The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz

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Overview

If Benny Goodman was the "King of Swing," then Fletcher Henderson was the power behind the throne. Now Jeffrey Magee offers a fascinating account of Henderson's musical career, throwing new light on the emergence of modern jazz and the world that created it. Drawing on an unprecedented combination of sources, including sound recordings and hundreds of scores that have been available only since Goodman's death, Magee illuminates Henderson's musical output, from his early work as a New York bandleader, to his pivotal role in building the Kingdom of Swing. He shows how Henderson, standing at the forefront of the New York jazz scene during the 1920s and '30s, assembled the era's best musicians, simultaneously preserving jazz's distinctiveness and performing popular dance music that reached a wide audience. Magee reveals how, in Henderson's largely segregated musical world, black and white musicians worked together to establish jazz, how Henderson's style rose out of collaborations with many key players, how these players deftly combined improvised and written music, and how their work negotiated artistic and commercial impulses. Whether placing Henderson's life in the context of the Harlem Renaissance or describing how the savvy use of network radio made the Henderson-Goodman style a national standard, Jeffrey Magee brings to life a monumental musician who helped to shape an era.

About the Author:
Jeffrey Macee is an Associate Professor and Chair of Musicology in the School of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this first comprehensive biography of jazz pianist, bandleader, and arranger Fletcher Henderson, Magee (musicology, Indiana Univ.) does an excellent job of placing his subject in the context of uncertain social changes in the African American community. He demonstrates how the transition from sheet music to records-especially those by African Americans-influenced the college-educated Henderson, who moved from Atlanta to New York City to become first a song plugger and then an accompanist for the pioneering African American record label Black Swan. Unlike other jazz scholars, Magee persuasively contends that Henderson's refined yet hot big band of the 1920s and early 1930s combined a traditional emphasis on untutored African American improvisation with the Harlem Renaissance's upwardly mobile, integrationist focus on European orchestration. The author shows how Henderson's arrangements for Benny Goodman helped launch a fiery yet commercial swing music that symbolized the optimism of the New Deal. Well researched and highly readable, this work will prove most useful to music scholars who want to know more about Henderson's musical accomplishments. General readers will be interested in the confluence of the bandleader's career and the social changes occurring in the African American community.-Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington, Seattle Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"Magee does an excellent job of placing his subject in the context of uncertain social changes in the African American community. Well researched and highly readable."--Library Journal

"An invaluable survey of Henderson's life and music. Detailed analyses of numerous musical scores are juxtaposed against a view of the roller-coaster progress of Henderson's career in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance. Perhaps most important, Magee deals with the complex issue of Henderson's identity as both a creative facilitator of other musicians' efforts and the frustrated composer-arranger of music that was a foundational element in the Swing Era--bringing triumphs that had eluded his groups to leaders such as Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and Isham Jones."--Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times

"Magee paints a vivid portrait of the central figures of early jazz and swing (Louis Armstrong is a 'strong streak of color in a crazy quilt') as well as the business of recording and touring in the 1920s and '30s. While Benny Goodman is lauded as the major force behind the Big Band sound, Magee argues convincingly that Henderson was equally important in 'building the kingdom of swing.''--Publishers Weekly

"An invaluable survey of Henderson's life and music. Detailed analyses of numerous musical scores are juxtaposed against a view of the roller-coaster progress of Henderson's career in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance. Perhaps most important, Magee deals with the complex issue of Henderson's identity as both a creative facilitator of other musicians' efforts and the frustrated composer-arranger of music that was a foundational element in the Swing Era--bringing triumphs that had eluded his groups to leaders such as Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers and Isham Jones."--Don Heckman, Los Angeles Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195340655
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/2/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 981,064
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Magee is a Professor and Chair of Musicology in the School of Music at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His writings on jazz, ragtime, and American popular song have appeared in American Music, Lenox Avenue, International Dictionary of Black Composers, Musical Quarterly, the Cambridge History of American Music, and the Journal of the American Musicological Society.

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Table of Contents

1. Preface: Crossing the Tracks in Cuthbert Introduction: Out of the Jazz Tradition A New Negro from the Old South

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