Recording Date: Apr 5, 1958
All Music Guide
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Johnny Hodges and His Orchestra
People whose interest in jazz begins with Charlie Parker never fail to fascinate me. They remind me of the man who, determined to finish "War and Peace" once and for all, started at the account of the Battle of Borodino. Many of us are inclined to overlook the fact that there were modernists before Parker and Gillespie. Modernism after all is not a style but an attitude, and in the pre-Parker generation, the most adventurous spirits were already playing a highly sophisticated kind of jazz.
Of all those prewar giants, Johnny Hodges has perhaps shown the profoundest artistic wisdom, for he has never made any attempt to move with the times. He has never felt inclined to assimilate the harmonic devices of a younger generation. Listen to the blues tracks on this album, and "Now's The Time" might never have happened.
Now on the face of it this sounds like aesthetic fecklessness. Is it not the artist's duty to keep abreast of the times? And the answer is an emphatic "No". The artist's duty is to preserve the homogeneity of his own style, and the experiences of the past twenty years have shown us, through Hodges' two great contemporaries, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins, that any attempt to change musical gears at a late stage in one's career usually costs a great deal in stylistic integration.
Hodges seems never to have given the problem a thought, apparently knowing instinctively a truth many critics have failed to perceive, which is that although jazz certainly evolves, its individuals do not, in the sense that once a musician has acquired the nuances of his own generation, they are his for the rest of his life, whether he wants them or not. Had Hodges tried to assimilate the chromatic thought of Charlie Parker, jazz would have lost a great lyric player and gained just another imitator.
Because of Hodges' good sense in this matter, we are bequeathed performances like "Satin Doll" on this album, an alto solo which draws on few notes in each chord and few chords in the grammar of music, but which contrives to be melodically attractive and emotionally beguiling. And there is that touching moment in the first jazz chorus of "Reeling and Rocking" where Hodges suddenly invokes the ghost of no less a person than the baby-faced apotheosis of the Jazz Age himself, Bix Beiderbecke.
These observations on the reactions of Hodges to the music of the postwar world apply less to Roy Eldridge, whose work inspired a whole generation of younger men and who has skirted the rim of the New Jazz without suffering any intrinsic damage to one of the most stimulating and passionate personal styles in the whole range of jazz. Ben Webster's attitude has been more like that of Hodges. He is a stylist who suffered grevious and shameful neglect for many years before people realised that when the new modernism arrived, the old modernists did not simply curl up and die.
As for the ethics of standing still in a moving universe, it seems madness to me to expect milestones to start walking along the road.
-Benny Green (The Observer, London)