Happy February! DJing for a swing dance on the first day of African American History Month is a real treat. I DJed band breaks for the fabulous Harley White Jr. Orchestra, and a friend and I couldn’t stop geeking out all night over how good their music was, and how good they were at interspersing fast songs with really lovely slow ones (my friend and I both love slow Lindy). Let’s take a look at some great black artists featured in my band breaks last night!
I’ve been getting more into Johnny Hodges in the new year, and I loved playing his song “Early Morning Rock.” It has a clearly defined melody and a driving beat, and Johnny Hodges on the alto saxophone makes everyone want to dance.
With the exception of a few independent forays in the 1950s, Johnny Hodges played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra from May 1928 until he died in May 1970 – a musical collaboration of 32 years. That’s a long time!
When Duke Ellington found out that Hodges had died of a heart attack at the dentist’s office in 1970, he wrote a eulogy for him the same night. As such a great musician in his own right, I think Ellington was in a unique position to comment on Hodges’ legacy in jazz.
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. This is Johnny Hodges.
Because of this great loss, our band will never sound the same.
Johnny Hodges and his unique tonal personality have gone to join the ever so few inimitables – those whose sounds stand unimitated, to say the least – Art Tatum, Sydney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Billy Strayhorn…..
Johnny Hodges sometimes sounded beautiful, sometimes romantic, and sometimes people spoke of his tone as being sensuous. I’ve heard women say his tone was so compelling.
He played numbers like ‘Jeep’s Blues’, ‘Things Ain’t What They Used To Be’, ‘I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart’, ‘All Of Me’, ‘On The Sunny Side Of The Street’, Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Passion Flower’, and ‘Day Dream’ and many more.
With the exception of a year or so, almost his entire career was with us. Many came and left, sometimes to return. 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….
May God bless this beautiful giant in his own identity. God Bless Johnny Hodges.
A song that drew some unexpected attention was “Fiddle-Dee-Dee” by Lionel Hampton and His Sextette, featuring a little-known jazz violinist named Ray Perry. I learned today from a YouTube video description that Ray Perry used to sing while soloing on violin, and inspired Slam Stewart to continue the practice on bass!
I ended the first band break with “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” performed live by Sarah Vaughan at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1963. Kirk Stuart on piano and Charles “Buster” Williams on double bass provide an infectious rhythm, and Sarah Vaughan delivers personality-filled vocals and dope scatting. I love it!
My second band break was short – a birthday jam and the Shim Sham, and then time for just two songs before the band came back. A friend of mine in Milwaukee recently turned me on to the song “Moonglow” by the Benny Goodman Quartet, which has a shimmering, dreamy feel. The Benny Goodman Quartet was one of the first racially integrated jazz groups to arise in the 1930s, so this song felt very appropriate.
I love the below photo of the quartet in their younger days – from left, it’s Lionel Hampton on the vibraphone, Teddy Wilson on piano, Benny Goodman on clarinet, and Gene Krupa on drums. Benny Goodman used to say, “If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.”
I concluded my second band break with “Summit Ridge Drive” by Cootie Williams, which I’ve loved forever for Cootie’s trumpet solos. (Fun fact: one of the trumpet players in the band came over and wanted to know what I was playing, and then soloed along on his own trumpet!)
I’ll be DJing again at Midtown Stomp in a few weeks, on February 15th. If you’re in the area, I hope I see you there!