Known as a jazz innovator whose arrangements led to the birth and success of swing music, Fletcher Henderson is recognized as one the most influential bandleaders to come out of the early New York jazz scene. Fletcher Henderson got his start as a piano player and musical director for W. C Handy's publishing company in New York City during the early twenties. On his first recordings he was an accompanist for Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters. Henderson formed his first orchestra in 1923, which performed at the Cotton Club, a white owned club featuring black musicians. Henderson's outfit became known as one of the first large bands to play jazz. With future jazz legends Coleman Hawkins and Don Redman already in his band, Henderson recruited Louis Armstrong in 1924. Armstrong's skill as a trumpeter and improviser challenged the rest of Fletcher's musicians for the year he was with the band, in the process raising the level of jazz to beyond anything they had played previously.
Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra continued to entertain in the 1930s as Henderson refined his approach to jazz. This was accomplished by including pop tunes in the repertoire while leaving room for improvisation, thus moving the emphasis toward that of a dance band. When the band finally broke up, Henderson sold some of his arrangements to up and coming bandleader Benny Goodman, who used them as the basis for the beginnings of the Swing Era. In 1939, Fletcher joined Goodman as a pianist and arranger who continued to lead Goodman's band to new heights. The rest of Henderson's life was spent performing with jazz musicians in various settings. His influence as an arranger can still be heard in many big band's jazz arrangements.
CDs in Print
- Fletcher Henderson's recordings on CD