ART HODES’ CHICAGO RHYTHM KINGS
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Chicago Rhythm Kings: (on #1,4,5,8) Marty Marsala (tp) Rod Cless (cl) Art Hodes (p) Jack Goss (g) Earl Murphy (b)
Art Hodes Blue Three: (on #2,3,6,7) Rod Cless (cl) Art Hodes (p) Jimmy Butts (b) New York, 1940
1. There’ll Be Some Changes Made (2:41) (Higgins – Overstreet)
2. Tin Roof Blues (3:08) (New Orleans Rhythm Kings)
3. Diga Diga Doo (3:27) (McHugh – Fields)
4. Song of the Wanderer (3:13) (Niel Moret)
5. Sugar (2:43) (Pinkard – Mitchell – Alexander)
6. Four or Five Times (2:48) (Hellman – Gay)
7. I’ve Found a New Baby (2:44)(Palmer – Williams)
8. Randolph Street Rag (3:14) (Art Hodes)
The music on this LP was never part of any major trend or “School” – and it perhaps for this very reason that it is a significant part of the full story of American jazz. You can, if you wish, forget all about significance and just enjoy eight fine, relaxed and thoroughly barrelhouse numbers, with particular emphasis on the very low-down piano style of ART HODES. But you must take note of the rather amazing fact that jazz of this sort has been created by a group of white Chicago musicians.
There is a great gap between the jazz of white and Negro Chicagoans; it existed almost from the first, and it has always been much larger than merely the geographical difference between that city’s North and South Sides. This seems something of a paradox. Jazz is, of course, basically and originally the music of the American Negro; the whites who learned to play in Chicago in the 1920s absorbed a great deal from the many New Orleans jazzmen who had by that time come North to live and to play their strange new music.
Certainly the North Side high school boys who became the pioneers of the white Chicago style stayed close to the small-band instrumentation, the improvisation, the two-beat. But they had their own background, their own kind of ideas to express. Besides, it is one of the truisms of the music that no white man ever played quite like a Negro. So, almost s soon as it came into being, white jazz was something different. The North Siders never could (perhaps never wanted to) duplicate the beat, the ensemble work, the whole sound of the New Orleans-based South Side music. The admired men like Dodds, Oliver, young Louis Armstrong, and in a sense they followed them. But the plain fact is that there has always – and almost automatically – been a world of difference between white Chicago “Dixieland” and the original New Orleans product. (You can find the difference clearly defined on two Riverside LPs – RLP 1004: The Chicagoans, and RLP 1005: New Orleans Horns – originally recorded only a very few years apart.)
Like any truism, however, this summation is something less than the whole truth. There have always been men – like Art Hodes – who have refused to recognize the existence of the gap, and who have attempted in their playing to fuse elements of both schools. In the late ‘30s, when Hodes was occasionally able to gather together musicians who shared some of his feelings, he was capable of producing a kind of small-band jazz that is exciting and immensely satisfying, and that provides important proof of the ties that link virtually all jazz styles.
Hodes himself is a unique figure among jazz musicians. Among other things, he is clearly one of the most articulate (he was for a time a most erudite jazz disc-jockey, and has edited a highly literate jazz magazine). He spent most of the ‘30s playing in Chicago saloons, usually as a solo performer: apparently partly through choice and partly because there was really no one for him to play with (mixed bands were virtually unheard of then; white jazzmen as close to the Negro style as Art were perhaps even more of a rarity).
Hodes is the possessor of a truly great left hand; he has all the barrelhouse rock and pound, and with a staccato precision all his own. It is largely because of this that you cannot feel the absence of drums on these records; Art is easily capable of doing the work of two men in the rhythm section. In his solos is evident the strong, “dirty,” blues base of his style, underlined by the frequent runs of descending triplets that have become almost his trademark. When a New Orleans or Chicago Negro originally played in this vein, it was largely because this was the way to play, the only way. With Hoes, who has been exposed to white variations on the traditional theme, it is obviously a matter of choice: to him it is not the only way, but it is the right way. This almost premeditated choice may not be recommended for all musicians, but the tremendous sincerity and emotional impact of Hodes’ piano make it quite clear that it is a highly effective approach for him.
In 1940, when these records were made, he was in suitable company for almost the first time. All these musicians are white (except for the bass player on the trio numbers), and most have strongly Chicago-style backgrounds. Hodes is the only one who has always insistently played in a blues and barrelhouse vein. But Hodes is the dominant force here, and under his leadership there emerges a kind of jazz that is remarkable akin in feeling to the South Side music of, say, any small Johnny Dodds group of a decade earlier.
Rod Cless, who died in 1944, played primarily with the standard Chicago gang, but his personal tastes always remained closer than most to that of the New Orleans clarinetists. Particularly in the trio numbers here, in which he is carrying the full burden of the melodic line, he announces his firm connection with the clarity, the economical phrasing, the full, round tone, and the intense blues feeling of men like Dodds and Jimmy Noone.
Marty Marsala may easily be one of the most under-rated of jazz musicians, which is partly his own fault: he has never recorded much or played any too regularly. On these numbers he stands, in a sense, as the North Side force that balances the South Side leanings of Hodes and Cless. He is very much a “white” horn, with no claim to the lyric power of a King Oliver. But there is also no trace of either of the two fairly common failings of white horn men: there is nothing “pretty,” nor anything cold and tough-for-the-sake-of-toughness in his playing. He is always a clean, driving lead voice, and to this considerable extent his trumpet is perfectly suited to this group.
The tunes they play are a somewhat mixed selection, but they are largely drawn from the standard repertoire of the North Siders (Changes, New Boy, Tin Rood, Sugar), a fact that only serves to emphasize that they are doing something different, that here is a unique and wonderful link between two diverging styles. Theirs is a kind of jazz that flourished only briefly, and most moderately, and that has never really been duplicated since, which – as this LP indicates – is everybody’s loss.
This material originally recorded by Bob Thiel; reissued by special arrangement.
This LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, N.Y.