Sunday, April 8, 2012

Duke Ellington's Eulogy

On May 11 1970, I was thinking about how I could persuade him to get his soprano out once more to play on 'A Portrait of Sydney Bechet' in The New Orleans Suite. The telephone rang and I was told that he had just died at his dentist's office. This is the eulogy I wrote that night and it still captures my feelings about him.

"Never the world's most highly animated showman or greatest stage personality, but a tone so beautiful it sometimes brought tears to the eyes - this was Johnny Hodges. This is Johnny Hodges.

Because of this great loss, our band will never sound the same.

Johnny Hodges and his unique tonal personalityhave gone to join the ever so few inimitables - those whose sounds stand unimitated, to say the least - Art Tatum, Sydney Bechet, Django Reinhardt, Billy Strayhorn.....

Johnny Hodges sometimes sounded beautiful, sometimes romantic, and sometimes people spoke of his tone as being sensuous. I've heard women say his tone was so compelling.

He played numbers like 'Jeep's Blues', 'Things Ain't What They Used To Be', 'I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart', 'All Of Me', 'On The Sunny Side Of The Street', Billy Strayhorn's 'Passion Flower', and 'Day Dream' and many more.

With the exception of a year or so, almost his entire career was with us. Many came and left, sometimes to return. So far as our wonderful listening audience was concerned, there was a great feeling of expectancy when they looked up and saw Johnny Hodges sitting in the middle of the saxophone section, in the front row.

I am glad and thankful that I had the privilege of presenting Johnny Hodges for forty years, night after night. I imagine I have been much envied, but thanks to God....

May God bless this beautiful giant in his own identity. God Bless Johnny Hodges."

©Duke Ellington Inc. 'Music is my Mistress' Quartet Books

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