DETROIT, MI – April 2, 2016 – Detroit’s Scarab club once again plays host to its annual swing band extravaganza. Each year highlights one of the music greats that made this art form of swing what it would become, America’s great classical jazz music.
This year the legacy of Fletcher Henderson will be presented with a two hour concert that takes place at Detroit’s Scarab Club from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. featuring Planet D Nonet (PD9), the 9-piece swing band that honors this music regularly all around Metro Detroit, Michigan and beyond. Camille Price will be featured vocalist.
Every Spring the Planet D Nonet pays tribute to one of pioneers of this music. In 2014 it was Billy Strayhorn, In 2015, Ellington at the Cotton Club, and in 2016 it’s Fletcher Henderson.
In the 1930s, Fletcher Henderson helped define the swing era sound with his own band’s performances and by selling big band jazz arrangements to Benny Goodman.
Fletcher Henderson was born in Georgia in 1897. Although he went to New York City to look for work as a chemist, he ended up becoming a pianist for Black Swan records before embarking on a career as a bandleader. He also led the backing group for Ethel Waters during one of her national tours.
In 1925, along with fellow composer Henry Troy, he wrote “Gin House Blues” as recorded by Bessie Smith and Nina Simone. Henderson’s band helped create the swing era sound, but it was Benny Goodman’s use of Henderson’s arrangements that made swing a popular success. Henderson died in New York City in 1952.
Fletcher Henderson Orchestra’s music director was Don Redman, whose arrangements featured a call and response between different sections of the band, a style that would come to define the big band sound. In 1924, the orchestra landed a regular gig at New York City’s Roseland Ballroom. That same year, Henderson hired Louis Armstrong to join the group.
Benny Carter was Redman’s replacement as saxophone player and arranger from 1930 to 1931, and Henderson also bought scores from freelance musicians (including from John Nesbitt from McKinney’s Cotton Pickers). As an arranger, Henderson came into his own from 1931 into the mid-1930s.
His band included Coleman Hawkins (who started with Henderson in 1923 playing the low tuba parts on bass saxophone and quickly moved to tenor and a leading solo role), Kaiser Marshall, Buster Bailey, Henry “Red” Allen, Joe Smith, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladnier, Doc Cheatham, Roy Eldridge and Chu Berry.
In 1935, clarinetist Benny Goodman’s Orchestra was selected as a house band for the NBC Let’s Dance radio program. Since Goodman needed new charts every week for the show, his friend John Hammond Sr. suggested that he purchase some from Henderson.
Many of Goodman’s hits from the swing era were played by Henderson and his own band in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and usually were head arrangements that Fletcher transcribed from his own records, then sold them to Goodman.