Archive for Johnny Dodds

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.

Mabel’s Dream

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , on June 22, 2009 by telescoper

I could attempt to make a cheesy Radio 2 kind of link between my previous post and this one, along the lines of “From one dream to another..” but I don’t think I’ll bother.

Years ago my mum told me that she heard the tune Mabel’s Dream played on the piano by a friend of the family by the name of Johnny Handle. Best known as a folk musician (and founder member of a well-known band called The High Level Ranters) he is also a music teacher and musicologist with a wide range of interests in music.  I read somewhere that this lovely tune was originally written by Jelly Roll Morton and performed by him on solo piano, but I’ve never managed to locate a solo version. However, every time I try looking for it (which I did this evening) I seem to come across something really nice. Today was no exception.

By far the most famous recording of Mabel’s Dream was made by King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1923. This was the band that the young Louis Armstrong belonged to before going on to make the classic Hot Fives and Hot Sevens, one of which I posted a bit ago. It’s interesting how different the earlier band sounds:  with two cornets (King Oliver and Louis Armstrong), clarinet (Johnny Dodds), and trombone (Honore Dutrey) playing  together virtually all the time except for short improvised solo breaks. King Oliver usually played lead cornet, at least in their earlier recordings, with Louis Armstrong playing a decorative counterpoint around him rather like a clarinettist might. Later on, they swapped leads freely and completely intuitively producing a sound that was entirely unique.

The ensemble playing is intricate, but the band had no written music preferring to work exclusively from “head” arrangements. Their music is consistently delightful to listen to, even though the recordings are very low-fi, with a succession of marchy themes that makes it impossible not to want to tap your feet when you listen to them. You can find their version of Mabel’s Dream here.

Over time, this classic type of polyphonic Jazz- derived from its New Orleans roots – gradually morphed  into musical form dominated by much simpler arrangements and a succession of virtuoso solos. This change was also reflected in the differing fortunes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. The former went on to become an international celebrity, while the latter lost all his savings when his bank went bust during the Wall Street Crash. He ended his days working as a janitor, and died in poverty in a dingy rooming house in Savannah, Georgia in 1938.

When the traditional Jazz revival happened after the Second Wold War, many fans turned against the Hot Sevens because they weren’t genuine “Noo Awlins” meaning that they hankered after music that was made more collectively and had less emphasis on the soloists. Across Europe in particular, many bands tried to recreate the sound of the earlier era of American Jazz, with varying degrees of success. 

Looking around for a version of Mabel’s Dream, I came across the following clip from a French band called The High Society Jazz Band which I think is just gorgeous. The recording was made at a live performance in 1960, at the height of the “trad” revival. The lineup of the band is just like King Oliver’s many years earlier, complete with the front line of two cornets, clarinet and trombone as well as piano, drums, banjo and sousaphone. Mostly it’s a deliberate note-for-note copy of the King Oliver version, but at a slightly slower tempo. Normally I don’t really go for deliberate copies like this, even if they’re meant as a tribute, but any two cornettists willing and able to copy Louis Armstrong and King Oliver deserve the greatest respect! Hats off , then, to Pierre Merlin and Claude Rabanit (two names quite new to me) for doing such a great job. In fact, I also like Pierre Atlan’s take on Johnny Dodd’s clarinet breaks, and the trombonist (Mowgli Jospin) deserves a mention for his name alone!