.
Blue Lou. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra
(Dick Vance-tp, Roy Eldridge-tp, Joe Thomas-tp, Fernando Arbello-tb, Ed Cuffee-tb, Willim “Buster” Bailey-cl, Scoops Carry-as, Elmer Williams-ts, Chu Berry-ts, Fletcher Henderson-p, Bob Lessey-g, John Kirby-b, Sid Catlett-d). 3/27/1936. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
Composed by Edgar Sampson, also a primary composer for Chick Webb at the time, “Blue Lou” follows the four-beat groove ideal for dancing, as the bands retooled to compete for attention in the leading urban ballrooms.

Benny Carter.
In 1927, Don Redman left Henderson’s band just as Benny Carter joined. A multi-instrumentalist, Carter was, with Johnny Hodges, the most influential alto sax player of his generation. He also assumed a big part of the arranging duties for Henderson. “As early as his 1930 arrangement of “Keep a Song in Your Soul,” Carter revealed a knack for scoring syncopated section work to rival’s Redman’s, and his block chord writing for four saxophones in ‘Symphony in Riffs,’ ‘Lonesome Nights,’ and ‘Devil’s Holiday’ from 1933 foreshadowed a signature sound of the Swing Era.” – Ted Gioia

Keep A Song in Your Soul. Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra
(Russell Smith, Bobby Stark-tp, Rex Stewart-cor/voc, Jimmy Harrison, Claude Jones-tb/voc, Benny Carter-cl/as, Harvey Boone-as, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Fletcher Henderson-p, Clarence Holiday-g/bj, John Kirby-bb, Johnson-d). 12/2/1930.
Symphony in Riffs. Benny Carter and his Orchestra
(Eddie Mallory, Bill Dillard, Dick Clark, JC Higginbotham, Keg Johnson, Fred Robinson, Wayman Carner, Glyn Paque, Johnny Russell, Teddy Wilson, Lawrence Lucie, Sid Catlett). 10/16/1933.
Lonesome Nights. Benny Carter and his Orchestra
(Eddie Mallory, Bill Dillard, Dick Clark, JC Higginbotham, Keg Johnson, Fred Robinson, Wayman Carner, Glyn Paque, Johnny Russell, Teddy Wilson, Lawrence Lucie, Sid Catlett). 10/16/1933.
Devil’s Holiday. Benny Carter and his Orchestra
(Eddie Mallory, Bill Dillard, Dick Clark, JC Higginbotham, Keg Johnson, Fred Robinson, Wayman Carner, Glyn Paque, Johnny Russell, Teddy Wilson, Lawrence Lucie, Sid Catlett). 10/16/1933.

Jimmie Lunceford.
The Lunceford band was driven by arrangements by Sy Oliver, whose later work for Tommy Dorsey was almost as influential as Fletcher Henderson’s arrangements for Benny Goodman in defining the Swing Era. “Oliver was largely responsible for the band’s signature style, which involved a two-beat feel and across-the-board harmonizing of instruments, rather than the usual call-and-response sectional divisions.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux.

Organ Grinder’s Swing. Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra
(Eddie Tompkins, Paul Webster, Melvin “Sy” Oliver, Elmer Crumbley, Russell Bowles, Eddie Durham, Willie Smith, LaForet Dent, Dan Grissom, Joe Thomas, Earl Carruthers, Edwin Wilcox, Al Norris, Moses Allen, Jimmy Crawford). 8/31/1936 (The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“The outstanding arrangement is Oliver’s transformation of “Organ Grinder Swing” into an off-the-wall fantasy in which the colors change every eight measures, from growl trumpet and vamping baritone sax to celeste and woodblocks to guitar and clarinet, and so forth.” – Gary Giddens
For Dancer’s Only. Jimmie Lunceford and His Orchestra
(Eddie Tompkins, Paul Webster, Melvin “Sy” Oliver, Elmer Crumbley, Russell Bowles, Eddie Durham, Willie Smith, Ed Brown, Dan Grissom, Joe Thomas, Earl Carruthers, Edwin Wilcox, Al Norris, Moses Allen, Jimmy Crawford). 6/15/1937.
In “For Dancers Only,” another huge hit, Oliver bypassed the generic thirty-two-bar song form in favor of an eight-bar chorus that is unceasingly altered, with unison stutter phrasing, high-note trumpet (by Paul Webster), dramatic drumming, and mounting riffs that heighten the tension throughout.” – Gary Giddens

