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Johnny Hodges

"Never the world's most highly animated showman or greatest stage personality, but a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes, this was Johnny Hodges. Because of this great loss, our band will never sound the same. Johnny Hodges sometimes sounded beautiful, sometimes romantic, and sometimes people spoke of his tone as being sensuous. With the exception of a year or so, almost his entire career was with us. So far as our wonderful listening audience was concerned, there was a great feeling of expectancy when they looked up and saw Johnny Hodges sitting in the middle of the saxophone section, in the front row. I am glad and thankful that I had the privilege of presenting Johnny Hodges for forty years, night after night. I imagine I have been much envied, but thanks to God....” Duke Ellington eulogy.

John Cornelius Hodges was born on the 25th July 1906 in Cambridge, Mass. He started his musical career playing drums and piano before taking up the saxophone at the age of 14, beginning on the soprano and later the alto. Originally self-taught he was given lessons by Sydney Bechet, whom he got to know through his sister. He followed Bechet into Willie 'The Lion' Smith's quartet at the Rhythm Club (around 1924), then played in the house band with Bechet's Club ‘Basha’ in Harlem. He continued to live in Boston and traveled to New York at weekends playing with such musicians as Bobby Sawyer (1925), Lloyd Scott (1926), then from late 1926 with the great Chick Webb at The Paddock Club and The Savoy Ballroom, etc. followed by a short stint with Luckey Roberts.

In May 1928 Johnny joined Duke Ellington's orchestra and he remained a mainstay of the group for the next 40 years. From his first recording in 1928 he revealed his authority and technical mastery of the saxophone, playing with a broad, sweeping tone and producing impressive, cascading runs. In the opinion of many people, he soon became Duke's most valuable soloist. He made hundreds of recordings with Duke and from 1937 led his own small studio group drawn from the orchestra which made many successful series of recordings for Victor and other labels. Titles included “Jeep's Blues,” “Hodge Podge,” “The Jeep is Jumpin” all of which were co-written with Duke. Also in this period of great creativity he played in many other small groups with musicians such as Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, etc., producing classics of the period.

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Album Review

Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington Copenhagen 1958 (Bonus: After Hours 1950)

Read "Duke Ellington Copenhagen 1958 (Bonus: After Hours 1950)" reviewed by Jack Kenny


Duke Ellington hated flying so, in 1958, Ellington and Co sailed into Southampton UK to prepare for a tour of Europe. Before going on to Copenhagen, Ellington completed a tour of the UK, taking in Leeds where he met Queen Elizabeth, an event which eventually resulted in the “Queen's Suite." Earlier in the year, his strange obsession with royalty had produced a piece for Princess Margaret, “Princess Blue'" The band was particularly strong in this part of its ...

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Radio & Podcasts

I Heart The Jazz With Strings Genre + Porgy & Bess

Read "I Heart The Jazz With Strings Genre + Porgy & Bess" reviewed by David Brown


I heart the jazz with strings genre. Tonight, the most bizarre of these records, the great Johnny Hodges with Lawrence Welk's Orchestra. We then check our coats at the famed Chicago supper club Mr. Kelly's for some vocals from Sarah Vaughan and Anita O'Day. Then, after a set of new releases including Chicago's Natural Information Society and South Africa's Ahser Gamedze, we will check out a set of jazz interpretations of songs from “Porgy and Bess." Enjoy. Playlist ...

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Book Review

Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

Read "Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges" reviewed by S.G Provizer


Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges Con Chapman 240Pages ISBN: #9780190055288 Oxford University Press 2019 Alto and soprano saxophonist Johnny Hodges was one of the most singular voices in jazz. He didn't play the horn as much as sing through it. Hodges made a large, long-term contribution to the music, both as a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra and on his own. He was also a somewhat inscrutable, ...

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Radio & Podcasts

Still Swinging - Ellington, Hodges, Gonsalves, Carter in the 1960s (1960 - 1966)

Read "Still Swinging - Ellington, Hodges, Gonsalves, Carter in the 1960s (1960 - 1966)" reviewed by Russell Perry


Duke Ellington and Benny Carter, whose careers stretched back to the 1920s, continued to be vital musical presences in the 1960s. In this hour we will hear examples of their late career work and that of two veteran Ellingtonians, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves. Swing giants in the 1960s in this hour of Jazz at 100. Playlist Host Intro 0:00 Duke Ellington Trio and John Coltrane Trio “In A Sentimental Mood" from Duke Ellington ...

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Book Review

Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

Read "Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges" reviewed by David A. Orthmann


Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges Con Chapman 218 ISBN: #978-0-19-0655390-3 Oxford University Press 2019 It's difficult to fathom the existence of a jazz musician in the position of a featured soloist of an internationally recognized large ensemble, year in and year out, for decades, making a good living and deriving a fair amount of artistic satisfaction from this endeavor, as well as consistently receiving kudos from peers, critics and ...

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Album Review

Johnny Hodges: Yeah...About That

Read "Yeah...About That" reviewed by Geannine Reid


The funky, jazz-focused Yeah.....About That brings to mind the sounds of the early Brecker Brothers. Groove seems to be the primary focus of this nine-song CD from the mind of Oklahoma City native, Johnny Hodges. Hodges started playing the trumpet by the end of his fifth grade year, going on to help his high school jazz ensemble win the state competition three out of the four years he was in high school which enabled him to attend Central State University ...

