These Quadromania CD compilations are extremely inexpensive, which makes them suspect at first, but this four CD collection of Fletcher Henderson tracks called “Wrappin It Up” is surprisingly good, especially when you consider the bottom barrel price. Fletcher Henderson is probably the most under appreciated figure in popular jazz history. A contemporary and early band mate of Louie Armstrong, and a precedent for Ellington’s orchestra, Henderson’s importance in the development of jazz is topped only by Armstrong, Ellington and Charlie Parker. If Henderson remains a mystery to you, then this compilation will make for an excellent introduction.
Jazz music was at a peak in the late 20s and early 30s, when most of these tracks were recorded. The music had become far more sophisticated and arranged after leaving New Orleans for New York, but at the same time, this period of jazz was often more experimental and devilishly intense than much of the swing music that followed in the late 30s. Listening to these tracks reveals complex and difficult arrangements topped with crazy hot solos, all played with mind boggling ease and confidence by artists who often went on to more fame with the Ellington Orchestra and others. Coleman Hawkins is all over this collection, but you will also hear the early careers of Russell Proscope, Rex Stewart, Tommy Ladner, Buster Bailey, Don Redmond and many other greats. The recorded sound and flow from track to track is quite good. Some CD collections of older music feature jarring differences between tracks, fortunately there is none of that on “Wrappin It Up”.
Sometimes modern (especially Western) ears have a hard time hearing details in music like this. The big sound of rock and RnB that originated in the 70s becomes a barrier to understanding music from other time periods and cultures where ‘production’ is non-existent. Whether its Indonesian Gamelan, Bach harpsichord inventions, early blues or 20s jazz, the difference from post 70s music is remarkable, and sometimes preferred by some. The other barrier to understanding 20s jazz is its tonality. This was a time when the brightness of major scales was the dominate sound. Since the 50s, the minor blues scale has come to dominate Western music including hard bop, modern blues, hard rock, metal, modern RnB and hip-hop. Some may interpret the bright sound of late 20s jazz as ‘happy’, but a giddy cocaine fueled exuberance would probably be a more fitting description. This was, after all, music for gangsters and illegal partiers, and it was outlawed in many parts of the US.
The big difference in this music compared to jazz today is in the ensemble work. The guys in Henderson’s band traveled together and played long strings of one night gigs while playing the same tunes night after night. The way this band can move together while playing high speed complex syncopated arrangements is something you will not hear today because today’s musician has to play in four or five different ensembles just to keep busy and pay the bills. Unfortunately, the sort of commitment needed to play in an ensemble like this is not usually available anymore.