From the early days of the brass bands in New Orleans, to the hot jazz of the Roaring Twenties in Chicago, a key figure in the musical progression was the fluid toned, amazingly versatile clarinetist, Johnny Dodds.
. Born on April 12, 1892, in New Orleans, by his early teens his father bought him his first clarinet. He was self taught but did take lessons from Lorenzo Tio Sr, a well respected musician in the city. He took a more serious interest in the instrument at around age seventeen, playing with local ensembles as the Eagle Band, and the legendary Tuxedo Band, led by “Papa Celestin during the early formative years of jazz.
Then for a period of some six years, beginning when he was about 19, he worked under the leadership of the famous trombonist, Kid Ory. Dodds worked in the Crescent City with Kid Ory on and off from 1912 to 1919, and did tours with Billy Mack and Mutt Carey. He teamed up with his brother Warren “Baby” Dodds, the drummer with Fate Marable's riverboat orchestra on the S.S. Capitol. This is where he met and started an association with a young Louis Armstrong. In 1919, the clarinetist left New Orleans and joined King Oliver in Chicago. The band traveled to California in the summer of 1921 staying there for nearly a year, his brother Baby also headed west and they teamed up again. They returned to Chicago in 1922, where Louis Armstrong joined the band.
Johnny Dodd's contribution to jazz history is evident on the recordings he made in Chicago in the 1920s with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, (Gennett), Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Hot Sevens,(Okeh) and Jelly Roll Morton. His performances during the same decade, with King Oliver at Chicago's legendary Lincoln Gardens and with his own band at Kelly's Stables, from 1924 to 1930, established him as one of the founding fathers of jazz. Dodds also recorded as leader of his own groups for numerous labels as Brunswick, RCA Victor, Decca, and Paramount, under names as Johnny Dodds Trio, Beale St. Washboard Band, Black Bottom Stomper’s, Hot Six, his Orchestra, and his Chicago Boys. His recording output during the ‘20’s all totaled was quite prolific.
Dodds, with his bluesy rugged tone, wide vibrato and harsh attack, was the epitome of the New Orleans clarinetist. Benny Goodman later revealed he revered Dodds' expressive, personal, full-bodied style. Dodds was especially effective on blues, exemplified on the classic “Dippermouth”. His driving obbligato work defined the jazz clarinetist's ensemble role, and he was a master at collective improvisation. His playing allowed Louis Armstrong to shine, though Armstrong shifted the spotlight, and overshadowed everyone else.