Jazz at 100 Hour 5: Up in Harlem – The Bands (1924 – 1929)

Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra

In the last hour, we explored the jazz of King Oliver’s Chicago in the 1920s, and heard from The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, clarinetists Jimmy Noone and Johnny Dodds, pianists Earl Hines and Lovie Austin, cornetist Freddie Keppard and trumpeter Jabbo Smith.

Now we move to the other emerging center of the music, New York. While New York hosted small combos similar to Chicago, it also grew a number of significant larger groups and orchestras. We’ll hear from orchestras led by Fletcher Henderson, Paul Whiteman, Don Redman and Red Allen. Within these bands, we’ll find some of the greatest soloists of the period – Bix Beiderbecke, Coleman Hawkins, Miff Mole, and Louis Armstrong, who spent a little more than a year in Harlem in 1924 and 1925.

Fletcher Henderson Orchestra.
The most important big band in early jazz, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra provided (according to Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens their book Jazz)“… a showcase for the finest black musicians in New York. A short list of major jazz figures who worked with him includes, in addition to the remarkable trinity of [Louis] Armstrong, [tenor saxophonist Coleman] Hawkins and [arranger/bandleader/saxophonist/singer Don] Redman, …trumpet players Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladnier, Henry ‘Red’ Allen, Roy Eldridge; trombonists Jimmy Harrison, Benny Morton, JC Higgenbotham, Dicky Wells; clarinetists and saxophonists Benny Carter…, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Chu Berry, Russell Procope, Omer Simeon; bassists John Kirby, Israel Crosby; drummers Kaiser Marshall, Sidney Catlett; and arranger Horace Henderson.”

In 1924, at the urging of Lil Armstrong,

Louis Armstrong moved from King Oliver’s band in Chicago to the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in search of greater opportunities. While Armstrong felt constrained and underutilized during his year-long tenure with Henderson, he changed the nature of this seminal big band. He brought a strong sense of swing and created a focus on virtuosi soloists. As Ted Gioia writes in his History of Jazz, “…Armstrong was pointing the way to a more modern conception of improvisation. In the end his impact was decisive – for the Henderson band, for the New York scene, for the jazz world.”

“Perhaps Armstrong’s greatest contribution was to teach the world to swing. He introduced a new rhythmic energy that would eventually become second nature to people everywhere.” – Gary Giddens & Scott DeVeaux

Copenhagen. Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Elmer Chambers-tp, Howard Scott-tp, Charlie Green-tb, Don Redman-cl/as, Coleman Hawkins-cl/ts, Buster Bailey-cl/as, Charlie Dixon-bj, Ralph Escudero-b, Kaiser Marshall-d). 10/30/1924. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
Again quoting Giddens and DeVeaux, “Louis Armstrong’s jolting blues chorus is an undoubted highlight in the performance also notable for the spirit of the ensemble and of individual contributions such as Charlie Green’s trombone smears and Buster Bailey’s whirling clarinet.”
Shanghai Shuffle. Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra
(Louis Armstrong-tp, Elmer Chambers-tp, Howard Scott-tp, Charlie Green-tb, Don Redman-cl/as, Coleman Hawkins-cl/ts, Buster Bailey-cl/as, Charlie Dixon-bj, Ralph Escudero-b, Kaiser Marshall-d). 11/7/1924.
Sugarfoot Stomp. Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra
(Elmer Chambers-tp, Joe Smith-tp, Louis Armstrong-tp, Charlie Green-tb, Buster Bailey-cl/as, Don Redman-cl/as, Coleman Hawkins-cl/ts/bsx, Fletcher Henderson-p, Charlie Dixon-bj, Bob Escudero-bb, Kaiser Marshall-d). 5/29/1925.
The Stampede. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra
(Russell Smith-tp, Rex Stewart-c, Benny Morton-tb, Buster Bailey-reeds, Don Redman-reeds, Coleman Hawkins-reeds, Charlie Dixon-bj, Ralph Escudero-tu, Kaiser Marshall-d). 5.14.1926. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Rhythmically liberated by playing alongside Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins established himself as the most important solo voice in Henderson’s band after Armstrong’s departure, while creating the tenor sax as a leading jazz voice. Ted Gioia writes, “[An] insistent style of ensemble work is already noticeable. The textures behind the soloists are no longer passive harmonic cushions, but extroverted lines that propel the improvisation with incisive counterrhythms.”

In the New York Times Essential Library of Jazz, Ben Ratliff writes, “… [Fletcher Henderson] is important for several reasons. One, he established the size of the big-band orchestra, making his instrumentation the standard… Two… the best players in the country were drawn to him. Three, the range of his work is a lesson in how far towards both art and commerce a bandleader could lean… And four, his work includes important keys to understanding Louis Armstrong and Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller and Roy Eldridge.” – Ben Ratliff

Paul Whiteman.
A hugely successful bandleader, probably the best selling popular artist of his day, Whiteman used the sobriquet, “King of Jazz”, although few today assess his legacy in those terms. He did incorporate jazz into his repertoire and employed many talented and influential jazz musicians, like trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer, violinist Joe Venuti, guitarist Eddie Lang, future bandleaders and brothers – alto saxophonist Jimmy Dorsey and trombonist Tommy Dorsey, and Armstrong-influenced singer Bing Crosby.

