Monday, 21 May 2012

10. Johnny Dodds: 1926 (The Chronological Classics Series)

One of the great things about taking the time to build this jazz library is that I get to go back and look at some musicians that I may have inadvertently missed when composing the chronology of the main blog. One such figure is clarinetist, Johnny Dodds.

Dodds was one of the most important clarinet players in the Chicago scene in the 1920's. Born in 1892 in  New Orleans, he grew up in the time and place when jazz music was born. He was spotted practicing his clarinet and was asked to join Kid Ory's band in 1912 and thus began his career. Gigs in Storyville and the riverboats led to work further afield, eventually leading him to Chicago where he was to remain for the rest of his life. He joined the most popular band in the city, led by Joe "King" Oliver. Soon after in June 1922, history was made when Louis Armstrong was asked to join the band. Both men made their recording debuts with Oliver on the Gennett label which included the seminal track, "Dippermouth Blues". Soon after leaving the band Dodds and his brother, drummer Warren "Baby" Dodds formed their own band and became the house band in Kelly's Stables for the remainder of the decade (in between creating jazz history by providing the clarinet on Armstrong's Hot Five & Seven recordings!)

One great story that came out from this time was of Johnny Dodds' encounter with none other than Al Capone. Whilst playing a solo gig in a club, Al Capone asked Johnny to play a song. After telling Capone that he did not know the tune, Capone tore up a $100 bill, gave half to Johnny and told him he had better learn the tune by the next night. Dodds assuredly did so and earned the other half of the money.

This album represents Johnny Dodds at possibly the height of his career in 1926. His music was very much steeped in the ensemble style that was coming out of New Orleans in the early part of the century. Yet as the music moved towards more solo expressiveness Dodds was able to shine with a bluesy and intense expressiveness that was able to keep up with the innovations that the likes of Bechet and Armstrong were creating.

The album opens with a couple of tunes from Jimmy Blythe's Washboard Band, "Bohunkus Blues" and "Buddy Burton's Jazz". Dodds playing is not exactly earth shattering and the tracks are probably better known for demonstrating the prowess of Blythe, one of the very first exponents of boogie woogie piano. The album really comes into its own on the next eight tracks from The New Orleans Wanderers and The New Orleans Bootblacks. These bands were essentially the Hot Five minus Armstrong, who was unable to record  with them due to contract restraints. With George Mitchell on cornet the quality of the band is clear to see, especially in tracks like "Perdido Street Blues"

Included in the album are two jazz gems as recorded by the legendary Freddie Keppard on cornet. I briefly touched on Keppard in the blog as he was one of the original jazz pioneers and the man who took the mantle from Buddy Bolden. Keppard is also well known for the jazz recordings he didn't make in 1916 which would have assured his place in history as the first jazz player to make a record. However he is represented here in "Salty Dog" and "Stock Yard Strut". The latter demonstrates Keppard's swinging technique and gives a glimpse of how one of the true original jazz greats may have sounded in his heyday. These recordings are the only ones we have of Keppard.

Johnny Dodds was a true jazz original. He will probably always be remembered as the clarinetist on Louis Armstrong's breakthrough records of the 1920's but this album also serves as a reminder of his talent when he was front and centre.

1. Bohunkus Blues (2:55)
2. Buddy Burton's Jazz (2:38)
3. Perdido Street Blues (3:10)
4. Gatemouth (3:07)
5. Too Tight (2:57)
6. Papa Dip (2:54)
7. Mixed Salad (3:11)
8. I Can't Say (3:10)
9. Flat Foot (3:25)
10. Mad Dog (2:49)
11. Messin' Around (2:57)
12. Adam's Apple (2:56)
13. East Coast Trot (2:58)
14. Chicago Buzz (2:46)
15. Idle Hour Special (2:56)
16. 47th Street Stomp (3:01)
17. Stock Yards Strut (2:31)
18. Salty Dog (2:45)
19. Apeman (2:38)
20. Your Folks (2:44)
21. House Rent Rag (3:04)
22. Memphis Shake (3:17)
23. Carpet Alley-Breakdown (2:41)
24. Hen Party Blues (3:19)