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Johnny Hodges (1907 - 1970)

Johnny Hodges was essentially self-taught, starting on drums and piano and later picking up soprano and alto sax. He became a kind of protégé of clarinetist Sydney Bechet and joined his band after a stint with Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith’s quartet, which began when he was only 18. After experiences in several other bands he joined Duke Ellington in 1928, becoming his preeminent soloist for 40 years. Duke referred to Hodges as “a consummate original,” whose alto saxophone lent a distinctive sound to the Ellington recordings. In fact it was Hodges who introduced Duke’s “Prelude to a Kiss” in 1938. Throughout the ’40s he was a consistent poll winner and is considered by many the finest alto saxophonist in jazz.

Hodges recorded with several prestigious small groups and led his own for a few years in the early ’50s before rejoining Ellington. He co-wrote several tunes with Ellington, including “Hodge Podge,” “The Jeep Is Jumpin’,” and “Things Ain’t What They Used to Be.” And Ellington, as he was wont, wrote several compositions specifically to feature Hodges’ solos. The altoist’s last recording, shortly before his sudden death, was Ellington’s “ New Orleans Suite.”

-- Sandra Burlingame

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