Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges: Jeep's Blues

Sep 23, 2019

"Tell 'em what happened! Tell ‘em what happened!” Duke Ellington exhorts Johnny "Jeep" Hodges in this 1957 performance of “Jeep’s Blues,” at a dance concert in Carrolton, Pennsylvania.

A classic of small group Ellingtonia, the tune was introduced in 1939 on a session under Hodges' nominal leadership. Played at Carrolton one-nighter eleven months after its most famous rendering at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, this version is Newport's equal and has the added profundity of Duke’s introduction. “If you’ve heard of the saxophone, ladies and gentlemen, then you’ve heard of Johnny Hodges.”

Johnny Hodges

Released for the first time in 1983, the All-Star Road Band album drew high praise from Ellington aficionados worldwide, and motivated John S. Wilson in The New York Times to write that it captured the band “vividly alive,” and conveyed Ellington’s “personal and musical charisma for those who missed him.” As for Hodges, this is declamatory preaching of the highest calling, with Ellington’s accompaniment prompting and cushioning his star soloist, and the ensemble, especially in quiet passages, intoning like a choir. Who needs a narrative with lyricism of this order?