Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Jazz Part III - Emergence of Swing and the Big Band

Verse 1.) Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra

Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) was a bandleader, arranger, composer and pianist, one of the most important names in Jazz history. He was born in Cuthbert, Georgia, his father was a former slave who was freed by General Sherman during the Civil War and who went on to become an educator during Reconstruction, and his mother taught piano. He attended Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated in 1920, where he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first intercollegiate Greek-letter organization established for African Americans. After graduation, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia University for a master's degree in chemistry. However, he found his job prospects in chemistry to be very restricted due to his race, and turned to music for a living.

In 1922 he formed his own band, which was resident first at the Club Alabam then at the Roseland, and quickly became known as the best "Colored" band in New York. For a time his ideas of arrangement were heavily influenced by those of Paul Whiteman, but when Louis Armstrong joined his orchestra in 1924 Henderson realized there could be a much richer potential for jazz band orchestration. Henderson's band also boasted the formidable arranging talents of Don Redman (from 1922 to 1927).

At one time or another, in addition to Louis Armstrong, lead trumpeters included Henry "Red" Allen, Joe Smith, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladnier, Doc Cheatham and Roy Eldridge on trumpet. Lead saxophonists included Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, Benny Carter and Chu Berry. Sun Ra also worked as an arranger during the 1940s during Henderson's engagement at the Club De Lisa in Chicago. Sun Ra himself said that on first hearing Henderson's orchestra as a teenager he assumed that they must be angels because no human could produce such beautiful music.

Beginning in the early 1930s, Fletcher's piano-playing younger brother, Horace Henderson contributed to the arrangements of the band. He later led a band of his own that also received critical acclaim. Although Fletchers band was very popular, he had little success managing the it. He was better regarded as an arranger - he started arranging around 1931, or so - and his arrangements became influential. In addition to his own band he arranged for Teddy Hill, Isham Jones, and most famously, Benny Goodman.
While Henderson's music was loved by the masses, his band began to fold with the 1929 stock market crash. The loss of financial stability resulted in the selling of many arrangements from his songbooks to the later-to-be-acclaimed "King of Swing" Benny Goodman.

Verse 2.) Chick Webb and the Club Savoy

Verse 3.) Ohh Yeah -- Duke Elington

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (April 29, 1899 – May 24, 1974) was a composer, pianist, and big band leader. Ellington wrote over 1,000 compositions. In the words of Bob Blumenthal of the Boston Globe "In the century since his birth, there has been no greater composer, American or otherwise, than Edward Kennedy Ellington."

A prominent figure in the history of jazz, Ellington's music stretched into various other genres, including blues, gospel, film scores, popular, and classical. His career spanned more than 50 years and included leading his orchestra, composing an inexhaustible songbook, scoring for movies, composing stage musicals, and world tours. Several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. Due to his inventive use of the orchestra, or big band, and thanks to his eloquence and extraordinary charisma, he is generally considered to have elevated the perception of jazz to an art form on a par with other traditional genres of music. His reputation increased after his death, the Pulitzer Prize Board bestowing a special posthumous honor in 1999.

Ellington called his music "American Music" rather than jazz, and liked to describe those who impressed him as "beyond category". These included many of the musicians who were members of his orchestra, some of whom are considered among the best in jazz in their own right, but it was Ellington who melded them into one of the most well-known jazz orchestral units in the history of jazz. He often composed specifically for the style and skills of these individuals, such as "Jeep's Blues" for Johnny Hodges, "Concerto for Cootie" for Cootie Williams, which later became "Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me" with Bob Russell's lyrics, and "The Mooche" for Tricky Sam Nanton and Bubber Miley. He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as Juan Tizol's "Caravan" and "Perdido" which brought the 'Spanish Tinge' to big-band jazz. Several members of the orchestra remained there for several decades. After 1941, he frequently collaborated with composer-arranger-pianist Billy Strayhorn, whom he called his "writing and arranging companion." Ellington recorded for many American record companies, and appeared in several films.

Ellington led his band from 1923 until his death in 1974. His son Mercer Ellington, who had already been handling all administrative aspects of his father's business for several decades, led the band until his own death in 1996. At that point, the original band dissolved. Paul Ellington, Mercer's youngest son and executor of the Duke Ellington estate, kept the Duke Ellington Orchestra going from Mercer's death onwards.

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