Happy Birthday Johnny Hodges
John Cornelius "Johnny" Hodges was born July 25, 1906 in Cambridge, MA. According to Wikipedia, he is considered one of the definitive alto saxophones players of the big band era alongside Benny Carter.
His first instruments were drums and piano, and when he became skilled enough, he played piano at house dances for eight dollars an evening. He took up the soprano saxophone in his teens, around the same time he was pegged with the nickname "Rabbit", which some people believe arose from his ability to win 100-yard dashes and outrun truant officers. In fact, saxophonist Harry Carney called him Rabbit because of his rabbit-like nibbling on lettuce and tomato sandwiches.
Hodges joined Duke Ellington's orchestra in November 1928. Ten years later he was one of the prominent Ellington Band members featured in Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert. Goodman described Hodges as "by far the greatest man on alto sax that I ever heard." Charlie Parkercalled him "the Lily Pons of his instrument."
Ellington's practice of writing tunes specifically for members of his orchestra resulted in the Hodges specialties, "Confab with Rab", "Jeep's Blues", "Sultry Sunset", and "Hodge Podge."
Hodges had a pure tone and economy of melody on both the blues and ballads that won him admiration from musicians of all eras and styles, from Ben Webster and John Coltrane, who both played with him when he had his own orchestra in the 1950s, to Lawrence Welk, who featured him in an album of standards. His highly individualistic playing style, which featured the use of a wide vibrato and much sliding between slurred notes, was frequently imitated.
Hodges' last performances were at the Imperial Room in Toronto, less than a week before his May 11, 1970 death from a heart attack. In Ellington's eulogy of Hodges, he said, "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."
Relive one of the true masters in this perfromance from 1966, Sunny Side of the Street.