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The Birth of Big Band Jazz:


Jazz Archives #100(12”) 

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg



 1. Choo Choo (3:14)

 2. Rainy Nights (3:24)

 3. Animal Crackers (3:04)

 4. Lil’ Farina (2:55)

 5. If You Can’t Hold the Man You Love (3:14)

 6. (You’ve Got Those) “Wanna Go Back Again” Blues (3:13)



 1. Swamp Blues (2:57)

 2. Off to Buffalo (2:54)

 3. Hop Off (3:19)

 4. Rough House (3:11)

 5. When You Walked Out (3:22)

 6. When Spring Comes Peeping Through (3:10)

   The two bandleaders whose early efforts are to be heard here share one major achievement: both have contributed vastly to the development of the whole concept of arranged, big-band jazz – so vastly that no other names can be raked even close theirs in any listing of pioneers in that field.

   There was of course much that was different in their respective approaches and in the paths of their careers. FLETHCER HENDERSON came first; DUKE ELLINGTON has remained on top much longer. Fletcher was born in Georgia in December, 1898 (he died in New York in 1952); Duke was born in Washington, D.C. in April of 1899. But although only four months the older, Henderson was an established success by 1923, a year in which Ellington was first struggling to gain a foothold in the Harlem jazz world.

   The orchestras led by both men have provided the settings in which some of the most highly-regarded names in jazz have achieved their stardom. Several of the key Henderson sidemen are present on these recordings: Coleman Hawkins (who is particularly and youthful outstanding here), Joe Smith, Tommy Ladnier, Buster Bailey, Jimmy Harrison; in the case of Ellington, however, none of the major names except Bubber Miley and Sonny Greer were on hand as yet. For Henderson, there was to be a steady parade of shifting, yet invariably high-level talent through the ‘20s and ‘30s; Duke, on the other hand, was to be notable for the amazing lengths of time during which his personnel has remained virtually unchanged.

   The music of Fletcher Henderson leads directly to swing (both by its own example and by Fletcher’s later celebrated work as an arranger for the early Benny Goodman band). The music of Duke Ellington, although it has had a great influence on the course of jazz and has been something of a self-contained unit, a world complete in itself. Ellington leads, primarily, to more Ellington.

   In neither case, it should be made clear, does this album claim to represent a high point. These selections were the start, or very close to it, and both bands moved on to far greater accomplishments. But for both, these recordings include much music of considerable merit and on both sides of the LP there are quite fascinating, strong indications that the foundations were laid early, that both men knew form the start what it was they wanted to do – in short, these groups truly sound like Ellington and like Henderson.

   When “Smack” Henderson, the ex-chemistry student from Atlanta University, took a ten-piece group (the one heard on the next-to-last band of this LP) into the Club Alabam, in New York’s Times Square area, in 1923, the use of a three-man sax section, rather than a single clarinet, was the only overt difference from traditional New Orleans instrumentation. This would seem a direct result of the requirements of playing of playing in large Northern dance halls and night clubs. Soon enough there were three trumpets and two trombones (as on the four Henderson selections here), and increasingly complex arrangements – and many seasons of regularly returning to Broadway’s huge Roseland ballroom. It cannot be said that Henderson deliberately set out to create something called “big band jazz”) life is never nearly that simple). But it can be put pretty much like this: Henderson’s by applying his own talents and those of his sidemen to the problem of creating good dance music with a satisfying lift and beat to it, came up with an excellent formula for making upwards of ten men swing together. Although not necessarily the first and of course not the only leader to use these techniques, he was in a very real sense the trail-blazer, and many now-standard effects and devices were originated by him.

   But Fletcher’s significance does not lie in the number of men he used, or in the bare fact that he relied on arrangements. It is, rather, in the quality of those men and arrangements. The recordings reissued here, a sampling of his work during a five-year, mid-‘20s period, serve to indicate this quality. They serve also to trace the gradual development of his band style: form a rough drive to an increasingly smooth but no less powerful kind of jazz.

