Although Fletcher Henderson moved to New York intending to become
a chemist, he wound up mixing sounds, not compounds. Chemistry work
was hard to come by, so Henderson took piano-playing gigs with various
big-band jazz groups.
In January 1924, he landed a job at a well-known dance hall, the Roseland Ballroom.
There Henderson and his orchestra pioneered a new sound that partnered perfectly
with the latest dance crazes, notably the Lindy Hop.
When arranger Don Redman joined Henderson, their combined genius
helped usher in the Swing Era's "big-band sound," which
featured complex exchanges among the reed, brass, and rhythm sections—a
significant advance from the traditional jazz reliance on instrumental
Written solos added harmonic depth to this new musical formula. The
solos may have sounded improvised, but in fact their every note had
been carefully scored. One example is his 1926 arrangement of "The
Henderson Stomp," which featured Fats
Waller on the piano. Redman's genius shined in this composition, in
which he innovatively incorporated Harlem stride (characterized by
a syncopated rhythm played by a pianist's left hand).
A true jazz visionary, Henderson hired such up-and-coming talents
as Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins to play in his
orchestra. He also earned respect for jazz from the national public
and from the Talented Tenth, who often disregarded jazz tunes for
not being "serious" music.