“Down South Camp Meeting” Fletcher Henderson (1934)/Benny Goodman (1936)/Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra (1970)

“Down South Camp Meeting”

Composed and arranged by Fletcher Henderson.

Recorded by Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra for Decca on September 11, 1934.

Fletcher Henderson directing: Russell “Pop” Smith, first trumpet; Irving “Mouse” Randolph and Henry “Red” Allen, trumpets; Claude Jones and Frederic H. “Keg” Johnson, trombones; Hilton Jefferson, first alto saxophone; Russell Procope, alto saxophone; William C. “Buster” Bailey and Benjamin F. “Ben” Webster, tenor saxophones; Horace Henderson, piano; Lawrence Lucie, guitar; Elmer James, bass; and Walter Johnson, drums.

The Story Part One – Fletcher Henderson:

In preparing this post, I consulted the seminal work on Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952) which is entitled The Uncrowned King of Swing …Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz (2005), by Jeffrey Magee. I will say without reservation that if anyone has a serious interest in trying to understand Fletcher Henderson’s role in the development of the music of the swing era, that book is an essential source of historical fact, musical analysis and judicious opinion. In an age when uninformed, indeed willfully ignorant opinions are trumpeted and magnified by digital media, it is refreshing to read a serious work that reaches conclusions only after rigorous scholarship and thoughtful judgment.

For the purposes of this post, I will say that Fletcher Henderson was a well-schooled musician who in the early 1920s for myriad reasons found himself in the right place at the right time and involved with the right people, and that allowed him to begin a career in popular music. Basically, he was in a place (Manhattan) where many rapidly developing activities, principally social dancing, created a sizable demand for live music. In addition, the then new technological advances occurring in sound recording and radio broadcasting caused what would eventually become an exponential growth of demand for live music. These developments were undergirded and indeed facilitated by various business models that gathered and distributed ever-larger amounts of money to an ever-larger group of people who were involved in the music business, including those who owned the companies that developed commercial radio and recording. Live music was at the core of all of these developments.

Music, of course, is made by living, breathing musicians. In a very real sense, the musicians involved in the activities mentioned above formed the base of the musical and economic pyramid that developed starting in the 1920s. Their talent, skill and hard work largely created the industry that was essential to the ongoing development of American popular music. Nevertheless, even though the contribution of musicians to this overall enterprise was basic and essential, on an individual basis, they made the least money from it.

In order to ameliorate that condition, musicians formed what eventually became a powerful union which was racially segregated into the 1950s, but which in many ways was successful in increasing the pay musicians received for the work they did. But musicians, by and large, were and reminded laborers who worked on a given job and received pay for that job, and that was that.

Composers and publishers of music were much more successful in securing substantial financial benefits from the rapidly expanding market for popular music through the 1920s, 1930s and beyond. Their success was based on the U.S. Copyright Law of 1909, which created a property right called a copyright in the music they composed and published. In order to enforce collection of the royalties generated by their copyrighted compositions at first via among other things commercial recordings and sheet music, then later, also by radio broadcasts, movies and television, a policing agency was formed. It was called the American Society of Authors, Composers and Publishers (ASCAP). The purpose of ASCAP was to actually collect money for royalties generated by copyrighted music, and then to pay it out to their members. It was very successful in doing that. Consequently, the great composers who were writing popular music during the 1920s and 1930s, like Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin, and their collaborators, all of whom were ASCAP members, became wealthy.

The term “Jim Crow” has come to mean legalized, systemic racial segregation in the United States. Despite Jim Crow, ASCAP did admit persons of color if they met the criteria for membership. However, for many reasons those members made up only a tiny fraction of the overall ASCAP membership before and during the swing era. Eventually, Fletcher Henderson became a member of ASCAP. The story of how that happened has never been told, to my knowledge.

