From the Record Shelves #173

31st Street Blues

LP Fountain FJ 112

When I started to listen to jazz, I learned many things from the books. One often repeated “truth” was that Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra was nothing but a common dance orchestra until Louis Armstrong joined in 1924 and changed it. Though the last part of the sentence is true, I think that the first is not completely so.

I find early Henderson recordings interesting, with an experimental attitude from arrangers and soloists and sometimes an intense, dramatic blues feeling.

On this one we have train imitating effects to begin with, and then a glimpse of Coleman Hawkins slap tongue ability before Elmer Chambers enters and plays verse and chorus with an incisive soulful sound. I like the sound of the two saxophones, Hawkins on tenor and Don Redman on alto.

Henderson plays some ragtime piano, and then it’s slap-tongue by Hawkins again, fun to listen to, just like the bass sax behind all this, which is played by Billy Fowler.

Chambers re-enters, and like before, he really has good control. Redman plays a clarinet solo with a rocking bass sax, and then there is a finish with Chambers playing half open.

After Armstrong’s stint with the Henderson orchestra, Elmer Chambers disappeared from the band, and he played with, among others, the aforementioned Billy Fowler’s orchestra.

On all these early Henderson recordings, I admire the secure, well-timed banjo playing of Charlie Dixon.