12 to 1 (No Bets Taken) and Johnny Hodges

The intriguingly titled Down From 12 to 1 (No Bets Taken) is Chris Jeffs’ main presentation on our next, long-awaited reverie on 30th inst.

No guesses about content, but who knows, we might encounter new interest from lovers of the turf! We can be assured, of course, that Mr Jeffs’ choice will be nothing less than informed, authoritative, inspired and enjoyable.

For our short presentation, we can look forward to Tony Sudweeks’ clearly unambiguous subject, that distinctively lyrical alto-sax artiste, Johnny Hodges; whilst perhaps best-known as a valued Ellington alumni, he has further musical accomplishments, so I’m sure that we’ll all enjoy an array of well-chosen pieces here.

Two superb programmes, further musical treasures, an even better Library, probably the best Raffle in the world, and some fine company!


Herewith details recalling the above marvellous May occasion.

Thanksto all who were for part of the lovely crowd for our May get-together!

Ingenious! That was Chris Jeffs’ highly original format for our main presentation, Down From 12 to 1 (No Bets Taken). Until revealed and explained, no-one could have discerned this splendidly original idea from the tantalising title: we began with a twelve-piece band, successively reduced in musicians until our ultimate solo piece. I did forecast that Chris’ pitch would be ‘informed, authoritative, inspired and enjoyable’, and it was all this and more!

The Dozen that began our selection were that of Kenny Baker, and what fine company it was! A BBC re-release of a 1957 broadcast, that we were privileged to hear in superior audio quality to most listeners (including a young Mr Jeffs) of the original weekly Let’s Settle for Music on the Light Programme’s (as I recall) 1500m Long Wave transmission. Still, hard to believe that this was 60-year-old music, with this choice line-up sounding wonderfully fresh in style and form as today.

The Heath Brothers’ East of the Sun (and West of the Moon) provided the eleven-piece 1998 cut of this jazz standard, and Jimmy Heath’s fluid sax tone and the airy, spacious arrangement suited our balmy evening setting with that gentle breeze (never mind the door problem!). Incidentally, I didn’t know until looking it up that the title was taken from a Norwegian folk tale.

Back to 1939 for Lionel Hampton (10-piece) Orchestra’s It Don’t Mean a Thing… Swing they did, with some fine solos. Chris told the poignant story of his hearing Lionel and Band in 1966 in a big-top in Luton, with alas, a very small audience, but who nonetheless performed as wonderfully as ever, and, as Shirley confirmed, swung greatly. Still a very (all-too!) popular standard, of course, but played by bands who fail to fulfil the essential titular Swing.

One of my (and maybe your) drumming heroes, Joe Morello, joined the Urbie Green Septet for a ’56 freewheeling Lulu’s Back in Town, driving the groove nicely, if less distinctively than in his forthcoming years.

Benny Carter Sextet’s A Walking Thing was, I’d say, more of a groovesome thang, and apart from Mr Carter’s always-wonderful alto-sax blowing, Tommy Flanagan’s piano was quite lovely.

Down to five, but sounding mighty big, was Cy Touff Quintet’s It’s Sand Man, jolly and joyful, and blowing more breeze, now from the West Coast. Great dynamics, and they make it sound so darned easy! Again, very hard to believe that this was 1955! (Couldn’t find Mr Touff’s outfit in the LJAS Library, but will keep looking.)

Swingtime in the Rockies from ‘Sir’ Charles Thompson’s quartet was most outstanding for me due to Jo Jones’ understated, driving, propulsive groove, and (free!) lesson in brushwork!

Our lone musician to complete this great set was Michel Petrucciani and Besame Mucho. A delightful discovery this, and a man who somehow gets right inside the melody and chords to explore tempo and mood in a tender, expressive, exciting, inventive realisation of one of my (many) favourite tunes.

David Wakelin cheekily suggested that the set should, in fact, have properly concluded with John Cage’s infamous 4’33”, thus reducing the scale from twelve players to none! Is it jazz? Is it music? Welcome to Letchworth Conceptual Jazz Society!

Thank you, Chris, on behalf of us all who so greatly enjoyed your innovative programme. For newer members, Chris Jeffs was the former long-standing Chairman of our auguste retinue, and one whose shoes I am still struggling to fill (not because he has smaller feet!). As ever, Chris’ presentations encompass immense musical knowledge and vast experience of hearing live and broadcast jazz over a good few years. We look forward to the next one!

Tony Sudweeks’ presentation paid rightful tribute to the work of that illustrious Ellingtonian, Johnny Hodges.

The Jeep is Jumpin’ from 1939 featured him in a small (but big-sounding) group under his own name, since from the 1930s, Duke Ellington encouraged his star sidemen to record on their own, though this track includes the Duke himself, as does the later, and swinging, sweet-sounding Goin’ Out the Back Way. As Tony wrote: ‘Despite the brilliance of other soloists who came and left the band, Hodges increasingly emerged as the most inspired fluent and popular band member that Ellington could rely on for ideas and contributions.’

Jeep’s Blues a Hodges/Ellington tune, was revived in the Duke’s career-reviving, famed Newport concert of 1956, and was quite wondrous, and an exercise in musical taste and restraint.

The Duke’s 1957 19-piece Orchestra’s Things Ain’t What They Used To Be, immediately had many of the LJAS crowd joining in the well-recognised tune, as we enjoyed Mr Hodges skilfully taking charge.

A later The Jeep is Jumpin’ from 1966 sees our subject now sharing leadership with Wild Bill Davis, though for me Dickie Thompsons piano was especially outstanding.

Following Bob Wright’s fine earlier presentation on him, Lalo Schifrin esq. and his piano paid a most welcome return to the LJAS chambers for his B.A. Blues by the Johnny Hodges Quintet from 1963. A great combo, this, and Mr H. sounding as smooth as silk!

We concluded with one of Tony’s Desert Island Discs, and quite understandably so: Take the ‘A’ Train, by the rather prosaically titled ‘Johnny Hodges and the Ellington All-Stars without Duke’. Billy Strayhorn plays some magnificent piano, and Ray Nance fluid trumpet then equally lyrical violin. (At this point, Keith and I were left pondering just how one man can master two such seemingly different instruments so masterfully.) A great little band, with a wonderful feel, employing great dynamics without ever striving to indulge in virtuoso playing; that’s jazz!

Thank you, Tony, for a great set that was a fine complement to Chris’ selection, and that gave us a good

taste and knowledge of Johnny Hodges broad musical history!

Tonight, Bob Wright displayed the rich array of 18 new items (50 CDs!) that he carefully chose from the generous donation of an anonymous benefactor. Members were understandably keen to sample these new delights, and I was relieved to find that at the end of the evening I, too, could benefit from a couple of sets from the remaining choice. These were Ella Fitzgerald, ‘The Singles’, a 3-CD set comprising 62 tracks released on 45s between 1954 and 1962 (delightfully playing as I write), and Johnny Hodges: ‘Four Classic Albums’ (amazed that no-one bagged this after Tony’s recitation!) from the Avid Jazz series.


Location Letchworth ConClub