The issue of race has been a vexing and deeply troubling one throughout American history. Many crimes and injustices have been perpetrated throughout the history of the USA because of race. A horrific Civil War was fought largely because of race and the enslavement of people of color. The gains in the area of racial justice that were made possible by the outcome of the Civil War, including Amendments 13, 14 and 15 to the U.S. Constitution, which were beginning to be implemented through the period of Reconstruction, were gradually eroded through the last decades of the Nineteenth Century. In reaction to those advancements, a new system of insidious racial discrimination and repression (Jim Crow) took hold. Jim Crow as a legal construct lasted through much of the Twentieth Century. As a social construct, it remains in various forms, to this day. (Above: a stark reminder of the world of Jim Crow that existed in the USA in the 1930s. This sign was posted above an entrance door on the side of Paramount Theater in Los Angeles, where Benny Goodman appeared in the autumn of 1935, before racially segregated audiences. The jarring and ironic contradiction between the words “colored entrance” and “comfort” is palpable today. That was certainly not the case in 1935. )

Against this historical background, musicians, both black and white, began to try to come to terms with the explosive commercial development of American popular music starting in the 1920s. It quickly became obvious that people of color had a lot to contribute to American popular music. Their contributions nevertheless, were funneled through the Jim Crow social/legal system. The white businessmen of the music business in the 1920s and 1930s were not interested in social issues or social justice.(2) They were interested in producing music, but in the process of doing that, they sometimes unintentionally achieved a small measure of advancement of the careers of musicians of color. But parity of the races simply did not exist in the basic business model that operated in the music business during the swing era.

The travails of Fletcher Henderson as a bandleader before and during the swing era most certainly had to do, in part, with the Jim Crow system he had to operate in. But there were many other factors related to his personality that also contributed to his relative lack of success as a bandleader, especially after the early 1930s.(3)

An example of how the Jim Crow system worked within the business model of the swing era can be found in the circumstances surrounding Fletcher Henderson’s Decca recording of his original composition/arrangement of “Down South Camp Meeting.” The American Decca label began operations in August of 1934 under the dynamic leadership of Jack Kapp. Kapp had been a successful producer at Brunswick Records (and before that at Okeh Records) before he started American Decca. (4) In order to establish a solid commercial base for the new Decca label, Kapp lured established Brunswick stars to the new Decca label. They included Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo and the Casa Loma band, among others. The Decca recordings these artists and others whose music had wide appeal in the mainstream (white) market would make would be marketed to white people.(Above right: an example of what “separate but equal” meant in Jim Crow America.)

But Kapp also realized that in Jim Crow America a black market existed for records. He therefore aggressively pursued and signed black artists to the Decca label. Among those he signed as Decca began operations were: Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, Earl Hines, Claude Hopkins and Fletcher Henderson. (He would also soon sign contracts to record Louis Armstrong, Andy Kirk and Count Basie. A bit later he would sign Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton and Louis Jordan.) Clearly, Jack Kapp had a very well thought-out and executed plan to record artists of color. He knew that he could and indeed he did sell their records to black record buyers. This was Kapp’s extension of the old “race records” concept from his pre-Decca experience into Decca’s business plan.

Of course the signing of black artists in itself did not result in them recording music that, in Jack Kapp’s judgment, would appeal to black audiences. “What Kapp wanted from black bands, above all, was that they sound black.”(5) And Kapp also thought, quite erroneously in my opinion, that song titles that perhaps evoked a romanticized nostalgia for the “Old South” (5A) would have some market appeal for black audiences. Juxtaposing that with the concept of a “Camp Meeting” and you have the title for this great antiphonal music composed and arranged by Fletcher Henderson.(5B) Thus, Fletcher Henderson recorded “Down South Camp Meeting” for Decca on September 11,1934.

The music:

While trying to understand the context in which “Down South Camp Meeting” was created by Fletcher Henderson requires looking back uncomfortably at the mores of Jim Crow in American society, the music itself transcends all of that. It is timeless and it speaks of happiness, joy and the soaring of the human spirit.

