Johnny Hodges, born John Cornelius Hodges on July 25, 1907, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was an American saxophonist and a prominent figure in the world of jazz. Known for his exceptional skill on the alto saxophone, Hodges was a long-time member of Duke Ellington’s orchestra and played a crucial role in shaping the unique sound of the ensemble.
Hodges started playing the piano at a young age, but his passion for music truly ignited when he picked up the soprano saxophone, which he later traded for an alto sax. He honed his craft by performing in local clubs and dance bands throughout his teenage years. In the mid-1920s, Hodges joined Sidney Bechet’s band, where he further developed his distinctive style under the tutelage of the celebrated jazz clarinetist and soprano saxophonist.
In 1928, Hodges joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra, beginning a collaboration that would last for nearly four decades. As a prominent soloist in the band, Hodges earned the nickname “Rabbit” for his agility and speed on the saxophone. His expressive playing and unique tone captivated audiences and became an essential part of the Ellington sound. Some of his most notable performances with the orchestra include “Jeep’s Blues,” “Hodge Podge,” and “Prelude to a Kiss.”
Hodges left Ellington’s band briefly between 1951 and 1955 to lead his own group, which featured fellow Ellington alumni, including trumpeter Emmett Berry and trombonist Lawrence Brown. During this time, he recorded several albums, such as “Castle Rock” and “Creamy,” showcasing his ability as a bandleader and composer. However, in 1955, Hodges returned to the Ellington orchestra, where he continued to play an integral role until his death.
Johnny Hodges passed away on May 11, 1970, but his contributions to jazz remain influential and celebrated. His unique sound and emotive style on the alto saxophone left an indelible mark on the world of jazz. His work with Duke Ellington’s orchestra solidified his status as a legendary musician and continues to inspire future generations of saxophonists and jazz enthusiasts alike.
Page last updated 3/19/2023.