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The Uncrowned King of SwingFletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz$
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Jeffrey Magee

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195090222

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195090222.001.0001

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Playing in the Mud

Playing in the Mud

(p.166) 8. Playing in the Mud
The Uncrowned King of Swing

Jeffrey Magee

Oxford University Press

Trombonist Dicky Wells used the phrase “playing in the mud” to describe performing Henderson's arrangements in the early 1930s. In this period, Henderson created much of the band's music as head arrangements based on a combination of sketchy notes and discussion and practice on the bandstand. Although the band's discipline was as lax as it had ever been under Henderson's leadership, observers noted that it played with uncommon flexibility and fire. Testimony from band members and the evidence of recordings reveal patterns among the arrangements in this period. Several arrangements show a consistent approach, and exemplars include “Honeysuckle Rose”, and “Hotter than 'Ell” and its model, “Yeah Man”, one of the earliest jazz contrafacts of Gershwin's “I Got Rhythm”. As in the 1920s, Henderson's arrangements continue to be shaped around specific soloists, notably Coleman Hawkins and Henry “Red” Allen. Before disbanding in late 1934, Henderson's band made a remarkable series of records for Decca Records under the auspices of the controversial producer Jack Kapp, and these records bring to the fore the ways in which commercial, racial, and musical issues were woven together in the period's jazz culture.

Keywords:   head arrangement, contrafact, I Got Rhythm, Coleman Hawkins, Red Allen Decca Records

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