The tracks were recorded between March 28, 1938 and October 14, 1939.
Johnny Hodges And His Orchestra
Retro-records with sound artefact
This is a good set that should have been a great one. Rather than reissue all 43 of altoist Johnny Hodges's small-group dates for Vocalion and Okeh, this CD (which should have been two) only contains 16. The music is often classic small-group swing ("Jeep's Blues," "Hodge Podge" and "Rent Party Blues" are among the highpoints) and there are several superb examples of Hodges playing soprano (showing off the influence of Sidney Bechet) but many valuable performances are missing. The problem is that the set is a straight reissue (although with some new liner notes) of an Epic LP rather than being an improvement. This important material deserves to be repackaged in a more complete fashion.
All Music Guide
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What better form than blues is there in which to hear the clequence of alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges? This album is one of those included in the "Epic in Jazz" series, Recorded during 1938 and 1939, the sides cover a wide range of blues tempos and moods. They reflect the latitude of Johnny Hodges' musical expression. One of the greatest of the saxophone classicists, Hodges' inventive embellishment of theme, great technical facility and basic good taste remain a wonder nearly two decades after these sides were first recorded. With all the harmonic structure modern jazz contains, it is interesting to hear the apparent effortlessness and simplicity of this music. Johnny Hodges will provide a few moments of real enjoyment for you in these vintage recordings.
The first is Jeep's Blues. Characterized by wailing solos and the deliberate block chords of an Ellington background piano, it is most notable for the showcase it provides Hodges. This was recorded March 28, 1938.
Krum Elbow Hines illustrates the loose-jointed action of a Dixie melody. Recorded September 1, 1939. this is a more rocking blues than the first and shows how the limited form of Dixieland style need not interfere in the range of musical idea expressed if it is in the hands of authentic and capable Dixie musician?.
On the next-Dream Blues - you hear a Hodges capable of expressing ideas with the same heart of a Bechet or a Hackett . . . the full rich sound intermixed with warmth as well as grace.
Empty Ballroom Blues has the ever-present rolls of piano boogie. Here, too, you have a happier blues-but still a blues. There is some tasteful chorus work on this side and the Cootie Williams trumpet has an opportunity to 'talk' in the way only a horn playing blues can. Then comes the alto sax answer of a sweet-horned Hodges.
Rent Party Blues is in honor, of course, of the days when the out-of-work musician, unable to pay his rent, would find his friends at his place prepared to play a little music and after pass the hat to pay their buddy's rent. A nice custom it was. Johnny Hodges carries most of the solo chores here and does a spirited performance.
Home Town Blues is another blues depicting a familiar experience of the on-the-road musician. This is a gay, lilting rendition, though, with a chance for Harry Carney's baritone to issue forth and some bright piano trifles by Ellington.
Good Gal Blues is the one with the plaintive melody. Here in the midst of all this sweet sorrow arc those Cootie Williams scolding growls. Skunk Hollow Blues has everybody growling in the lead but then goes into the simple liners of the Hodges saxophone. This is a low-down blues done in a whimsical form.
Savoy Strut is a good example of the Hodges scooped or sliding pitch. It contains the slow deliberate saxophone tone departure. An intensity and compassion as well as a certain indifference mark this calculated blues. It has lovely harmony and is the soulful lament of a real blues. It might even be termed torchy because of the full-throated yet controlled Hodges horn.
Dooji Wooji and Dancing on the Stars are also included in this set as is Hodge Podge. The first two were recorded in February and December of 1939, while the last was cut in December 1938.
Listeners can only wonder at the loose yet wonderfully clear musical visage Johnny Hodges displays for them to hear. All the beauty of the instrument is manifested in his delicate searchings for the right musical phrase, in his constant correct choice. He is certainly one who deserves great praise for the joy his music has brought to jazz devotees all over the world. Epic is proud to here present the Johnny Hodges portion of the "Epic in Jazz" Series.
-Shirley Hoskins Collins