21 Jun Johnny Hodges-Master Alto Saxophonist
Johnny Hodges, the longtime lead alto saxophonist of the Duke Ellington Band, is one of my favorite musicians. Also known as “Rabbit”, Hodges instantly recognizable tone, vibrato and glissandi are basic ingredients any aspiring saxophonist must study. He is a master saxophonist, and my friend George Young, himself one of the greats on saxophone, once said to me, “There is no more perfect saxophonist than Johnny Hodges.”
A great place to start for an overview of Johnny Hodges life and career can be found here at his Wikipedia site…….https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Hodges
A student of jazz should make it a goal to thoroughly investigate as much of Duke Ellington’s music as possible. There are many different era’s and styles to be found here, and so much of it revolves around the amazing soloists and the incredible symphonic textures that are part of the fabric of the band’s original compositions. Duke, and his counterpart Billy Strayhorn, were magnificent composers and arrangers, and their impact on the music is so significant. In many ways their compositions and orchestrations can be compared to those of Igor Stravinsky, in that they were genre busting and unique at the time of their creation.
Inside the general scope of the Ellington canon one can find plenty of small group recordings that feature extended solo’s from many of the revered Ellington sidemen. The Suites from the 1950’s forward, such as Such Sweet Thunder or the Latin American Suite, and the small group recordings are among my very favorite things these amazing musicians recorded. I own a great 4 CD set called Johnny Hodges-The Jeep Is Jumpin’, Properbox #58, which as an amazing collection that includes all the essential listening for those desiring an immersion course in Johnny Hodges’ musical legacy.
I am including the following transcriptions here for your perusal and study, I use these frequently with my students to introduce them to Johnny Hodges and to have them absorb his sound, style and laid back way of playing. Blues O’Mighty, Creole Love Call, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, and Take The “A” Train, each a classic with plenty of musical validity to learn from. These solo’s are a study in economy of notes and tone, notice just how poised his attack and release are. Of special interest is the solo on Take The A Train, which comes from an obscure American Recording Society LP I bought at a garage sale many years ago. The others come from a Verve recording called Blue Rabbit. The Verve recording should be easy to find. If you are interested to hear the “A” Train recording, feel free to email through my website and I will send you an edited mp3 of the melody and solo.
For beginning improviser’s, particularly on alto saxophone, Johnny Hodges is the man to study in depth. His lyrical style, his legacy as the lead alto saxophonist in the Ellington Band, and his solo recordings are amazing, and any student can benefit from his recorded canon. His playing is drenched with the blues, and the depth of feeling and the warmth of his sound are timeless.
I hope you enjoy working with these transcriptions as much as I have enjoyed putting them together…..