THE UNCROWNED KING OF SWING: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz

Jeffrey Magee, Author . Oxford Univ. $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-19-509022-2

While performers and composers get their due in popular jazz histories, the jazz arranger remains a more obscure figure. Magee, an associate musicology professor at Indiana University, attempts to redress this slight in his scholarly look at the work of Fletcher Henderson (1897–1952). More a "portrait of a musical collaboration" than a biography, Magee's narrative travels from Henderson's years as a bandleader during the Harlem Renaissance through his stint as Benny Goodman's arranger, highlighting the musical idiosyncrasies of what became known as "Hendersonese." 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." The layperson will struggle with the musical notation and terminology, as well as the repetitious readings of dozens of scores and performances. For the jazz student, though, Magee's analysis of Henderson's recordings will be invaluable, as will the appendix annotating every arrangement Henderson wrote for Goodman. This may not be the book that brings Henderson out of the shadows, but it's a welcome addition to the study of swing. Illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 12/06/2004
Release date: 07/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
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