An outstanding alto saxophonist, Otto Hardwick was among the earliest players to give that instrument some identity and demonstrate its improvising potential. He had a consistently swinging, enjoyable style, and provided both sentimental, lyrical refrains on ballads and joyous work on stomps. He was extremely versatile, beginning as a bassist, moving to C-melody sax, and finally settling on alto. Hardwick and Duke Ellington were virtually lifelong friends (from the early '20s), and during his first stint in the Ellington band, Hardwick played clarinet and violin as well as baritone and alto. He didn't remain in the orchestra nearly as long as some others, however, and left the band in 1928 to visit Europe. He played with Noble Sissle and led his own orchestra before returning to New York in 1929. Hardwick worked with a band that included Chu Berry and Fats Waller; this orchestra even bested Ellington in a battle of the bands. But Hardwick returned to the Ellington orchestra in 1932 following a brief stint with Elmer Snowden, and remained until 1946. During this stint Hardwick doubled on bass sax. He and Ellington co-composed several pieces, most notably "Sophisticated Lady." He was featured on such songs as "Jubilee Stomp" and "Got Everything But You." Hardwick also played lead alto on several pieces in which Johnny Hodges wasn't featured as the principal alto player. After cutting an album in 1947, Hardwick retired from the music business. He can be heard on many Ellington albums reissued on CD from the '20s, '30s, and '40s.
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