JOHNNY DODDS (VOLUME 1)
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
8 outstanding examples of South Side Chicago Jazz
Johnny Dodds (cl) with: Natty Dominique (tp) Jimmy Blythe (p) Jimmy Bertrand (drs, wbd) (on band 1-4)
Johnny Dodds (cl) with Tommy Ladnier (tp) Lovie Austin (p) others unknown (on bands 5 and 6) – Blind Blake (g, vcl) (on band 7) Bertrand (on abnd 7) – Blythe; Bertrand: others unknown (on band 8); Chicago 1927 (band 1-7), 1926
Dixieland Thumpers (Parmount 12594)
1 Orinetal Man (2:51)
2 Sock That Thing (2:48)
3 Weary Way Blues (2:56)
4 There'll Come A Day (2:52)
Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders (Paramount 12391)
5 Merry Makers' Twine (2:54)
6 In The Alley Blues (2:56)
Blind Blake (Paramount 12673)
7 Hot Potatoes (2:56)
Blythe’s Washboard Ragamuffines (Paramount 12428)
8 Ape Man (2:43)
JOHNNY DODDS (1992-1940) was one of the very great jazz clarinetists.
He learned to play in the traditional New Orleans manner back with the old bands, like the Eagle and the Tuxedo. He picked up the classic clarinet style of the creoles (the short, choppy, many-note phrases alternating with long, swooping glissandos; the subtle and delicate changes of key and register); he mastered this style, and he proceeded to do many fabulous, beautiful and exciting things with it.
Dodds could play it sweet or rough, could explore thoroughly the full range of his instrument in any tempo. But most of all, it would seem, he loved the swift, yet thoroughly relaxed, small-band style that developed rather unobtrusively on Chicago's South Side during the 1920s - a music that is sometimes referred to as "Mecca Flats jazz", after the huge and picturesque old apartment building where so many Negro jazzmen of the period lived or hung out.
The clarinet had come out of New Orleans to play with King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, the brilliant group that also served to introduce young Louis Armstrong to Chicago. He first recorded with the Oliver band, in 1923, and then went on to become one of the most in-demand recording artists of the '20s, Chicago's "Golden Age" of jazz. Into a four or five year span, Dodds concentrated his appearances with Armstrong's Hot Five, with Jelly Roll Morton, with such groups of his own as the Footwarmers and Black Bottom Stompers, and with a great many others - including those with whom he is heard on this LP.
When the Depression put an end to golden ages and to flurries of recording activity, Johnny drifted pretty much out of the center of things. His style and his jazz ideas did not permit him to be absorbed into anyone's big band, and there was little else for a talented New Orleans clarinetist to be doing. He recorded a few sides again, in the late '39s (primarily attempts at recreating the old style), and then in 1940 he died.
Dodds was a most important figure in Chicago in his day, and his influence remains, but he seems to be remembered chiefly for his association with Armstrong. He is brilliant on his many records with Louis, but to 'type' him on the basis of, for example, the Hot Five sides, is to run the risk of missing the essence of Johnny Dodds.
Certainly it is easy enough to let him slide by you - this was not a man about whom colorful legends sprang up. Except for a large and ornate ring of which he was inordinately proud, the older musicians appear to recall just about nothing. But his personality (as well as his vibrant clarinet style) is by no means lost. It is very much in evidence on the 8 selections here. The picture of Dodds they give may not be the most familiar, but it is probably the truest and most accurate.
The free and easy, rhythmic "washboard style" epitomized on the four Dixieland Thumpers items is a relatively neglected facet of jazz, but it was one of the most unique contributions made by the South Siders. The Mecca Flats gang was exponents of a tremendously relaxed and informal music that might as well as be called shirtsleeve jazz as anything else. It conjures up images of dingy off-the-beaten-path bars: the air is smoky the whiskey and gin served straight and cheap, the piano stained with many years of beer glasses; there is hardly a coat or tie in the place.
And the musicians would be playing tunes like Oriental Man, Sock That Thing, Weary Blues, There'll Come A Day. The men, like their music, have often been neglected and under-rated by jazz critics. Jimmy Blythe, one of the greets of the era, supplies highly rhythmic piano: and there is Jimmy Bertrand, about whom very little is known, but who does more things with washboard and thimbles than most drummers have even thought about. Natty Dominique is very far from the most polished and musicianly of trumpet men, but his rough style fits this music to perfection. Dodds is in his element, far looser and freer than on more disciplined, organized dates with Armstrong or Morton, playing easily and with plenty of emphasis on the lower register. These four men really moved pounded, rocked - but without frenzy, without knocking themselves out. Nobody seemed to be trying to create any great music, and by the fortunate irony that is so often the case, they thereby come exceedingly close to greatness.
The two Lovie Austin numbers probably seem a touch more sophisticated only because of direct comparison with the Thumpers. Ladnier's horn is less rough, a shade more sophisticated than Dominique's; and the instrumentation is more standard (no washboard); but the spirit - the enthusiasm and realization - is very much the same.
Blind Blake's Hot Potatoes is a sample of the all-out skiffle (or anything-goes) style that goes even further than the Thumpers. Blake shouts and sings; Bertrand performs on a piping toy usually known as the Swanee whistle, or slide whistle; Dodds rides happily along with them. Finally, Ape Man is an example of Johnny's virtuosity in this vein. He plays throughout the record without let-down, punching and chopping his notes until you'd swear he couldn't play any other way, then suddenly gliding over the rhythm section - and obviously having a very good time all the way.
The material is reissued by special arrangement with Paramount Records and John Steiner. The slight surface noise audible on the LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity
possible and more faithful reproduction of tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Album notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.