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Extended Analysis

Johnny Hodges: Second Set

Read "Johnny Hodges: Second Set" reviewed by David Rickert


Johnny Hodges Second Set Avid Records 2011 Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges left Duke Ellington's band in 1951 feeling underappreciated and underpaid and convinced that he would have better luck on his own. Unfortunately he was never able to turn his considerable artistry into a lucrative career, and was back with Ellington in a few years for good. Working with Ellington was definitely where he belonged; his fluttering, gusty sound was one of the benchmarks ...

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Recording

Johnny Hodges: 3 Shades of Blue,1970

Johnny Hodges: 3 Shades of Blue,1970

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Yesterday, I posted on Webster's Dictionary, a rare late-career album by tenor saxophonist Ben Webster and arranged by Stan Tracey that is virtually unknown by even ardent jazz fans. To continue my series on great saxophonists and little-known gems in their final years, today I'm looking at Johnny Hodges's 3 Shades of Blue, arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson. Recorded in 1970 over two dates in March for the Flying Dutchman label, the album showcased the alto saxophonist with a ...

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Video / DVD

Backgrounder: Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster

Backgrounder: Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster were a perfect pair. Hodges played with a smooth, bluesy sweetness while Webster offset that with his breathy, husky tone. Both recorded together in the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1930s and '40s, and they paired off again in the 1950s on small-group dates. My favorite sessions featuring them in tandem is the so-called Jazz Cellar session of November 1960. It was recorded at a San Francisco club without an audience. ...

Recording

Backgrounder: Johnny Hodges and Earl Hines

Backgrounder: Johnny Hodges and Earl Hines

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers


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Video / DVD

Wild Bill Davis & Johnny Hodges

Wild Bill Davis & Johnny Hodges

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Before Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Big John Patton, Jimmy McGriff, Brother Jack McDuff, Groove Holmes and all the other organists you know, there was Wild Bill Davis. Born in Missouri, Davis started his recording career in 1945 as organist and arranger for Louis Jordan and His Tympani Five, one of the leading pioneers of rhythm and blues. When Davis left Jordan in 1951, he led a trio and began recording for Okeh. Perhaps his best known recording today is April ...

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Recording

Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges

Ben Webster and Johnny Hodges

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

In the fall of 1960, Ben Webster was on the West Coast freelancing and recording. Johnny Hodges was out there as well with the Duke Ellington Orchestra to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival. On Nov. 22, two days before Thanksgiving, Webster and Hodges were in San Francisco to record an album for the Verve label that was never released. The CD should be added to any list of jazz albums that will instantly convert non-believers into life-long fans. The ...

Video / DVD

Johnny Hodges and Will Bill

Johnny Hodges and Will Bill

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Exceptional jazz musicians win us over with a warm tone, lyrical lines, a feel for the blues, respect for space, sheer speed or stamina—to name just a handful of winning traits. But not all exceptional jazz musicians work well together and only a bunch of couplings have produced dazzling results. Perfect partnerships that come to mind include Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Lester Young, Max Roach and Clifford Brown, John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, Blue Mitchell and ...

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Video / DVD

Video: Johnny Hodges, 1969

Video: Johnny Hodges, 1969

Source: JazzWax by Marc Myers

Johnny Hodges was an alto saxophonist who joined Duke Ellington in 1928 and developed a sweet, high-vibrato sound popularized in the 1930s by Benny Carter. He also was one of the smoothest swing improvisers on the instrument, praised by reed masters from Benny Goodman to Charlie Parker. Yesterday, I spent a few hours listening to “Rabbit," as Hodges was known, so I thought I'd share a few terrific video clips from 1969 with you...  Here's Hodges with Ellington in Berlin ...

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Birthday

Jazz Musician of the Day: Johnny Hodges

Jazz Musician of the Day: Johnny Hodges

Source: Michael Ricci

All About Jazz is celebrating Johnny Hodges' birthday today!

JAZZ MUSICIAN OF THE DAY Johnny Hodges

Johnny Hodges - alto saxophone, (1907-1970) “Never the world\'s most highly animated showman or greatest stage personality, but a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes, this was Johnny Hodges. Because of this great loss... more

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Put AAJ's Musician of the Day box ...

Gwen Sampé
vocals
Keith Pray
saxophone
Patrick Cornelius
saxophone, alto
Paul Cosentino
clarinet
Dan Wilensky
saxophone
Enric Peidro
saxophone, tenor
Joan Hutton
saxophone
Will Boyd
woodwinds
Ed Harlow
saxophone
Chuck Currie
woodwinds

Photos

Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Duke Ellington...

Storyville Records
2024

buy

Yeah...About That

Veritas Entertainment
2012

buy

Johnny Hodges: Second...

Avid Records UK
2011

buy

Joe's Blues

Lone Hill Jazz
2007

buy

The Complete Verve...

Mosaic Records
2001

buy

Videos

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Benny Carter
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