Rhapsody In Blue. Paul Whiteman Orchestra. 4/21/1927
Whiteman commissioned George Gershwin to write a “Jazz concerto”. The finished work “Rhapsody in Blue”, which became Whiteman’s theme song, debuted in a concert titled “An Experiment in Modern Music” in February 1924. Interestingly, Whiteman chose to place the piece self-consciously into the, then, seven-year short history of jazz by opening the concert with a quintet from his orchestra playing their version of the first jazz recording – Livery Stable Blues, released by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
Changes. Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra
(Henry Busse, Charlie Margulis-tp, Bix Beiderbecke-cor, Frankie Trumbauer-c-mel, Tommy Dorsey-tb, Chester Hazlett, Hal McLean-cl/as, Jimmy Dorsey, Nye Mayhew, Charles Strickfaden-cl/as/bs, Kurt Dieterle, Micha Russell, Mario Perry, Matt Malnick-vln, Harry Perrella-p, Mike Pingitore-bj, Mike Trafficante-bb, Steve Brown-b, Harold McDonald-d, Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, Harry Barris, Jack Fulton, Charles Gaylord, Austin Young-voc). 11/23/1927. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
Bix Beiderbecke takes the solo turn on the cornet, a decidedly bit part for so great a talent. Giddens and Deveaux write, “[Arranger Bill] Challis emphasizes the changes between new and old with contrasting rhythms and two vocal groups. Rhythmically, he alternates a Charleston beat (two emphatic beats followed by a rest), usually enunciated by the trumpets, with the more evenly stated rhythms of the violins.”

Don Redman.
A key architect of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra sound, arranger/instrumentalist/vocalist Don Redman was enticed in 1927 to Detroit to bring his New York attitude to McKinney’s Cotton Pickers a high-precision and inventive big band. In the Penguin Jazz Guide, Morton and Cook write, “McKinney’s Cotton Pickers were among the most forward-looking of the large bands of their era: while the section-work retains all the timbral qualities of the 20s and the rhythm sections still depends on brass bass and banjo, the drive and measure of the arrangements and the gleaming momentum of their best records both suggest the direction that big bands would take in the next decade.”

Cherry. McKinney’s Cotton Pickers
(Langston Curl-tp, John Nesbit-tp, Claude Jones-tb, Don Redman-cl/as, Milton Senior-cl/as, George Thomas-cl/ts/cel, Prince Robinson-cl/ts, Todd Rhodes-p, Dave Wilborn-bj, Ralph Escudero-b, Cuba Austin-d, Jean Napier-voc). 7/12/1928.
Save It, Pretty Mama. 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.
Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You? McKinney’s Cotton Pickers
(Joe Smith-tp, Sidney de Paris-tp, Leonard Davis-tp, Claude Jones-tb, Don Redman-as, Benny Carter-as, Coleman Hawkins-ts, Theodore McCord-ts, Leroy Tibbs-p, Dave Wilborn-bj, Billy Taylor-bb, Kaiser Marshall-d). 11/5/1929.

Henry “Red” Allen.
At his peak, a serious rival to Louis Armstrong, in the late twenties, Allen led one of the best bands in New York.
Make A Country Bird Fly. Henry Allen, Jr and his New York Orchestra
(Henry “Red” Allen-tp, J.C. Higginbotham-tb, Albert Nicholas-cl/as, Charlie Holmes-cl/ss/as, Teddy Hill-cl/ts/bs, Luis Russell-p/cel, Will Johnson-bj/g, Pops Foster-b, Paul Barbarin-d, The Four Wanderers-voc). 9/24/1929.
Morton and Cook write, “The beautifully sustained solo on ‘Make a Country Bird Fly Wild’ works through a tricky stop-time passage with some of [Armstrong’s] rhythmic risk and nobility of tone but with less predictability and less reliance on telegraphed high notes. [JC] Higgenbotham [on trombone] is wonderfully characterful, agile yet snarlingly expressive, and vastly underrated [Charlie] Holmes matches the young Johnny Hodges for hard-hitting lyicism.”

Swing Out. Henry Allen, Jr and his New York Orchestra
(Henry “Red” Allen-tp, J.C. Higginbotham-tb, Albert Nicholas-cl/as, Charlie Holmes-cl/ss/as, Teddy Hill-cl/ts, Luis Russell-p, Will Johnson-bj/g, Pops Foster-b, Paul Barbarin-d/vib). 7/17/1929.
Feeling Drowsy. Henry Allen, Jr and his New York Orchestra
(Henry “Red” Allen-tp, J.C. Higginbotham-tb, Albert Nicholas-cl/as, Charlie Holmes-cl/ss/as, Teddy Hill-cl/ts, Luis Russell-p, Will Johnson-bj/g, Pops Foster-b, Paul Barbarin-d/vib). 7/17/1929.

In the next hour, we’ll stay in New York to the listen to the Harlem-style or “stride” pianists – James P Johnson, Willie “ The Lion” Smith, Fats Waller and the king of them all, Art Tatum.

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
I Got Rhythm – The Music of George Gershwin. Smithsonian Folkways 107
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers – Put It There. Frog DGF 25
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers – Cotton Picker’s Scat. Frog DGF 26
Henry “Red” Allen: 1929 – 1933. Classics 540
Classic Jazz: Vol. 011, Louis Armstrong (1924). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection
Classic Jazz: Vol. 014, Louis Armstrong in New York (1925). World’s Greatest Jazz Collection

Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 5. New York in the 1920s
Kirchner, Bill (editor). 2000. The Oxford Companion To Jazz. New York, NY. The Oxford University Press.
“Hot Music in the 1920s: The “Jazz Age,” Appearances and Realities” by Richard M. Sudhalter
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.
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers – Put It There
McKinney’s Cotton Pickers – Cotton Picker’s Scat
Henry “Red” Allen: 1929 – 1933
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)

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