Johnny Dodds


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For those who wish to develop a strong relationship with early jazz, there are certain records that may help the listener to cultivate an inner understanding, the kind of vital personal connection that reams of critical description can only hint at. Once you become accustomed to the sound of Johnny Dodds' clarinet, for example, the old-fashioned funkiness of South Side Chicago jazz from the 1920s might well become an essential element in your personal musical universe. Put everything post-modern aside for a few minutes and surrender to these remarkable historic recordings. It is January 1927, and the band, fortified with Freddie Keppard and Tiny Parham, is calling itself Jasper Taylor & His State Street Boys. The exacting chronology works well here as we are given detailed access to the records made by Dodds and a closely knit circle of musicians during the month of April 1927. Three duets with pianist Parham lie at the heart of Dodds' recorded legacy. Four trio sides feature Lil Armstrong at the piano and some very expressive guitar playing by Bud Scott. "The New St. Louis Blues" is particularly impressive, in fact downright hypnotizing. Scott sounds a lot like Bobby Leecan as he strums and strikes the strings with great deliberation. Speaking of Louis Armstrong, get a load of how he cooks and swings through four incredible stomps with Jimmy Bertrand's Washboard Wizards. Bertrand himself was a lively character, Jimmy Blythe was one of the best pianists in town at the time, and by 1927, Louis was well on his way to becoming the most influential -- and painstakingly imitated -- jazz musician of his generation. The sheer vitality of these records is incredible. Each performance is a delight, and Fats Waller fans will enjoy the Wizards' spunky interpretation of Waller's "I'm Goin' Huntin'." The very next day, Johnny Dodds' Black Bottom Stompers made four records in a Crescent City groove. "Weary Blues" positively percolates, and a perusal of the personnel is illuminating. Cornetist Louis Armstrong, trombonist Roy Palmer and clarinetist Johnny Dodds are joined by Barney Bigard, who boots away on a tenor saxophone. 1927 was the year that Bigard joined Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, there to distinguish himself by playing the clarinet like nobody else before or since. How interesting to hear him laying down basslines and occasionally soloing with a big sweaty sax. The presence of Bud Scott, Earl Hines at the piano and Warren "Baby" Dodds behind the drums rounds out one of the most intriguing ensembles in the entire Johnny Dodds discography. The remaining eight sides, variously attributed to the State Street Ramblers, the Dixie-Land Thumpers and to Jimmy Blythe & His Owls, are scruffy stomps with washboard percussion by Baby Dodds, elegant piano from Jimmy Blythe, and the chattering cornet of Natty Dominique. These are among the best records that Johnny Dodds ever made, and the producers of the Classics Chronological Series are to be commended for having released them in this outstanding package.

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