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Thu, 07.25.1907

Ellington’s best saxophonist, Johnny Hodges

Johnny Hodges

Johnny Hodges was born on this date in 1907. He was an African American saxophonist.

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and regarded by his peers as possessing a natural gift, he was mostly self-taught. He received some instruction from Sidney Bechet, whom he replaced in Willie "The Lion" Smith's band in the early 1920s. He joined Chick Webb's band in 1926, and two years later began his legendary association with Ellington that would last essentially until the end of his life.

Hodges was the premier soloist and section leader in Duke Ellington's orchestra over nearly four decades, and the most influential alto saxophonist before Charlie Parker.

He played with consistent excellence and an instantly recognizable style that lent itself to lyrical ballads and low-down blues. Hodges soloed on scores of records with Ellington and contributed several tunes, including "Jeep's Blues" and "The Joint Is Jumpin'." From 1951-55, he led his own band, which briefly included John Coltrane. He recorded several albums for Norman Granz, including a 1952 jam session that included alto player Benny Carter and Charlie Parker.

He worked outside the Ellington orchestra again in 1958 and 1961, though Ellington's style always stayed with him, just as his own style would always remain a signature of Ellington's orchestra. After Hodges died on May 11, 1970, in New York City, Ellington remarked, "Our band will never sound the same."

Jazz People
by Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, New York
Copyright 1976
ISBN 0-8109-1152-3

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