Billy Strayhorn (arr, cond), Johnny Hodges (as), Cat Anderson, 'Shorty' Baker, Clark Terry, Howard McGhee, Ed Mullens (tp), Ray Nance (cnt, vln), Lawrence Brown, Quentin Jackson, Chuck Connors (tb), Jimmy Hamilton, Russell Procope, Paul Gonsalves, Harry Carney (reeds), Jimmy Jones (p), Aaron Bell (b), Sam Woodyard (d)
Reference: FSRCD 762
Bar code: 8427328607629
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Both albums collected here are delightful reminders not only of Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellingtons alter ego as composer and pianist, but also of one of the most beautiful jazz instrumental voices ever the alto saxophone of Johnny Hodges.
The Duke doesn't appear on either album, but these big band settings are the Ellington orchestra in all but name. On 1961s Johnny Hodges, Soloist. Billy Strayhorn and The Orchestra, with Strayhorn conducting and Jimmy Jones at the piano, Hodges is the main soloist and in his hands the familiar repertoire emerges timeless and fresh. A great blues player, he shines on Jeeps Blues, Juice A-Plenty and Tailor Made, and he and the band stamp their nonpareil identity on the otherworldly voiced Azure and Day Dream. Trombonist Lawrence Brown, whose impeccable control and individuality matched Hodges, has several solo spots and a fine feature on Stardust.
From 1958, Billy Strayhorn!!! Live!!! is a laid-back, let-your-hair-down affair with Strayhorn at the piano and the band swinging exultantly. Hodges surfs it like a master, notably on In a Mellow Tone, a robust Jeeps Blues, and swings immaculately on All of Me and On the Sunny Side of the Street. Also featured inimitably are Ray Nance, Shorty Baker and Harry Carney and the equally unique sound of the Ellington band in full cry.
"One of the most symbiotic relationships in jazz was the collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. You really cannot honestly discern where one composer/arranger begins and the other takes over on any composition from the 1940s on. Here, weve got Strays leading an orchestra in a studio recording and a medium sized band on a 1961 and 58 pair of albums, respectively. The studio sessions have the vintage reed section of Hodges with Paul Gonsalves, Hary Carney, Jimmy Hamilton and Russell Procope, and Hodges is featured as only he deserves. He gloriously shines on Dont Get Around and Jeeps Blues making you wonder why anyone would NOT want to sound like him. The Chicago concert has a stunning take of Passion Flower as well as the rarely heard Mr. Gentle and Mr. Cool. Cat Anderson has some moments on the trumpet where he punches a few holes in the ozone layers as well. These guys lived, breathed and drank Ellington, and we should be grateful that people are as dedicated to art as these men were. Inspiring!"
—George W. Harris (April 29, 2013)
Johnny Hodges Soloist:
"Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges recorded frequently for Verve in the 1950s and 1960s, although nearly all of the musicians on this CD are from the Ellington orchestra and the arrangements are by Billy Strayhorn. Hodges is never less than superb throughout this reissue, while Lawrence Brown, Harry Carney and non-Ellingtonians Howard McGhee on trumpet and pianist Jimmy Jones also deserve praise. Strayhorn's exotic chart of "Azure" and emotional scoring of "Your Love Has Faded" are especially striking. Recommended."
—Ken Dryden (All Music Guide)