Archive for Johnny Dodds

The Wolverines

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on April 27, 2014 by telescoper

Well, after a busy afternoon trying to get some work done in the office at the same time as worrying about whether there would be serious violence at today’s “March for England” I don’t have the energy to post anything other than a bit of music which I’ve been saving up for an occasion where a small pick-me-up was needed.

This lovely old record was made on June 10, 1927. It was issued by the Victor label with the title Wolverine Blues, by which name it’s been known ever since, but in fact it’s  a tune called The Wolverines which was written way back in 1906 by Jelly Roll Morton, who plays the piano on this track.  Anyway, it starts off as if it’s going to be a solo performance by Jelly Roll Morton on piano but then he’s joined by Johnny Dodds and his brother Warren “Baby” Dodds on clarinet and drums respectively. At first, Jelly Roll Morton just comps along quietly behind Johnny Dodds but he was never one to stay in the background for long and at about 1m 58s he springs into life to joyous effect. Listen out too for the absolutely superb work by drummer Baby Dodds who, despite having the crudest kit imaginable, lays down a carpet of infectious rhythms. Deep joy.



Cornet Chop Suey

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , on April 11, 2014 by telescoper

Just time for a short lunchtime post in between loads of end-of-term business and travelling up to London for this afternoon’s meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society. I’m a bit tired, to be honest, largely owing to a late night last night at the Sussex University Mathematics Society Ball, but this is an excellent pick-me-up. You can dip into the classic “Hot Five” recordings at any point and come up with something wonderful, but I think this is one of the very best. Recorded in Chicago on February 26, 1926, Cornet Chop Suey was written by Louis Armstrong and features him on trumpet, at the centre of the amazing front line that also included Kid Ory on trombone and Johnny Dodds on clarinet. Johnny St. Cyr plays banjo and on piano is the superb Lil Armstrong (née Hardin), Louis’ first wife, who plays a very fine solo on this track.  Above all, though, it’s a vehicle for Louis Armstrong himself who is on absolutely superlative form, especially in the stop-time choruses from about 1:47 onwards. The ending’s pretty good too…



Sippie Wallace

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , on August 17, 2013 by telescoper

I’ve been meaning to post this fabulous old record for a while but for some reason never got around to it. Until know. This is the great Sippie Wallace  who sings and plays piano in the company of Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Honore Dutrey (trombone) and Natty Dominique (cornet), on a 78rpm disc made in 1929 for the Victor label.

Sippie Wallace was born Beulah Thomas on 1st November 1896; she died on her 88th birthday in 1986. Between 1926 and 1929 she made around 40 records for the Okeh label in Chicago and may have made this record while she was still under contract with them. That reminds me of the famous story about Louis Armstrong who performed on some records for another label while on a supposedly exclusive contract with Okeh; he was hauled up in front of the manager at the Okeh label and accused of playing on these other tracks.  Of course it was him – his playing was instantly recognizable – but Satchmo is always alleged to have said “It wasn’t me, boss, but I won’t do it again”. ..

As was the case with Bessie Smith, most of Sippie Wallace’s repertoire was a bit on the raunchy side and this is no exception, but, boy, could she sing the blues. This wonderful performance is entitled I’m a Mighty Tight Woman….

Lonesome Waterloo Sunset Blues

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , on July 27, 2012 by telescoper

Just saw the song Waterloo Sunset by the popular beat combo The Kinks in a list of the ten best songs about London in this week’s New Statesman. I wonder if anyone else has noticed the remarkable resemblance between that tune and the classic Lonesome Blues recorded by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five in 1926, with the main theme played by legendary clarinettist Johnny Dodds:

I wonder if, by any chance, they might be related?

My Sweet Lovin’ Man

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by telescoper

A high temperature and raging sore throat have confined me to the house today. I got up as usual at 7.30 but quickly realised I wasn’t going to be of much to anyone; trying to give a lecture when barely able to produce a whisper didn’t seem worth the effort. So off I went back to bed, after feeding the cat, and got up again about an hour ago.

I’ve been trying to cheer myself up by listening to – and transferring to digital using my USB turntable – some lovely old jazz records that I haven’t heard for ages. Not all of them came out well, but fortunately one of my all-time favourite records is actually on youtube anyway so I thought I’d put it up.

This is My Sweet Lovin’ Man recorded by King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band on June 22nd 1923, in Chicago. It  is a purely mechanical recording, meaning that the musicians stood shoulder-to-shoulder  blowing into a horn causing a needle to cut the record directly onto a disk;   copies would be pressed using this master which could be played back for the listener by a gramophone, usually amplified by another horn. Obviously the technology was very limited, but it’s good enough to reveal the superb musicianship involved in creating this wonderful piece of music.

