Jazz Forum No.1 June 1946 0014
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Letâs try to describe 'the style of Johnny Dodds. The New Orleans clarinetists are all far from being identical in their manner of playing, and each one has a very marked individuality. Generally speaking, they can be divided into two main groups : (1) those who play in a
smooth, fluid, extremely mobile style, with a very graceful melodic line, such as Jimmie Noone, Barney Bigard and Albert Nicholas ; (2) those whose style is more violent, more brutal and less limpid, such as Johnny Dodds and Sidney Bechet. A musician like Omer Simeon is a blend of these two styles, drawing equal inspiration from Jimmie Noone and Johnny Dodds.
I am convinced that there is not a single clarinetist as rough as Johnny Dodds. He used very hard reeds with plenty of resistance, whence the power and violence of his attack and his sonority. His vibrato is extremely pronounced, more so than any other clarinetistâs that I know, a vibrato whose beauty springs less from charm than from intensity. He is consequently one of the easiest musicians to recognise in a record.
All this harshness does not prevent Johnny Dodds from having the style of a true clarinetist, that is, sufficiently mobile (although much less so than that of a Jimmie Noone) and excellent as regards counterpoint.
One of Johnny Doddsâ principal talents lies in his wonderful blues playing. Not one clarinetist can surpasss him in this field, be he a Jimmie Noone, a Barney Bigard or a Bechet, and even in other instruments than the clarinet one can find very few musicians able to play the blues so movingly. Luckily for us, Johnny Dodds plays the blues on a large number of discs : in fast tempo there are his two famous choruses on
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and there was room for only the slightest physical movement, the man knew that everything was done. Gently, out of his enormous inner vacancy, he bent down and applied his eye to the nearest mirror. With his right hand he released a spring. Slowly, delicately, the room was filled with movement as the machine began to work. The little mirrors flashed and revolved, the strings vibrated, messages slid up and down the wires. Like faint breathing, sound sighed rhythmically. Looking into his mirror, the man saw his life restarted. His ideas moved, the machine was thinking on from where he had stopped a moment ago. It was himself. Lonely in the middle of his cell, the man knew his tremendous weakness and hunger, hunger which would never be satisfied. But he had proved himself and his love. He and the machine wondered why he was hungry, after his spell of good eating, as the man died.
In the morning the machine was still working. It thought on and on and had solved the problems the man had never solved. As the key rattled in the lock it trembled and was afraid. The door opened and the warder stood on the threshold. But nobody knew about the mirror in the centre of the floor, close to the dead man. Nobody could reach it without breaking the machine. Nobody could ever understand.
King Oliverâs Dippermouth Blues, which have been copied by most clarinetists (Benny Goodman recorded them in Joe Venutiâs In De Ruff) and his two choruses on Canal Street Blues, also by King Oliver, in which Johnny Dodds, by the simple repetition of a few powerfully inflected notes achieves a magnificent effect. In the same two discs, as in Bull Fiddle Blues (Victor and reissued by Bluebird) and Joe Turner Blues (Brunswick), both recorded as leader of his own orchestra, Johnny Dodds provides a dazzling counterpoint to the brass with a steady rhythm typical of New Orleans style, which greatly inspired Mesirow in fast blues of his such as Apologies and 35 th and Calumet.
Johnny Dodds plays slow blues with incredible fire, frequently holding long piercing notes and displaying a melodic invention so pure, and so perfectly â blue,â that his style could well be set up as a model for clarinetists who want to learn how really fine blues should be played. His clarinet solos on Victor such as Blue Piano Stomp, Blue Clarinet Stomp, Indigo Stomp, are among the loveliest blues records it has been my luck to hear. It is essential to get to know his choruses in such discs as Perdido Street Blues by the New Orleans Wanderers (a solo of unforgettable quality), Louis Armstrongâs Gully Low Blues, Jelly Roll Mortonâs Beale Street Blues, Goober Dance, Weary City and Buck Town Stomp at the head of his own orchestra, to fully appreciate the genius of this musician for playing slow blues.
As an ensemble musician, Johnny Dodds, although not as subtle as Jimmie Noone, is most satisfying to listen to through the pungency of his playing, which gives admirable support to
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laughing. It was big laughter. It was handsome laughter, too, with a bold row of teeth to back it up. It occurred to me that youâd have to hear all that laughter to know what it meant. Youâd also have to hear some of the overtones, with their grainy notes of desperation.
But if you were a white man standing in front of a pane of glass that made the laughter inaudible, where were you ? While I stood there, I could see this glass stretching around the world. I saw it growing into a wall, and the wall became part of a giant control booth. It was a radio studio. White men, monitors, were standing behind the glass, listening. They looked at the people through the glass but they couldnât hear anything, because all the microphones were turned off. They could have turned the microphones on, these white monitors with headphones over their ears, if it hadnât been for some bigot who stood behind them. Dressed in a black suit with a top hat, and a string-tie underneath an immaculate white collar, he fussed about the expense. It wasnât worth the extra juice, he said, just for a test.
I picked up a rock from the street and heaved it through the pane of glass. The whole wall of glass belting the earth crashed down, shivering into a billion thin, silly strips. Then, for just a second, I heard that laughter. That was before someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, roughly, â Hey, buddy, what the hell do you think youâre doing ? â
the finest parts of Louis Armstrongâs trumpet in records like Willie the Weeper and in the first chorus of Potato Head Blues. Johnny Doddsâ playing also fits in perfectly with that of Natty Dominick, a superb slow blues trumpeterâas can be observed on the aforementioned Weary City and Bucktozm Stomp.
