Jazz Stars. Fletcher Henderson

Today, on the birthday of Fletcher Henderson, an American pianist, orchestrator and composer who played an important role in the development of orchestral jazz and swing music, the Jazz Stars section features a story about the life of the musician and a new selection of music that he performs.

Fletcher Henderson was born in December 1897. His father was the principal of a higher industrial school for black people and his mother was a pianist and music teacher. At the age of six, Henderson began studying playing the classical piano. At Atlanta University, Henderson majored in chemistry and mathematics. In 1920, he came to New York City, hoping to find a job in his speciality. But his career as a chemist did not materialise. The only available way for Fletcher to earn for living was to work for the Pace-Handy Music Company, where he acted as a "song demonstrator" (usually a pianist and/or vocalist who played music for customers in music shops to give them a better idea of what they were buying). The owner of the company soon set up the Black Swan label, and Henderson, who although he could play piano in a variety of styles but did this only at a basic level, proved himself more as an excellent organiser. He formed groups with various line-ups to accompany blues singers (he worked especially often with Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith).

In 1923, Henderson organized his first own band, in which Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins and other popular singers of the time played from 1924 to 1925. Henderson's orchestra played mostly "blues" style pieces, as the blues were in great demand at the time, as well as traditional pop tunes such as "Linger Awhile", which he recorded in 1924. The musicians performed successfully and had regular fans. The orchestra was recorded by the record companies quite often, which made it even more famous. In 1924, after a falling out with the administration of the Alabama Club, Henderson and his orchestra moved to the Roseland Dance Hall. For Henderson's orchestra, the Roseland Ballroom was a regular place of work for ten years. During this period, the orchestra became a full-fledged jazz band.

Between 1927 and 1928, Henderson's orchestra was in its heyday, or what is known as its classical period. Henderson was constantly raising the level of performers. Thanks to excellent musicians and accumulated experience, the orchestra sounded clean and coherent, and its soloists became some of the best in jazz. The most popular pieces of those days, such as "Hop Off", "Stockholm", "Swamp Blues", were performed by the orchestra in a vivid swing style. By 1931, the orchestra had made such well-known recordings as "House of David Blues," "Radio Rhythm," and "Just Blues." Henderson sometimes made arrangements himself. The recording of "Just Blues" demonstrates Henderson's talent as an arranger. This blues is built on a roll call of orchestral groups and soloists who have a chance to shine with their skills. Trombone player Dickie Wells, who played in the orchestra during this period, recounts: "Fletcher wrote as if the music was born of itself. All you had to do was play the notes, and the swing was already in the arrangement. He didn't write parts that were too high -- he didn't like 'squealing' -- his music sparkled from within.

Although Fletcher Henderson's band was very popular, he was not very successful leading it. He was considered a good arranger, and his arrangements were very popular. In addition to his own band, he arranged the music of several other bands, including Teddy Hill's band, the band of Isham Jones, and the super-popular band of Benny Goodman. The career of Henderson career was very successful, but in 1928 he was involved in a car accident, broke his left arm and suffered a head injury, after which he became visually impaired. In the 1930s, Henderson arranged for Goodman, who became the "King of Swing" thanks in large part to hit orchestrations ("King Porter Stomp," "Sometimes I'm Happy," "Blue Skies") and Fletcher compositions ("Down South Camp Meeting," "Wrapping It Up"). Between 1936 and 1937, Henderson's big band was pushed aside by other, more commercially successful, orchestras, and in 1939 the orchestra disbanded. Henderson tried several times to put the band back together, but without success.

In 1950, Henderson suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed. This ended his career as a pianist. The musician died in New York in 1952.

There were many important events packed into the 54 years of his life. Henderson was the first to form big bands, and his arrangements created a huge interest in jazz among the widest musical audience. The musician holds an honourable place in jazz music culture; he can even be called a catalyst for musical ideas of the swing era.