‘Taint What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It).  Jimmie Lunceford And His Orchestra
(Eddie Tompkins, Paul Webster, Melvin “Sy” Oliver, Elmer Crumbley, Russell Bowles, Trummy Young-voc, Willie Smith, Ted Buckner, Dan Grissom, Joe Thomas, Earl Carruthers, Edwin Wilcox, Al Norris, Moses Allen, Jimmy Crawford). 1/3/1939. (The Norton Jazz Recordings / The Jazz Singers)
Trummy Young, the trombonist, vocalist and co-composer (with Sy Oliver) was one of those characteristic journeymen players who populated bands throughout the history of jazz. Young recorded with bands led by Earl Hines, Jimmie Lunceford, Teddy Wilson (with Billie Holiday), Billy Eckstine, Mary Lou Williams, Dizzy Gillespie, and Oscar Pettiford over the next twenty years before settling in with Louis Armstrong’s small group, the “All-Stars”, in the mid-fifties. “Young’s hip, understated delivery, with its subtle swoops and sideways slips into speech, [and] matches the intent of the words…” [‘taint what you do, it’s the way that you do it]. – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Don Redman.
Master composer/arranger Don Redman contributed to swinging hits for Whiteman, Basie, Ellington, Dorsey, Harry James and others. In 1927, he took over as musical director for the Detroit band, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. In 1931, he formed his own orchestra and Benny Carter took over the Cotton Pickers.

I Found A New Baby. McKinney’s Cotton Pickers
(Langston Curl-tp, John Nesbitt-tp, Claude Jones-tb, Don Redman-cl/as/voc/vib, Jimmy Dudley-cl/as, George Thomas-cl/ts/voc, Prince Robinson-cl/ts, Todd Rhodes-p, Dave Wilborn-bj/voc, Ralph Escudero-bb, Cuba Austin-d/voc). 4/8/1929.
Chant of the Weed. Don Redman and His Orchestra
(Leonard Davis, Bill Coleman, Henry Allen, Claude Jones, Fred Robinson, Benny Morton, Edward Inge, Rupert Cole, Robert Carroll, Horace Henderson, Talcott Reeves, Bob Ysaguirre, Manzie Johnson, Lois Deppe). 9/24/1931.
How’m I Doin?. Don Redman and His Orchestra
(Shirley Clay, Langston Curl, Sidney De Paris, Claude Jones, Fred Robinson, Benny Morton, Edward Inge, Rupert Cole, Robert Carroll, Horace Henderson, Talcott Reeves, Bob Ysaguirre, Manzie Johnson, Lois Deppe). 2/26/1932.
In his own band, Redman blended swinging solos into tight ensemble passages all punctuated by his dry, hip patter.

In the next hour, we will turn to an emerging center of jazz as we move into the 1930s – Kansas City. We will hear the music of Pete Johnson & Joe Turner, Andy Kirk, Mary Lou Williams, Benny Moten and Count Basie. And we will get our first taste of Lester Young.

Recordings.
The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
Fletcher Henderson – A Study in Frustration, The Fletcher Henderson Story. Essential Jazz Classics EJC 55680
Benny Carter: 1933 – 1936. Classics 530
Jimmie Lunceford: 1930 – 1934. Classics 501
Classic Jazz: Vol. 086, Fletcher Henderson (1925-26). The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Classic Jazz: Vol. 087, Fletcher Henderson (1927). The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Classic Jazz: Vol. 088, Fletcher Henderson (1928-31). The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Big Band: Vol. 027, Jimmie Lunceford (1937-39). The World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers – Put It There. Frog DGF 15
Don Redman – Shakin’ The Africann. Hep CD 1001

Resources.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 5. New York in the 1920’s
Chapter 7. Swing Bands
Chapter 9. A World of Soloists
Giddins, Gary. Visions of Jazz: The First Century. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 18. Jimmie Lunceford (For Listeners, Too)
Gioia, Ted. 2011. The History of Jazz. New York. Oxford University Press.
Chapter 5. Harlem
Magee, Jeffrey. 2005. The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz. London. Oxford University Press.
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
Benny Carter: 1933 – 1936
Jimmie Lunceford: 1930 – 1934
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers – Put It There
Don Redman – Shakin’ The Africann
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 4. Fletcher Henderson, A Study in Frustration: Thesaurus of Classic Jazz (1923-1938)
Simon, George T. 1981. The Big Bands. New York. Schirmer Books.

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