It must be said in praise of Johnny Dodds that unlike so many musicians whose style was, in the course of years, tainted by the influence of â modernistic â jazz (one, Edmund Hall, for instance, no longer plays in his early New Orleans style at all), his playing kept its purity until the end without the slightest deviation. The discs he recorded in 1938 for Decca (they were the first since his Victor recordings of 1930) give ample proof of this. In 29th and Dearborn, particularly, we find once more the impressive blues player of earlier days. What could be more beautiful than the beginning of that second chorus, with those few sober notes played with so much feeling, that link up charmingly with each other to create a truly exquisite melodic line ?
I learned, besides, with great joy that some weeks before his death Johnny Dodds had recorded two blues with an excellent grouping, including notably Natty Dominick, Preston Jackson and Baby Dodds. Surrounded by such well-suited musicians Johnny Dodds could not have failed to be, Once more, inspired.
The influence of Johnny Dodds upon jazz clarinetists was great between the years 1912 and 1930. One cannot, however, compare it with that of Jimmie Noone, whose imprint can be recognised in the work of almost every musician who ever touched a clarinet. Tesche-macher is one of the most eminent disciples of Johnny Dodds. The Chicagoan borrowed many of his phrases from the great Negro clarinetist, but it cannot be said that he resembled him in any striking fashion. It is true that Teschemacher was also inspired by Omer Simeon, but Bixâs influence on him was the main cause of his great dissimilarities from Johnny Dodds. His solo most reminiscent of the coloured clarinetist is on Wabash Blues with Ted Lewisâone of his best in spite of this. In the blues Teschemacher was unable, to judge by his solos on Bull Frog Blues and Friarâs Point Shuffle, to completely assimilate Johnny Doddsâ very straightforward style! Mesirow comes far closer to it in the first part of Coming On With the Come On, where he clearly perceived the essential inspirational element of the great Negro clarinetist. Mesirow, however, just like Omer Simeon, was inspired as much by Jimmie Noone as by Johnny Doddsâperhaps even more.
We may well mourn the death of this great musician, but we can be glad to have a considerable number of records by him, thanks to which his name will always live among all those who love music that is pure and sincere.
Translated by Nicandra McCarthy.
(Reprinted from the Swiss Jazz paper
Jazz News by kind permission of the editor,
Jonny Simmen, and Hugues Panassii).
Albert J. McCarthy.
The title of this feature is self-explanatory. I hope that collectors will co-operate to the fullest extent, and particularly those in the U.S.A. who are in a far better position than European fans to obtain information on obscure records. The need for a definite discography is apparent, and I hope that this column may give a little information which will help towards that end.
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When in England recently, Charles Delaunay told me that the Negro trumpeter Harry Cooper had told him that he was in charge of the records issued on Okeh under the name of âHarryâs Happy Fourâ. The two trumpeters on these sides are Harry Cooper and Bernard Metcalphe, but Cooper was unable to recall the names of the pianist and banjoist. Orin Blackstone lists two sides in Index to Jazz, as follows:
Swingin' The Swing (73501)//! St. Louis Chant (73502). Okeh 8229.
Billy Neill has sent me four more titles:
Blue That's All/Western Melody. Okeh 8266.
Some Of These MorningslForget-Me-Not Blues. Okeh 8292.
The latter is an accompaniment to Sara Martin. Cooper claims to have made sixteen sides in all, so this leaves ten to be discovered. I would welcome information on these. He also says that he accompanied the singer Virginia Liston on Okeh and Gennett with a group called the â1 Seminole Syncopators â. I have no note of any sides by this artist on Gennett, and the Okeh sides that I know have Clarence Williams accs. Again I would welcome information from collectors having the records. Apart from Cooper, the group included Prince Robinson, Joe Garland, Bernard Addison, H. Williams and Graham Jacksonâthe latter presumably rhythm men. Finally, in an interview which Delaunay was kind enough to undertake on my behalf, Cooper mentioned that the late Ward Pinkett recorded with Willie Gantâs orchestra in the mid-twenties, probably for Columbia. Titles probably include Static Strut, Someday Sweetheart and Paradise Stomp. Maybe some U.S. collector will have these records.
The Swiss collectors Kurt Mohr, Jonny Simmen and Ernest Zwonicek have cleared up some of the Victor Oliver personnels through playing the records to Glyn Paque, who has been in Switzerland for the past few years. Paqueâs first sessions were the ones at which Too Late and I Can't Stop Loving You were recorded. Not being able to hear the discs, Paque would not guess at the personnels from memory, but was very insistent that James P. Johnson was the pianist on the first session. This is in contradiction to Don Frye, who also says that he was on the session. The second session had Oliver, Nelson (tpts.); James Archey (tbne.); Glyn Paque (alto) included. Paque was able to hear records from the other four sessions on which he played, and he gave the following personnels:
St. James Infirmary sessionâBubber Miley, Henry Allen (tpts.); James Archey (tbne.); Bobby Holmes (dr.); Glyn Paque (alto); probably a tenor; Don Frye (piano); Fred Moore (drums); Clinton Walker (tuba); Arthur Taylor
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