Throughout his career, Johnny Hodges donned the stage name “Rabbit” – a name whose origin varied slightly depending on whom one asked. But no matter what name you knew him by, anyone who heard Hodges play the saxophone knew the same thing: His skill was virtually unmatched.
Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges, by Con Chapman, offers an in-depth look at the life and trials of Johnny Hodges nearly from birth to the end of his life. There are some records missing during his early life, such as his actual date of birth, his given name, and important events during his childhood. But the lack of early detail is more than made up for when it comes to the details of his career.
Without giving you his entire career history, because that’s what the book is supposed to do, I can tell you that the man should have been a legend. He lacked stage presence, but his tone brought people to tears and influenced jazz as we know it today.
Before reading this book, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who Johnny Hodges was – and I played first chair alto sax in my middle school concert band for two years, when I went through a pretentious I’m-a-musician-I-know-everything phase and obsessed over other saxophonists. Somehow, Hodges never came up on my radar. Sadly, my experience is actually the norm.
Johnny Hodges is a name that has all but been forgotten, but Con Champan’s carefully researched biography changes that:
“Like many brilliant musicians who contributed to the music of jazz immortals, Johnny Hodges’ artistry has been woefully ignored. Yet Hodges was an immortal himself, and through scrupulous research and a keen appreciation of Hodges’ gifts, Con Chapman has brought us as close to this taciturn genius as we are likely to get.” – Bob Blumenthal, Grammy Award–winning jazz critic
I would recommend this book to readers who have a passion for jazz and reviving the names of musicians who faded into history.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Oxford University Press, for review.