Book Review: Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

Con Chapman

Rabbit's Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

More than anyone else, alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges (1907-70) epitomized the soulful elegance of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His immediately recognizable sound, characterized by sensuous grace in caressing a melody and an incomparable blues-infused tonality, made him and fellow altoist Charlie Parker the standard-bearers for the instrument. In this slim yet heavily footnoted biography, author Con Chapman documents his fellow Bostonian, affectionately nicknamed "Rabbit." The bulk of this first bio on Hodges' nearly uninterrupted 40-year stint with the Ellington Orchestra moves through segments delving into his early years as a Sidney Bechet-enamored, self-taught prodigy commuting back and forth from Boston to NYC, a short foray leading his own band in the early Fifties, and his numerous recording dates as a leader and sideman. Most interesting are Hodges' relationships to Ellington, pianist/composer Billy Strayhorn, jazz impresario Norman Grantz, and a young John Coltrane, who he fired from his band for drug problems. Although an engaging read, Rabbit's Blues would've benefited from fleshing out Hodges' associations with these and other seminal musicians in his life, especially Ellington. Nonetheless, jazz aficionados will be elated by this long-awaited spotlight of a true jazz original.

Rabbit’s Blues: The Life and Music of Johnny Hodges

by Con Chapman
Oxford University Press, 240 pp., $27.95

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Music Reviews
<i>Me & Mr. Cigar</i>
Me & Mr. Cigar
Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes debuts a deeply weird and wonderful young adult novel.

Alyssa Quiles, Feb. 21, 2020

Texas Platters
Texas Flood: The Inside Story of Stevie Ray Vaughan
A Texas Flood of new interviews paint an intimate portrait of late Austin guitar god

Doug Freeman, Sept. 6, 2019

More by Jay Trachtenberg
Review: Zach Theatre’s <i>Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone</i>
Review: Zach Theatre's Hershey Felder as George Gershwin Alone
A masterful tribute to the father of the Great American Songbook

Sept. 22, 2023

Turning the Page on the Year in Books
Turning the Page on the Year in Books
New works by Cormac McCarthy and Sarah Bird make for a memorable year in literature

Dec. 16, 2022


Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle