Johnny Dodds Biography

12 April 1892, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, d. 8 August 1940, Chicago, Illinois, USA. Dodds did not begin playing clarinet until he was aged 17, but in taking lessons from Lorenzo Tio ensured that his late start did not hamper his career. In the years before World War I he played with Kid Ory and Fate Marable, mostly in his home town, and also worked with a minstrel show where he met Mutt Carey. In 1920 he joined King Oliver in Chicago. After leaving Oliver at the end of 1923 he worked with among others Honore Dutrey and Freddie Keppard. During this period he appeared on the classic Hot Five and Hot Seven records with Louis Armstrong. In the 30s he worked mostly in Chicago, leading bands at various clubs. A heart attack in 1939 withdrew him from music for a few months. However, he returned in early 1940 but ill health persisted and he died in August that year.

A striking performer with a fluent style, Dodds made an important contribution to jazz, and to clarinet playing in particular. His death occurred when clarinettists were in the ascendancy. Not only were big band leaders Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw enjoying great commercial success, but also more traditionally inclined players such as Sidney Bechet, Jimmy Noone and George Lewis were benefiting from a resurgence of interest in early forms of jazz. Despite the passage of time and the wide-ranging developments in jazz, not least the decline in popularity of the clarinet as a front-line instrument, Dodds’ recordings of the 20s and 30s are still highpoints in the history of jazz recording and are rarely out of print.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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