The form of Fletcher Henderson’s classic recording of “Down South Camp Meeting” is quite unusual. It begins with a brassy four bar introduction. The first “chorus” consists of twenty-four bars, and it is divided into three eight bar segments. The main melody (A) is played in the first and third of these segments. A secondary melody (A1) occupies the eight bars in between. Notice the fluid, linear drumming of Walter Johnson, who drives the band with subtle authority using brushes throughout this performance. Johnson’s playing here foreshadows the approach to swing drumming that would soon be perfected by Count Basie’s drummer Jo Jones. Johnson’s drumming is complemented perfectly by the bass playing of Elmer James and the guitar strumming of Lawrence Lucie.

The second chorus is configured the same way, and it contains the improvised trumpet solo played by Henry “Red” Allen. Allen had a full, resonant sound on trumpet, and he did swing. His rhythmic and harmonic approaches were definitely his own. Some have called them eccentric. For a good many listeners, his playing was an acquired taste. Nevertheless in this performance he fashions a solid, coherent and swinging jazz solo.

There follows an eight bar transition that basically includes an instrumental dialog, in two-bar exchanges, between lead alto saxophonist Hilton Jefferson and lead trumpeter Russell Smith.(*) Then a new chorus begins with what is a completely different melody (B), and a 32 bar scheme, which features antiphonal playing by the reeds and brass for sixteen bars, and then a marvelous sixteen bar soli played by the saxophone quartet.

The next chorus again presents melody (B) and follows the 32 bar scheme. Once again antiphonal playing brass answered by reeds and vice-versa is how the chorus unfolds.

This is followed by a four bar transition that presents an entirely new sound, that of three B-flat clarinets, with Buster Bailey leading. (Russell Procope, an excellent clarinetist, undoubtedly played one of the other two clarinets in this sequence and the one that follows. The third clarinet was probably played by Hilton Jefferson.)

Then the final 32 bar chorus introduces yet a third melody (C), which is played by the clarinet trio answered by the straight-muted brass. Henderson cleverly has divided this chorus into two sixteen bar segments, with the first one played at a moderate dynamic level, and the second one played louder, for dramatic effect as the music reaches its climax, with the clarinetists standing and the brass played open.

In the process of playing through this music at a fairly brisk tempo, the tonality of the music moves from the key of C to A-flat to D-flat.(6) 

Fletcher Henderson’s recording of “Down South Camp Meeting” is a seminal performance of a brilliantly original and colorful jazz composition/arrangement that provides a vivid snapshot of what was going on musically in the world of swing when it was made.

“Down South Camp Meeting”

Composed and arranged by Fletcher Henderson.

Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on August 13, 1936 in Hollywood.

Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: George “Pee Wee” Erwin, first trumpet; Gordon “Chris” Griffin, Mannie Klein, (1) trumpets; Sterling “Red” Ballard and Murray McEachern, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Bill DePew, alto saxophone; Dick Clark and Arthur Rollini, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Allan Reuss, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Gene Krupa, drums.

The Story Part 2 – Benny Goodman:

The summer of 1936 was a very exciting one for Benny Goodman and his band. Due to the strong management support they had been receiving from their booking agent, Music Corporation of America (MCA), they had been able to build upon the initial success they had experienced the summer before at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. While they were at the Palomar, they had been broadcast frequently over radio in Southern California. This caused an ongoing curiosity there among the mostly young fans about the music the Goodman band was playing. After leaving the Palomar, they played a week at the Paramount Theater in Los Angeles, where those fans came to see and hear them. They did good but not spectacular business there, but most importantly, they made enough money in that week to keep the business operation of the band in the black at least for a while.