I love jazz from all eras of its history, but there can’t have been many  finer collections of musicians than this. It’s led by King Oliver, who plays cornet, with the young Louis Armstrong also playing cornet alongside him. Honoré Dutrey is the trombonist and the unmistakeable clarinet sound is supplied by the great Johnny Dodds. By the way, why is Johnny Dodds’ wikipedia article so brief? He was a colossal figure in the history of jazz! I must do something about that if nobody else does…

The piece was co-written by Lil Hardin, whose lovely piano playing is unusually well recorded on this track; pianos generally proved very difficult to record with the technology available in 1923.  Lil Hardin, incidentally, became Lil Armstrong when she married Louis Armstrong in February 1924. The rhythm men are Bud Scott on banjo and Warren “Baby” Dodds (Johnny’s brother) on drums, who provide an insistent yet fluid pulse underneath the rest of the band.

King Oliver’s band never used written arrangements; the musicians worked out the ensemble segments together and then played them from memory. When Louis Armstrong joined the band,  King Oliver  at first led on cornet, with  Armstrong providing decorative embellishments,  but  later on the two cornettists  developed such an understanding that they were able to swap leads almost telepathically. Their playing together on this track is sublime. The improvised counterpoint provided by Johnny Dodds and Honoré Dutrey is also breathtakingly beautiful. Although it was recorded in Chicago, this is the classic form of New Orleans polyphony sustained throughout at the very highest level.

I think this is one of the greatest jazz records of all time, but it also reminds me that there was  a move some time ago to refer to jazz as black classical music. It never caught on, but in this case the term seems to me to be perfectly apt. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.


Memphis Shake

Posted in Jazz with tags , on November 7, 2009 by telescoper

Today has been a very busy day, so I haven’t had time to put finger to keyboard at all. I always feel I’m letting the side down if I don’t post every day, but I’ve only got a few minutes before going for dinner. Fortunately I’ve got a list of little fillers for such occasions so I thought I’d try this one on you. Experience suggests you will either love it or hate it!

I’ve blogged before about the pioneering clarinettist Johnny Dodds, who appeared on an astonishingly high fraction of the greatest recordings of the era of classic jazz. But although he was a jazz age superstar he remained until his death in 1940 a modest and self-effacing man who never tried to hog the limelight.

One day in December 1926, Johnny Dodds happened to be in the Chicago studios of the Victor record company. The band that happened to be recording at that time was an obscure folk group from Louisville (Kentucky)with the unpromising sounding name of The Dixieland Jug Blowers. After some discussion, Johnny Dodds agreed to sit in with them while they recorded a tune called Memphis Shake. They weren’t really a jazz band and didn’t use the usual jazz instruments. There is what sounds like an alto sax on this record, but there is also a fiddle, banjo and, of course, the “jug”  (an earthenware whisky jar or some such item, played  by blowing across the top to produce a whimsical kind of bass). The idea of a jugband probably sound very hokey now, but were in fact extremely popular in the pre-jazz era and well into the 1920s. Other than the fact that they were led by a chap called Earl Macdonald and the fiddle is played by Clifford Hayes, I really don’t know anything else about the personnel.

As you’ll hear, Johnny Dodds takes quite a back seat, but his presence on this record turned it into a little  piece of jazz history and original 78s of this are much sought after among collectors. It is a bit of an oddity. It’s not really jazz and it’s not really folk, but what it is is one of the most joyously carefree pieces of music you will ever hear in your life. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, I hope it at least brings a smile to your face as it does to mine whenever I hear it.


Posted in Jazz with tags , on October 24, 2009 by telescoper

I couldn’t resist a quick post about this old record, which was made in Chicago in 1928. The personnel line-up is very similar to that of the classic Hot Sevens, except that Louis Armstrong wasn’t there. Satchmo was, in fact, replaced for this number by two trumpeters, Natty Dominique and George Mitchell. John Thomas played trombone, Bud Scott was on banjo and Warren “Baby” Dodds played the drums.

The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly the great  Johnny Dodds (the older brother of the drummer). He was a clarinettist of exceptional power, a fact that enabled him to cut through the limitations of the relatively crude recording technology of the time. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Louis Armstrong doesn’t make it easy for a clarinettist to be heard!

This is still a favourite tune for jazz bands all around the world, but I’ve never heard a version as good as this one. There are lots of little things that contribute to its brilliance, such as the thumping 2/4 rhythm (which also gives away its origins in the New Orleans tradition of marching bands). It’s a bit fast to actually march to, though;  I suppose that’s what turns a march into a stomp. I like the little breaks too (such as Bud Scott’s banjo fill around 2:10 and, especially, the ensemble break at 2:45). But most of all it’s all about how they build up the momentum in such a  controlled way, using little key changes to shift gear but holding back until the time Johnny Dodds joins in again (around 2:20). At that point the whole thing totally catches fire and the remaining 40 seconds or so are some of the “hottest” in all of jazz history.

Some time ago I heard Robert Parker’s digitally remastered version of this track, which revealed that Baby Dodds was pounding away on the bass drum all the way through it. He’s barely audible on the original but it was clearly him that drove the performance along. Anyway, despite the relatively poor sound quality I do hope you enjoy it. It’s a little bit of musical history, but also an enormous bit of fun.


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