The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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There is no firm boundary line between the small combo and the big jazz band. Normally the latter term is taken to denote any group that can be broken down into sections (reeds, brass and rhythm). Using this yardstick one can state that to all intents the big jazz band began with the orchestra of Fletcher "Smack" Henderson, and that Henderson's first attempts at organization marked the earliest significant step forward in the evolution of jazz from its folk origins.
Coleman Hawkins, one of the earliest Henderson sidemen, recalls that Henderson originally recorded with a small combo and gradually enlarged it for later sessions; he had ten men at the Club Alabam as early as 1923. The larger group became a permanent entity when he found a suitable pied-&~terre at Hose-land, the Broadway ballroom where the primary requirement was the dispensation of music for dancing. The musicians who visited the hall were even better able to appreciate what Henderson was offering than the dancers at whom his music was aimed. "When Smack's band hit town and Louis Armstrong was with him, the guys had never heard anything like it,* recalled Duke Ellington. There weren't the words coined for describing that kick."x
Armstrong was just one of scores of soloists who were to make the Henderson band a virtual who's who of jazz during the next twelve years. When Louis joined Fletcher for the Roseland opening in 1924, he played third trumpet; the brass section was brought to quartet size by a single trombonist. Buster Bailey, Don Redman and Coleman Hawkins played a variety of reed 174