They worked their way east, playing whatever one-night dance dates they could along the way. Although the name Benny Goodman was known among many hard-core fans of hot dance music in the autumn in 1935, most of those fans lived in major cities that had their own radio stations. In the vast American hinterlands between those cities, Goodman was still basically unknown. In order to reach more people with his message of swing, BG had to work from a secure location that enabled him to broadcast regularly on radio, on both local and/or on regional or national network set-ups. That location turned out to be the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel in Chicago. The Goodman band opened there on November 6, 1935, and broadcast on a sustaining (unsponsored) basis frequently and widely from that venue. That engagement was eventually extended into May of 1936, and had a lot to do with building Benny Goodman’s name and identity as “The King of Swing.”

A long residency at a hotel with frequent radio broadcasts was a great way for a band to get ongoing public exposure for its music, and promotion, that is name recognition, for its leader. But those residencies never paid enough to cover the band’s fixed expenses, particularly the salaries of the musicians in the band, in addition to the many other ongoing expenses any band had simply to keep operating. The other ways bands balanced expenses with income were by securing a sponsored radio show, or by playing either a week or split week in a theater as a part of a vaudeville revue.

Above is a picture taken on March 8, 1936 at the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel in Chicago. The occasion was the appearance of Fletcher Henderson’s new band at a promotional event organized and produced by a number of music business insiders who called themselves The Chicago Rhythm Club. Standing L-R: Chu Berry (who moved at the moment the shutter snapped); Buster Bailey, both of whom were in Henderson’s band; arranger Dave Rose (NOT David Rose), Pat O’Malley from Jack Hylton’s orchestra; Fletcher Henderson; Melle Weersma, and William Ternant, also from the Hylton orchestra; Glenn Burrs of Down Beat, Arthur Wilcox of Melody Maker, and Carl Cons of Down Beat. In front: Helen Ward, Benny Goodman, Helen Oakley, Ben Pollack, Chicago trombonist Jack Reid.(7)

In order for any theater engagement to be successful, there had to be almost saturation radio broadcasting by the band that was going to appear at the theater in the region where the theater was located for a period of time before the engagement to build up demand for the band among the public. If that was done, then in order to maximize the money the band could make during the engagement, shows could be added each day, if there was enough demand for them. In some cases, bands appearing at major theaters were so popular that there was demand enough to call for as many as six one-hour shows a day. When this happened, the bands made a lot of money in a short period of time, but they were virtual prisoners in the theater where they were earning that money. They simply could not break away from the theater to do any other work. So theater engagements had to be managed carefully within the overall scheme of employment for any successful band.

Benny Goodman and his band on tour in the late spring of 1936. L-R: Hymie Shertzer, Sterling “Red” Ballard, George “Pee Wee” Erwin, Gene Krupa, Harry Goodman, Jess Stacy, Murray McEachern, BG, Arthur Rollini, Nate Kazebier, Bill DePew, Gordon “Chris” Griffin, Allan Reuss, Dick Clark.

A sponsored radio show where a band could be featured very often was a local show, produced by a large radio station, usually in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles. Depending on the strength of that radio station’s broadcast signal, such a local show could be broadcast over a fairly wide region. In early 1936, Benny Goodman secured such a radio show produced in Chicago, sponsored by the Elgin Watch Company and broadcast over the NBC radio network. That show, which ran from March 1, 1936 to May 26, 1936 (8), enabled Goodman to continue to play at and broadcast from the Congress Hotel, while at the same time providing the business operation of the band with enough money to balance ongoing expenses with income. Both of these activities also continued to build the name Benny Goodman as a saleable commodity with radio listeners and venue operators.

After the Goodman band left the Congress Hotel in May of 1936, they toured extensively, and were able to play at all kinds of venues for ever-increasing fees. This period of time marked the initial upsurge in financial success of Benny Goodman as a bandleader. Nothing succeeds like success, and through this period, Goodman was piling success on top of success, making more money all the time. The ultimate gold ring of financial success for any bandleader during the swing era was to secure a place on a sponsored, nationwide network radio show. Benny Goodman grabbed that ring at the end of June in 1936 when he was selected to be featured on such a show, the Camel Caravan, a well-established CBS network weekly show that had been featuring the music of the Casa Loma Orchestra since 1933.

