Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis - Blue Rabbit - 1964
What led the VVers to this album? Honestly, it was the cover art. The carrot dipped in blue ink and bunny foot prints leading off the edge is quite quaint. Who doesn't love bunny tracks, and high contrast carrots?! The scripty header of the album is implied to have been written by the ink-dipped carrot. Nice calligraphy skills bunny! Secondly (and more importantly), it is on the renowned Verve Records - the label that recorded the most prominent jazz musicians of the 1940's to 60's. To the VVers, the label is as good an indicator of the music inside as any. Knowing nothing else about this record, except the aforementioned criteria, the VVers purchased it for a whopping $3 at local Joe's Record Paradise. The price was right for testing out our buyer's instinct.
We have held onto this one a few months and given it quite a few spins, but the music didn't seem to be sticking. Upon a recent spin we coined it "lazy jazz" and while writing this blog have also coined it "slouch-core." The music that you first think of when you hear the term "lazy jazz" is exactly what this music sounds like. Obviously, we are good at naming things. On the vinyl, the players take a mighty stroll, set against the backdrop of Wild Bill's drawling organ. Lolling tenderness in the guitar strumming, soft horn (soft porn?), and interplay of the organ gives these tunes a shuffling saunter. Blue Rabbit is the cure for action. Thank god there are no vocals. Jazz vocals are the worst. It seems that many of the songs are standards, but played in a slow, bluesy way. The music is not bad or unlistenable, it just started to put VVers off. This record would probably be good if you had a baby that you were trying to get to take a nap.
So what's the deal with the musicians who are recording this "lazy jazz"? Are Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis just some one-offs, or do they actually have a respectable musical resume? Turns out the later. Johnny Hodges, also known as "rabbit" (ah-ha, things make more sense now!) played alto sax in Duke Ellington's big band orchestra. He learned from the legendary Sidney Bechet and joined Ellington's band in 1928. By the 1930's he had become the lead soloist alto sax and was featured on a number of Ellington's small group recordings. Hodges, who was known for his soulful, blues, is also known for performing "Jeep's Blues" with Ellington (his second nickname was "Jeep"). He later left and started his own band for a time, and re-joined Ellington's band before the legendary 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, putting Ellington back in the lime-light. Hodges even got his oft-collaborator and organist, Wild Bill Davis, to join Ellington's band in the late 60's. Davis, who often wrote arrangements for Ellington and Count Basie, may very well be the precursor of the popular organ sounds of Jimmy Smith and Booker T.
Seems these guys are the real deal. VVer's personal view is that perhaps this album was recorded at just the time in jazz's history when big-band had transitioned out, Hodges' style of soul/sultry blues was fading in, and when combined with Davis' organ, creates "lazy jazz." Learning about Hodges' style of jazz prompted us to pull out our Ellington records to see if he is on our other records. In fact, he is given credits on three of our four albums. Apparently we are super fans! Just for fun we were prompted to listen to "Jeep's Blues" occurring on Ellington at Newport. Revisiting this track, after listening to Blue Rabbit, really exemplifies Hodges' musical style, which is very apparent. How 'bout that!
This write-up was intended to be a parting farewell to this record, but we wanted to learn just a little something about it before it hopped away to its next journey. Instead however, we are now considering keeping it, as we have gained an appreciation for the musicians and we even learned something about other albums in our collection. Maybe we're just a couple of "lazy" VVers after all.