Bob Wilber and the Tuxedo Big Band: Fletcher Henderson’s Unrecorded Arrangements for Benny Goodman

Short of discovering another batch of previously unissued recordings of the classic late 1930s Goodman big band, the best stroke of fortune in recent years was the unearthing of a number of Fletcher Henderson charts that, for one reason or another, never got past the stage of on-the-gig performance. It took clarinetist Bob Wilber, a lifelong Goodman admirer, to gain access to the scores, find an organized big band with the skill and desire to interpret Henderson’s phrasing faithfully and, with the help of Arbors Jazz, bring the project to fruition.

The 16-piece working swing band that Wilber located had been formed in Toulouse in 1990 by altoman Paul Cheron, and it is encouraging to report that all of the players sound perfectly at home in the swing idiom of the ’30s. Even the ad-lib solos by Coleman Hawkins-inspired tenorman Michel Pastre and trumpeter Jacques Sallent maintain a degree of convincing period authenticity without being imitative. With Wilber’s always formidable clarinet at the helm, the band swings through 16 Henderson charts, inclusive of “Out of Nowhere,” “Thou Swell,” “Sunday,” “Sweet Lorraine,” “S’posin’,” “Sugar” and “Milenberg Joys,” and all with the contagious spirit of the day remarkably preserved. The only non-Henderson arrangement on the disc is the one Wilber outlined for solo clarinet and rhythm on Jerome Kern’s improvisationally challenging “Bojangles of Harlem.”