I’ve always been pretty upfront about my appreciation for legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman — even kiddingly comparing myself to him in an earlier post — but there were lots of guys in the early jazz age who played a mean licorice stick. In fact, some of them probably inspired Goodman when he was first starting out in his hometown of Chicago, and I’d bet an instrumental wizard named Johnny Dodds was one of them.
Although he was born in rural Mississippi and was for much of his career based in New Orleans, Dodds also spent some time in Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, working with guys like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong. By that time, the self-taught clarinetist had already spent more than a decade working on bandstands all over the South, even showing up from time to time on riverboats, so he was ready to play alongside anyone — even legends in the making like Oliver and Armstrong.
Dodds, who was equally skilled in both low and high register, continued to work pretty regularly on through the 1930s, although he also drove a cab during the leaner times. Mostly though, he was a vital part of groups like Armstrong’s Hot Five and his own Black Bottom Stompers, while also working with stars like Jelly Roll Morton. Unfortunately, his career would be cut short when he died at age 48 in 1940, but many of his best recordings are still available.