JOPHNNY DODDS: Early Recordings by the Great New Orleans Clarinetist
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Johnny Dodds, clarinet, on all selections; with –
Jasper Taylor’s State Street Boys (Side 1, #1 and 2); Natty Domonique (tp) Eddie Ellis (tb) Tiny Parham (p) Jasper Taylor (wbd) Chicago; late 1926
Junie Cobb’s Hometown Band (Side 1, #3 and 4): Junie Cobb (cl, as) Jimmy Blythe (p) Eustern Woodfork (bj) Chicago; probably June, 1926
Viola Bartlette (Side 1, #5), vocal accompanied by Cobb’s Paramount Syncopators: other personnel unknown Chicago; early 1926
Blind Blake (Side 1, #6) vocal and guitar, with Jimmy Bertland (wood blacks and slide whistle) Chicago; 1928
Jimmy Blaythe’s Washboard Band (Side 2, #1 and 2): Jimmy Blythe (p) Buddy Burton (wbd) Chicago; early 1926
State Street Ramblers (Side 2, #3 and 4): Natty Dominque (tp) Jimmy Blythe (p) Baby Dodds (drs) Chicago; August 15, 1927
Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders (Side 2, #5 and 6): Tommy Ladnier (tp) Lovie Austin (p) unknown (drs) Chicago; probably June, 1926
Jasper Taylor’s State Street Boys
It Must Be the Blues (2:29)
State Street Blues (2:35)
Junie Cobb’s Hometown Band
East Coast Trot (3:00)
Chicago Buzz (2:49)
Walk Easy ‘Cause My Papa’s Here (2:59)
Southbound Rag (3:17)
Jimmy Blythe’s Washboard Band
Bohunkus Blues (2:51)
Buddy Burton’s Jazz (2:32)
State Street Ramblers
Cootie Stomp (2:09)
Weary Way Blues (2:52)
Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders
Chicago Mess Around (3:14)
Galion Stomp (3:15)
In as highly argumentative a field as jazz, it should be rather surprising to note something close to unanimous agreement, among those who know and most deeply love the traditional forms, as to just who was the foremost New Orleans-style clarinetist. The man, of course, is JOHNN DODDS.
It is no trouble at all to find glowing tributes to Dodds. Take, as ready examples among the work of many authoritative jazz writers, the words of Charles Edward Smith (“exceptional warmth of tone and freedom in improvised ensembles”), Frederic Ramsey, Jr. (“every musician in Chicago learned to respect Dodds’ sure control of his instrument . . . and his remarkable wealth of ideas”), and the late Gene Williams (“unsurpassed on his instrument among Crescent City jazzmen”). Dodds was an easy winner in the “All-Time All-Star” poll conducted in 1951 by The Record Changer magazine. During his lifetime, other great jazzmen showed their feelings by using Johnny on a vast number of recordings: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton.
Despite all this, fame – the large-scale, full-blown sort of fame achieved by an Armstrong or a Morton – eluded him. There is no particular mystery about this: there simply was nothing at all of the showman about this man. He was quiet, not the sort to grab the spotlight, nor the kind about whom colorful and dubious legends spring up after death. The older musicians have little to tell about Dodds, and there is little that remains of him – except, of course, his music. But of that there is a great deal, all of it exciting, beautiful, imaginative jazz.
With early bands like the Eagle and the Tuxedo, he learned to play in the classic jazz clarinet style of the New Orleans Creoles: the short, choppy, many-note phrases intermingled with long, swooping glissandos; subtle and delicate changes of key and of register. He possessed an astonishingly wide vibrato and a rich, round, unforced tone. Added to this basic equipment was what certainly sounds like a total understanding of what early jazz was all about and a deep feeling for the blues.
Johnny left New Orleans before 1920 to play in King Oliver’s great Creole Jazz Band, the brilliant group that also served to introduce young Louis Armstrong to Chicago. He went on to become one of the most prolific recording artists of Chicago’s “Golden Age” of jazz. Then the Depression, and ensuing changes in jazz style, hit him hard. It is impossible to conceive of Johnny’s ideas and style being adapted to the format of any sort of big band, and there just wasn’t much else to be doing musically in the ‘30s. He recorded a few sides towards the end of that decade; then in 1940, at the age of forty-eight, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Dodds is a brilliant performer on his best-known records; the Armstrong Hot Fives, and the tightly-constructed Oliver and Morton Red Hot Peppers sides. But to remember him solely for these associations is to run the risk of missing the essence of Johnny Dodds. For he was an amazingly varied artist: he could play sweet or rough, could explore the full range of his instrument with equal effectiveness in any tempo. And it would appear that what he loved most of all was the highly rhythmical, swift-paced, yet thoroughly relaxed and informal small-band style that came into being on Chicago’s South Side during the ‘20s. This has been called “Mecca Flats jazz” – after the huge and picturesque old apartment building where many Negro musicians of the period live or huge out – and it was style that Dodds himself, as much as or more than anyone else, helped to shape.
It is this music that, for the most part, makes up this LP. Those who played it (in dingy South Side back rooms and in the studios of jazz-conscious local record companies like Paramount and Gennett) were Dodds’ friends and admirers. Drummers particularly skilled at converting an ordinary washboard into a driving rhythm instrument, like Johnny’s younger brother “Baby” Dodds, Jimmy Bertrand, Buddy Burton, Jasper Taylor. Such pianists as Jimmy Blythe (another central figure on the South Side scene), huge Tiny Parham (who also led large, well-schooled bands), Lovie Austin. Trumpet men like Natty Dominique – very far from a polished performer, but fitting this pattern to perfection; and Tommy Ladnier, among the finest of blues horns.
Theirs was certainly among the most unpretentious jazz ever created; surely no one was deliberately seeking to play ‘great’ music, and by the fortunate irony that is so often the case, they thereby came exceedingly close to a form of greatness. This is by now a most neglected facet of jazz, but it clearly deserves a kinder fate. Above all, it forms a wonderful framework for displaying the sensitive, witty, beautiful or hard-driving (and sometimes, somehow, all of these qualities at once) artistry of their most talented colleague: the unassuming and quite remarkable Johnny Dodds.
A discographical note on original label and master numbers. All but tow of these selections originally appeared on Paramount. The exceptions are the State Street Ramblers items, Cootie Stomp and Weary Way, first issued as Gennett 6232 (master numbers GE 12991A and GE 12990). It Must Be the Blues/ Stomp Time Blues (master numbers 2771-2 and 2770-2) were coupled on Paramount 12409. East Coast Trot/ Chicago Buzz (2619-3/2620-3) were Paramount 12382. Walk Easy … (2548) was on Paramount 12369; Southbound Rag on Paramount 12681. Bohunkus/ Buddy Burton’s Jazz (2541/2542) were Paramount (12368; Chicago Mess Around/ Gallion Stomp (2621-2622) were Paramount 12380.
None of these selections have previously been re-issue on Riverside.
Johnny Dodds can also be heard on several ten-inch Riverside “jazz Archives” albums. These include two sets of additional small-band selections, also reissued under his name, and two in which he appears as part of the classic King Oliver band:
JOHNNY DODDS, Vol. 1 and 2 (RLPs 1002, 1015)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG with KING OLIVER’S CREOLE JAZZ BAND (RLP 1029)
NEW ORLEANS HOENS (RLP 1005)
Other great figures of jazz history can be heard on such twelve-inch LPs as:
FATS WALLER: Rediscovered Early Solos (RLP 12-203)
“N.O.R.K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)
The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processed; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities. Most of these selections reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Stenier.
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Gene Gogerty; photograph courtesy of Williams Russell
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.