Jazz historian donates collection to Henderson Museum

The Walter C. Allen family of New Jersey has donated the late jazz historian's complete library collection to the Fletcher Henderson Museum, which is expected to open in Henderson's hometown of Cuthbert, Ga., later this year.

Allen, who was the foremost authority on Henderson's career, which ran for more than three decades, was a jazz historian at the Smithsonian Institute and a founding member of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University.

Allen also wrote the scholarly volume "Hendersonia: The Music of Fletcher Henderson and his Musicians," considered the authoritative work on Henderson's career.

The Allen collection includes considerable information on Henderson, plus vintage sheet music, early recordings, many autographed first-edition books, recorded interviews, musical arrangements, rare photographs, piano rolls, vintage magazines, correspondence, portraits of Henderson and Joe "King" Oliver and other one-of-a-kind items.

Henderson, considered the father of "Big Band Jazz," survived discrimination in the music industry as well as from the general public. He is said to have formed the first jazz band and developed "contrasting motions" and "call and response" in jazz, and had the first jazz band to play written arrangements.

Trumpeter Rex Stewart, who played with both Henderson and Duke Ellington, said, "Today's jazz listener is likely to be unaware of the huge debt that current music owes to Fletcher. Jazz would not exist in its present form were it not for his many innovations, creations and contributions."

Ellington once stated, "When I form my band, I want it to sound like Fletcher's."

Henderson's band was a jazz hall of fame. It's been said that it would be easier to list those who didn't play with Henderson's band than those who did. At least the list would be shorter. Louis Armstrong said he wasn't ready to leave Henderson's band, which he considered "the world's greatest," but it was either the band or his wife at home in Chicago.

The Henderson Museum Board of Directors hopes to make the facility in downtown Cuthbert a national destination for viewing rare memorabilia, for scholars and those who love jazz and history.

Bob Chaney of Atlanta has been a driving force in establishing the museum. A building has been purchased to house the memorabilia in downtown Cuthbert. For more information, Chaney can be reached at 404-758-6871.