My blog is named in honour of one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century, namely Edward Kennedy Ellington, but better known by his title of “Duke.”
Born on April 29, 1899, Duke Ellington was raised by two talented, musical parents in a middle-class neighbourhood of Washington DC. At the age of 7, he began studying piano and earned the nickname “Duke” for his gentlemanly ways. Inspired by his job as a soda jerk, he wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag,” at the age of 15. Despite being awarded an art scholarship to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, Ellington followed his passion for ragtime and began to play professionally at age 17.
From the early days at the Cotton Club up until his death in 1974 Ellington led a band which at various times contained some of the the jazz worlds greatest artists including Harry Carney, Cootie Williams, Paul Gonsalves, Jimmy Blanton, Juan Tizol and probably the greatest of them all was Johnny Hodges. I have over 50 CDs in my collection by the Ellington orchestra but I can identify immediately the sultry mellifluous sound of Hodges alto saxophone when he is soloing. What a pity that he virtually never touched the soprano saxophone which he had featured in his early career, I feel sure that he would have given Sydney Bechet a run for his money!
Of all the tunes that Hodges soloed on, perhaps the most oustanding is “Jeeps Blues” a joint composition by Ellington and Hodges and which became a standard for the band. There are many recordings of this tune by Hodges and the band, but possibly the finest is the version played at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival which is perhaps more famous for Paul Gonsalves bringing the house down with his twenty seven chorus solo linking the compositions “Diminuendo in Blue and Crescendo in Blue.”
Recently I posted a version of this tune by the wonderful Saint Andreu Jazz band of Barcelona and featuring the exceptional talents of fifteen year old Eva Fernadez on alto sax. Now here is your chance to hear the “master” play it. From the Newport Festival album I give you the genius of Johnny Hodges at his best.