Johnny Hodges

The Complete Johnny Hodges Sessions (1951-1955)

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As is true of most Mosaic box sets, it would be very difficult to improve upon this reissue. After 22 years, altoist Johnny Hodges left Duke Ellington's orchestra in 1950 to try to make it on his own as a bandleader. Five years later, he returned to Ellington for the final 15 years of his life after having recorded the music heard on this six-LP set. Hodges's small group, a unit that emphasized blues, ballads, and riff-filled romps, was an extension of the Ellington band. Hodges had a big hit with "Castle Rock" (ironically a feature for tenor saxophonist Al Sears), but otherwise had trouble at the end making ends meet. Other notable sidemen on these enjoyable performances include trumpeters Emmett Berry and Harold "Shorty" Baker, trombonist Lawrence Brown, and tenors Flip Phillips, Ben Webster, and John Coltrane on one session (during which he unfortunately does not solo); the final session, from Sept. 8, 1955 (after Hodges had already returned to Ellington), also has trumpeter Clark Terry and pianist Billy Strayhorn. Most of this music had been long out of print at the time this 1989 box was released. A highly recommended gem of swinging jazz.