The factors that made Goodman’s arrival on the Camel Caravan possible included his great talent as a virtuoso jazz clarinetist and all-around musician, his skill as a bandleader who was able to facilitate excellent performances by his band, his adeptness as a selector of the music he and his band would present, his youth and good health, and his iron determination to succeed. Nevertheless, without strong guidance and management by MCA, he would not have reached that early plateau of commercial success. The personal qualities Benny Goodman possessed as a musician and human being were reinforced and extended by his management team at MCA. (Benny also benefitted greatly from the personal guidance and business acumen of his older brother Harry, who played bass in the Goodman band, and was probably a part owner of the band with Benny from its early days until the spring of 1939, by which time Benny Goodman was an international musical star.) But then, Benny and/or Harry made it a priority to continually demand from MCA the best work opportunities available because they knew that good work begets better work. Nothing ever happened in the business of swing without someone somewhere pushing, hard. (Above right: Benny Goodman and Nat Shilkret in 1936 in a promotional photo for the “Camel Caravan.” At first, Shilkret was also on the show with Goodman. But very soon it became apparent that Goodman would need no help in being successful on that show, which he was for the next three and a half years.)(9)

The music:

The arrangement of “Down South Camp Meeting” that Benny Goodman recorded almost two years after the original Fletcher Henderson record had been made is almost identical to the one Henderson had used. There are nevertheless significant differences between the two performances. The most obvious of these are that Goodman played the tune at a slower tempo than Henderson had, and BG’s clarinet solo supplants the Red Allen trumpet solo.

Benny’s improvisation is superb: it is musically lucid, rhythmically fluid and swinging, and delivered with his bright and personal clarinet sound and impeccable technique.

In the eight bar transition that follows Goodman’s solo, we hear an instrumental dialog between lead alto saxophonist Hymie Shertzer and lead trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin. The climactic clarinet trio is played by Goodman leading, along with Art Rollini and probably Hymie Shertzer.

Less obvious are details like the splendid lead trumpet playing of Pee Wee Erwin throughout this performance, which facilitates complete unity in the brass section, and the perfection of the playing by the saxophone quartet, led by Hymie Shertzer. Gene Krupa’s muscular drumming (he uses brushes throughout) drives the Goodman band in a tight manner quite different from Walter Johnson’s fluid swing in the Henderson band performance.

A facet of this recording that has always puzzled me is that the entire band, except for drummer Gene Krupa, whose playing is captured beautifully, sounds like it was recorded slightly off-mike. This is strange because Victor’s sound engineers in Hollywood, where this recording was made, were renowned for the beauty of the sound they captured for the Victor artists who recorded there in the years from 1935 until World War II.

Below the Benny Goodman band that recorded “Down South Camp Meeting” – almost. Front L-R: Dick Clark, Hymie Shertzer, Bill DePew, Arthur Rollini; middle: Eugene Goodman, Murray McEachern, Red Ballard, Chris Griffin; back: Harry Goodman, Jess Stacy, Gene Krupa, BG, Pee Wee Erwin, Allan Reuss. Gene Goodman, Benny and Harry’s brother, who sometimes worked with the Goodman band as a road manager, was pressed into service on short notice to appear in this picture because Benny had fired Nate Kazebier shortly before it was taken. 

***************

“Down South Camp Meeting”

The Fletcher Henderson arrangement played by Benny Goodman was transcribed by Billy May.

Recorded by Billy May and the Swing Era Orchestra for Capitol on March 17, 1970 in Hollywood.