   Ellington is represented here by some of his very earliest records. Falling within a much shorter time-span of less than a year, they show a specific position rather then a ‘development.’ And what they show is the first formulation of one of the truly great patterns of big-band jazz. The two opening selections are remarkable in that, with only three horns, they manage to suggest so strongly the recognizable Ellington flavor. The muted trumpet of Bubber Miley, the first major star of Duke’s bands, clearly halps vastly in achieving this, as he also does on the following two numbers, where a sax section and ten-man personnel offer a quite full-bodied sound despite having some pretty non-memorable pop tunes of the day to work with. The final selections really approach big-band proportions, with a dozen men on hand (although Duke obviously was not working regularly with such a group: the presence of Don Redman, Jimmy Harrison and George Thomas indicates a wholesale borrowing, for record-session purposes, from the pool of top-notch jazz talent then to be found in New York. All three, incidentally, were shortly to be together in another important early big band, Mckinney’s Cotton Pickers).

   At this time, Ellington was just about a year away from his first big break, a December, 1927, engagement at the Cotton Club, in Harlem, which provided his initial real success. Duke had come to New York from Washington as a young ragtime-tinged pianist, leading a group that from the start included Sonny Greer and Otto Harwicke. Working at Barron’s in Harlem and then downtown at the Kentucky Club, he had begun to build his reputation and to formulate his long-lasting style. Certainly these records indicate that Ellington, like Henderson, was being influenced to an appreciable extent by the fact that he was playing for dancers and for night club show production numbers. And they also indicate that he was rapidly getting ready to take permanent advantage of the opportunity for success that lay just ahead.


On Side 1, #1 and 2: Bubber Miley (tp) Charlie Irvis (tb) Otto Hardwicke (as) Ellington (p) Fred Guy (bj) Sonny Greer (drs) 1926. (Originally issued on Blue-Disc T-1002; master numbers T2005/T2006)

On Side 1, #3 and 4: Miley (tp) Charlie Johnson (tp) Irvis (tb) Hardwicke (sax) Prince Robinson (saxes) unknown (saxes) Ellington (p) Guy (bj) “Bass” Edwards (tu) Greer (drs) June, 1926. (Originally Gennett 3342: master numbers GEX 190/191)

On Side 1, #5 and 6: Harry Cooper (tp) Leroy Rutledge (tp) Irvis (tb) Jimmy Harrison (tb) Hardwicke, Robinson, Don Redman, George Thomas (saxes) same rhythm section (Vocal on #5 by Harrison, on #6 by Thomas) April, 1926. (Ge 3291; GEX 58/57)


On Side 2, #1 and 2: Russell Smith (cnt) Tommy Ladnier (cnt) Charlie Green (tb) Jimmy Harrison (tb) Buster Bailey (cl) Don Pasquall (as) Coleman Hawkins (ts) Henderson (p) Charlie Dixon (bj) June Coles (tu) Kaiser Marshall (drs) June, 1927

(Paramount 12486; 2827/2828)

On Side 2, #3 and 4; Probably same personnel. Early 1928. (Paramount 12250; 2859/2860)

On Side 2, #5: Howard Scott (cnt) Elmer Chambers (cnt) Green (tb) unknown (cl) Don Redman (as) Hawkins (ts) Henderson (p) Dixon (bj) Bob Escudero (tu) Marshall (drs) Summer, 1923. (Puritan 11239; 1414)

On Side 2, #6: Joe Smith (cnt) Green (tb) Bailey (cl) Henderson (p) Dixon (bj) Marshall (drs) April, 1926. (Ge 3285; GEX 54)

   All selections recorded in New York. Five of the Ellington numbers have not been previously issued on Riverside; Rainy Nights is issued in the HISTORY OF CLASSIC JAZZ (SPD-11); the LP containing this selection is also available singly (RLP 12-115). The Henderson numbers were previously reissued on a 10-inch Riverside LP, but are now available for the first time on 12-inch LP.


   (The slight surface noise audible on this record is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.)

LP produced by BILL GRAUER.



Paramount selections reissued by arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner.


553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.

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