Johnny Dodds: Perdido Street Blues

9 Aug

Remembering clarinetist Johnny Dodds, a day after the anniversary of his death 71 years ago.

Dodds’ story is not unfamiliar: born in New Orleans, moved to Chicago, once chic, soon passe, died young at 48, his work even more obscured after his death.

And yet, as the Facebook page created in his honor notes: “You may not know the name — but Johnny Dodds’ influence on 20th century music is profound.”

It can take a lot of digging to be reminded why. Even in his most famous group, as part of the King Oliver band, he competed for attention with Louis Armstrong and Oliver, but not for his peers’ respect. Hugues Panasie, in his book the Real Jazz:  “He plays the blues as very few jazzmen have, irrespective of instruments . . . Johnny Dodds should be cited as a perfect model for any clarinetist who wishes to play the blues well.” Be assured the more-famous clarinetist Benny Goodman was listening to Dodds.

The Oliver band split up — Armstrong staying with Oliver, though Dodds would record with Armstrong in the band “The Hot Five,” which became “The Hot Seven.” Dodds remained in Chicago as the jazz scene shifted to New York, and played with his brother “Baby” Dodds in a band that made, at best, $80 per week, according to Patricia Martin’s The Solo Style of Jazz Clarinetist Johnny Dodds: 1923-38. Plus tips.

Dodds continued to perform and record, according to Martin, until suffering his first stroke in 1939. He returned to music, but a second stroke killed him a year later. In tribute, Sidney Bechet composed (with Milton Nelson and W.C. Barnes) and performed Blue for You Johnny, according to John Chilton’s book, “Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz.”

Jazz historian James Collier, “For many listeners Johnny Dodds’ playing epitomizes the New Orleans clarinet style.”

Listen to the link below to understand why.


Sources: The Solo Style of Jazz Clarinetist Johnny Dodds: 1923–1938, Patricia Martin;


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