Billy May, directing: Clarence F. “Shorty” Sherock, first trumpet; John Audino, Walter “Pete” Candoli and Uan Rasey, trumpets; Francis “Joe” Howard, Milt Bernhart and Lew McCreary, trombones; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, first alto saxophone and clarinet; Abe Most, solo and ensemble clarinet; (Jack Nimitz likely played alto saxophone in the ensembles on this recording.) Justin Gordon and Plas Johnson, tenor saxophones, with Gordon doubling on clarinet; Ray Sherman, piano; Jack Marshall, guitar; Rolly Bundock, bass; Nick Fatool, drums. Clarinet trio played by Most, Herfurt and Justin Gordon.

The music:

This recording demonstrates how timeless music can be brought vividly to life when performed by talented and inspired musicians under the direction of a master conductor.

If anyone truly and deeply understood swing, it was Billy May. He served his apprenticeship as a trumpeter and arranger in two of the best bands of the swing era, Charlie Barnet’s and Glenn Miller’s. After that, he entered the world of free-lance arranging and conducting in Hollywood, starting a career that covered many decades. From the 1940s to the 1980s, May wrote thousands of arrangements for all types of music, and very often he conducted the orchestras that played those arrangements for recordings. All of the musicians with whom May was associated in the Hollywood recording studios respected his great musical ability. Consequently, they gave him their full attention and effort when working with him. Although he was large of stature and could be rather mean-looking, in reality he was a most jovial fellow with a great sense of humor who was adept at keeping the atmosphere in his recording sessions happy and relaxed.

In the late 1960s, May was tapped to in essence resume what had been a very successful series of recordings produced by Capitol Records conducted by swing era bandleader Glen Gray in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Those recordings were recreations of of classic swing era recordings, performed by top-flight Hollywood studio musicians, most of whom had begun their careers playing in bands during the swing era. They were recorded in high fidelity stereophonic sound. Shortly after Gray died in 1963, that series stopped.

The new twist for the series May began to work on in 1969 was that instead of selling the new recordings in record stores, they would be sold via mail-order, and receive massive and ongoing promotion from the Time-Life magazine publisher, who sponsored the series. Production of the new series of recordings, which lasted into 1972, resulted in about 400 titles being recorded.

In reflecting on this project late in his life, May said that he and all of the musicians who worked on it enjoyed it greatly. In terms of the music they created, he felt that some performances came off, that is they captured the spirit of the originals, and some did not. This performance of “Down South Camp Meeting” definitely captured the spirit of the original. Indeed, it has its own spirit, which is exuberant.

Although the entire band performs splendidly throughout this performance, a few comments are in order to recognize special contributions. Clarinetist Abe Most was an idolator of Benny Goodman, and his playing here shows it. It strongly evokes the King of Swing. Drummer Nick Fatool, who spent over a year in the Goodman band, completely understood how to drive a top-grade swing band through this performance with power and verve. Lead alto saxophonist Skeets Herfurt, who did not play in BG’s band during the swing era (but did on special occasions after that), was a master at leading a saxophone section with accuracy, singing tone, and swing. Guitarist Jack Marshall swings the rhythm gleefully in the best tradition of Allan Reuss and Freddie Green, Count Basie’s long-time guitarist. Special praise must also be given to the performance of Shorty Sherlock, who plays the first trumpet part with terrific swing and authority. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Shorty was on fire throughout this performance. (Above left: Shorty Sherock in 1970.)

I am quite certain that if Fletcher Henderson could have heard this performance, he would have smiled.

Post script:

Much has been written about the Fletcher Henderson-Benny Goodman relationship since BG achieved great success in the mid and late 1930s (and beyond) performing and recording arrangements written by Fletcher Henderson. Some commentators have for any number of reasons (some quite invalid and indeed scurrilous) heaped negative criticism on Goodman. I will not wade into that critical morass here. But I do wish to point out a few facts that may bear on the true nature of the Fletcher Henderson-Benny Goodman relationship.

