Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr. (Dec.18,1897 – Dec.28,1952) was an American pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, important in the development of big band jazz and swing music. He was often known as “Smack” Henderson.
His band circa 1925 included Howard Scott, Coleman Hawkins (who started with Henderson in 1923 playing the low tuba parts on bass saxophone and quickly moved to tenor and a leading solo role), Louis Armstrong, Charlie Dixon, Kaiser Marshall, Buster Bailey, Elmer Chambers, Charlie Green, Ralph Escudero and Don Redman.
In 1922 he formed his own band, which was resident first at the Club Alabam then at the Roseland, and quickly became known as the best Afro-American band in New York. For a time his ideas of arrangement were heavily influenced by those of Paul Whiteman, but when Louis Armstrong joined his orchestra in 1924 Henderson realized there could be a much richer potential for jazz band orchestration. Henderson’s band also boasted the formidable arranging talents of Don Redman (from 1922 to 1927). (It should be noted that Henderson actually did few, if any, arrangements in the 1920s; most of the best ‘hot’ sides were arranged by Don Redman or Benny Carter (after 1927). As an arranger, Henderson came into his own in the mid-1930s.
In 1925, along with fellow composer Henry Troy, he wrote “Gin House Blues”, recorded by Bessie Smith and Nina Simone amongst others.
From 1925-1930, he primarily recorded for Columbia and Brunswick/Vocalion under his own name as well as recording a series of acoustic recordings under the name The Dixie Stompers for Columbia’s Harmony and associated dime store labels (Diva and Velvet Tone). During the 1930s, he recorded for Columbia, Crown (as “Connie’s Inn Orchestra”), ARC (Melotone, Perfect, Oriole, etc.), Victor, Vocalion and Decca.
At one time or another, in addition to Armstrong, lead trumpeters included Henry “Red” Allen, Joe Smith, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladnier, Doc Cheatham and Roy Eldridge on trumpet. Lead saxophonists included Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, Benny Carter and Chu Berry. Sun Ra also worked as an arranger during the 1940s during Henderson’s engagement at the Club DeLisa in Chicago. Sun Ra himself said that on first hearing Henderson’s orchestra as a teenager he assumed that they must be angels because no human could produce such beautiful music.