#441 Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges – Back To Back & Side By Side

This is another of my Grumpa’s records, a Verve Special Performance (or Very Special Price) like the double-sided Oscar Peterson LP that came up on the randometer a few weeks ago. This double repackages two albums that Ellington (pianist and band-master extraordinaire) and Hodges (alto-sax icon) collaborated on together, firstly Back to Back, and then the follow-up Side by Side, both released in 1959.

On the first album they work their way through some Trad and Dixie jazz classics such as Basin Street Blues, first made famous by a young Louis Armstrong, and Beale Street Blues, St Louis Blues and Loveless Love all by WC Handy. Hodges’ sax is wonderfully soulful, and the overall sound of the band, with sparse yet intricate piano-playing from Ellington is very much “jazz-blues,” with the inclusion of some lovely melodic guitar playing on Beale Street Blues.

On the second album, Side by Side, there’s some Ellington and Hodges originals, with the centre of band resonating around Hodges rather than Ellington. It more upbeat than Back to Back, less blues, more rhythmic jazz, with some fantastic trumpet from Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison on the Fats Waller track Squeeze Me. Similarly funky is Stompy Jones and Going Up, which features a funky flute solo, by Les Spann, the same guy who played the lovely guitar on the first album. Versatile musicians these jazz folk.

Best Bits: Going Up – for the funky flute jazz solo, you don’t get many of those, cherish them while you can
Genre: Classic Jazz
Like This, Try This: WC Handy on the Ed Sullivan show in 1949, playing his own St Louis Blues

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