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Three Classic Albums Plus (The Blues / In A Tender Mood / Johnny Hodges And His Strings Play The Prettiest Gershwin) (Digitally Remastered)

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Album Review

Only the most potent jazz musicians are capable of successful collaboration with string ensembles. Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Ben Webster each made their share of sweet chamber ensembles or lush, orchestrally augmented recordings. And so did Duke Ellington's star alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. On November 18, 1958 he recorded an album for Verve consisting of 12 melodies written by George Gershwin. The session took place in Stuttgart, Germany; Hodges was accompanied by pianist Horst Jankowski and by a bassist who has yet to be identified. "Atmosphere" was generated by the Stuttgart Light Orchestra, under the direction of Wolfram Rohrig. Arrangements were scored by Russell Garcia. As with most string-laden recordings, the listener will need to accept the violins, violas and celli in order to enjoy the jazz element that exists quite strongly — and intimately — in the foreground. Most of the songs are performed slowly, with "Nice Work If You Can Get It" taken at a gentle bounce tempo. "But Not for Me" comes across as slightly sassy, "They Can't Take That Away from Me" is walked in 4/4 time and "Summertime" is savored as a deeply felt meditation in blue. All of these performances, like most of the music in the latter day Johnny Hodges discography, combine the elegant tonal ligatures of swing and cool.


Born: 25 July 1907 in Cambridge, MA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s

Possessor of the most beautiful tone ever heard in jazz, altoist Johnny Hodges formed his style early on and had little reason to change it through the decades. Although he could stomp with the best swing players and was masterful on the blues, Hodges' luscious playing on ballads has never been topped. He played drums and piano early on before switching to soprano sax when he was 14. Hodges was taught and inspired by Sidney Bechet, although he soon used alto as his main ax; he would regretfully drop...
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