First, at the time Goodman began to buy arrangements from Henderson, roughly as 1935 began, Fletcher was most happy to sell them to Benny. Although it took a while for BG and his bandsmen to figure out how to really swing those arrangements, from the very beginning of their association, Henderson was quite pleased at the high caliber of musicianship the Goodman band brought to their performances of his music. Goodman’s ongoing success through the late 1930s enabled him to order more and more arrangements from Fletcher Henderson. Once again, Fletcher was most happy to create arrangements for Goodman and to sell them to Benny at what was at least market rate. In short, Henderson was making very good money writing and selling arrangements to Benny Goodman, and he was happy about that.

Secondly, Benny Goodman, who could be brutally rude, seemed to like and respect Fletcher Henderson as a person, and made no secret of the fact that he loved Henderson’s music. In the Hollywood film called The Benny Goodman Story, which is far from accurate in many respects, there is a scene where BG, played by Steve Allen, is attracted by Alice Hammond (played by Donna Reed) while the Fletcher Henderson character (played by Sammy Davis, Sr.) stood off to the side. Allen is holding a clarinet, but is required to leave Henderson/Davis and go off with Alice/Reed. The dialogue Allen had to say at that moment as he thrust the clarinet into Davis’s hand was: “Fletcher, will you please hold this for me…” Given the real respect Goodman had for Henderson, this line was preposterously absurd, not to mention insulting and degrading to Henderson/Davis, and probably irritating to Benny Goodman.(10) The real Benny Goodman would never have done such a thing.

Finally, Goodman, who was not known as a particularly generous man, did at least one thing for Fletcher Henderson that revealed his high regard for him: he did NOT put his name on “Down South Camp Meeting” as a co-composer. He let Henderson have 100% of the composer royalty on that composition. The result was that Henderson continued to receive 100% of the composer royalties off of “Down South Camp Meeting” for the rest of his life. The royalties generated by the Goodman recording alone (and the slightly later BG recording of Henderson’s “Wrappin’ It Up”) far exceeded any other composer royalties Henderson ever earned. And the success of those compositions/arrangements/recordings also allowed Fletcher Henderson to meet the admission criteria to join ASCAP.

The recordings presented in this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(*) Trumpeter Russell “Pops” Smith (1890-1966) was a well-respected lead player through the 1920s and 1930s, spending much of that time with Fletcher Henderson. Whenever he wasn’t working with Fletcher Henderson, he worked with a number of other top grade bands including those led by Benny Carter, Wilbur Sweatman, Horace Henderson, and finally in the mid-1940s, with Cab Calloway. Although there is no doubt that Smith was an excellent musician, on Fletcher Henderson’s recording of “Down South Camp Meeting,” a very demanding arrangement for first trumpet, for whatever reason, he was not at his best in terms of precision. Consequently, there is a ragged feeling to the music in places. Nevertheless, the overall performance by the Henderson band swings mightily.

(1) Trumpeter Mannie Klein, well-known to Benny Goodman from their frequent work together in Manhattan’s radio and recording studios in the early 1930s, had recently relocated to Hollywood in 1936. He was summoned on short notice by Benny to play on the recording session that produced “Down South Camp Meeting” because because Benny had just fired trumpeter Nate Kazebier after a heated argument.

(2) One obvious exception to the rule that music industry executives were not social crusaders in the 1930s was John Hammond. Starting in the 1940s, Norman Granz led the way toward racial equity in his various music business activities. In the 1950s and after, George Wein followed Granz’s example.

(3) Fletcher Henderson’s various bands through the 1920s did achieve a measure of financial success. He and his wife lived in a very comfortable home in Harlem and had many of the best material comforts money could buy. Some of the factors, in addition to racial discrimination, that contributed to the relative lack of success Fletcher Henderson had as a bandleader from the middle 1930s on were the Great Depression and the fact that by then, Henderson had been leading a band for over ten years, and was wearying of endless one-night stands. Unlike Duke Ellington, for example, Henderson never developed an enduring relationship with the white people who ran the music business. Nor did he have Ellington’s need to perform constantly and drive to succeed. Although Henderson benefitted greatly from the assistance he received from John Hammond and Benny Goodman through and after the 1930s, and led some very good bands then, his moment as a popular bandleader had passed by the mid-1930s.

