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Tue, 04.12.1892

Johnny Dodds, Clarinetist born

Johnny Dodds

*Johnny Dodds was born on this date in 1892.  He was an American jazz clarinetist and alto saxophonist based in New Orleans. 

Johnny Dodds was born in Waveland, Mississippi. His childhood environment was a musical one.  His father and uncle were violinists, his sister played the melodeon, and in adolescence, Johnny sang high tenor in the family quartet.  According to legend, his instrumental skill began with a toy flute which had been purchased for his brother, Warren "Baby" Dodds, one of the first important jazz drummers. 

He was known for his serious and reserved manner as well as his "funky blues playing," which earned him the nickname "toilet."  Dodds moved to New Orleans in his youth and studied the clarinet with Lorenzo Tio and Charlie McCurdy.  He played with the bands of Frankie Duson, Kid Ory, and Joe "King" Oliver.  Dodds went to Chicago and played with Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, with which he first recorded in 1923. Dodds blamed the breakup on not wanting to travel and on musical conflicts due to Oliver's failing musical abilities.  He also worked frequently with his good friend Natty Dominique during this period, a professional relationship that would last a lifetime.

After the breakup of Oliver's band in 1924, Dodds replaced Alcide Nunez as the house clarinetist and bandleader of Kelly's Stables.  From 1924 to 1930, Dodds worked regularly at Kelly's Stables in Chicago and with his brother in the New Orleans Bootblacks in 1926.  He recorded with numerous small groups in Chicago, Lovie Austin, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven, and Jelly Roll Morton's Red-Hot Peppers. He also recorded prolifically under his own name, Johnny Dodds' Black Bottom Stompers, between 1927 and 1929.  He became a big star on the Chicago jazz scene of the 1920s, but his career quickly declined with the Great Depression.

Although his career gradually recovered, he did not record for most of the 1930s, affected by ill-health; he recorded only two sessions January 21, 1938, and June 5, 1940, both for Decca. He died of a heart attack on August 8, 1940, in Chicago. He was the premier clarinetist of his era and, in recognition of his artistic contributions, he was posthumously inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame.  He has been described as "a prime architect in the creation of the Jazz Age."  

Known for his professionalism and virtuosity as a musician and his heartfelt, heavily blues-laden style, Dodds was an important influence on later clarinetists.  Several accounts suggest the Dodds brothers did not always get along. When Joe Oliver hired Baby to join his band, Johnny realized how much Baby's talent as a drummer had grown, however, Johnny changed his mind. Although they continued to argue about Baby's excessive drinking, they grew closer as brothers and musicians. Baby was greatly affected by his brother's death.  

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