(4) Decca existed in England before and indeed after 1934.

(5) The Uncrowned King of Swing …Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz (2005), by Jeffrey Magee, 184.

(5A) The apotheosis of the romanticized “Old South” attitudes, which in essence is a celebration of systemic racism, is to be found in the novel Gone With The Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, which was published on June 30, 1936. That novel was a runaway best-seller. Its success was multiplied many times by the Hollywood feature film that was made of it (among a barrage of publicity by its produced David O. Selznick), that was released on January 17, 1940.

(5B) Here is a link to the Wikipedia post that explores the history of camp meetings in America: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_meeting#:~:text=The%20pattern%20of%20the%20Primitive,others%20spent%20the%20time%20praying.

(6) The explanation of the music I have provided in this post is based on the analysis done by Jeffrey Magee in book The Uncrowned King of Swing …Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz (2005), 250.

(7) The final Elgin Revue show was broadcast from New York on May 26, 1936. The Goodman band closed at the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel in Chicago on May 23, 1936.

(8) The identification of the people in the March 8, 1936 photo from the Joseph Urban Room of the Congress Hotel in Chicago comes from the booklet that accompanies the Mosaic CD set entitled Classic Chu Berry Columbia and Victor Sessions (2007), 8.

(9) Nathaniel Shilkret was a very well-known musician in the 1920s and 1930s. Here is a link to the post on Wikipedia that surveys his very successful career. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nathaniel_Shilkret

But by 1936, Shilkret was 46 years old. Benny Goodman was 27 years old. Goodman’s music spoke to the youth audience Camel cigarettes was trying to cultivate. (And did – alas for their health!) Shilkret’s did not. That in essence is why Shilkret was eased out of the Camel Caravan radio show, and why Benny Goodman became ever more popular on it.

(10) I watched The Benny Goodman Story (again) as I prepared this post. Historically, the film is a jumble. However, the music in it is excellent, including contributions from BG himself, Gene Krupa, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Stan Getz, Urbie Green and the great bassist George Duvivier.

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4 Comments

  1. Mike, could you double check something regarding the clarinet section work on the latter two versions? I’ve yet to see any reference to Benny’s version not having him joining his entire sax section on clarinets for the two out choruses. There’s an example online from 1985 showing this to be the case, plus aurally, it sounds to be more happy a clarinet trio, even though that’s what Fletcher and Don Redman were stylistically known for. The BG Story indicates this also (Stan Getz on clarinet on film). This leads to the question of if that is the case, could it be possible Ben Webster joined the section to make it a clarinet quartet on the Henderson recording? Perhaps Loren S could provide clarity there,,,, Great versions regardless!

    • Dave, Billy May gave Sammy Nestico a lot of work transcribing classic swing arrangements for the the Capitol Swing Era recording project. This was when Sammy first relocated to Los Angeles around 1969. That work, plus Sammy’s ongoing work with Count Basie, launched him into a successful 40 year career in Hollywood.

  2. I don’t think Krupa plays with brushes on the Goodman recording. It’s too loud. Brushes would be almost inaudible in the context of a big band. To me it sounds more like Krupa is doing rolls with drumsticks, like a military drummer would do. There are a few drum hits throughout the recording that would be impossible with brushes. Also how Krupa hits the high-hat behind the sax-section part indicates he uses sticks. Regarding the clarinets in the last part, also it sounds like all four sax-section members are playing clarinet, plus Goodman. Maybe one reed-player is not playing, but it sounds definitely like at least four clarinets. The sound would be thinner with just three.

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