Tag Archives: Chris Hodgkins

BEAUTIFULLY POLISHED BRASS

Here’s something good.

And another taste:

CHRIS HODGKINS CDI don’t ordinarily like surprises, because so many of them feel as if someone has crept up behind me and popped an inflated paper bag to watch me suddenly soar up to the ceiling — but the most lovely surprise is meeting someone new and finding out that (s)he has deep joyous talents you’d never known of before.

Such a person is trumpeter / composer Chris Hodgkins.  In fairness, I’d already heard Chris play (on recordings only, alas) and admired him as a thoughtful lyrical trumpeter — someone who admired Louis, Ruby, Brownie, Humphrey Lyttelton, without imitating a phrase.  And I hear the same kind of tenderness I always heard in Joe Wilder’s playing.  (In the interest of accuracy, I will note that I first heard and wrote about Chris a few years ago here.

The two YouTube videos above offer music from the new Hodgkins CD, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, which I celebrate here as an outpouring of sophisticated yet gentle Mainstream jazz.

I had the opportunity to write a few words for this disc, and they will serve as my enthusiastic endorsement:

Chris Hodgkins and friends do not have the international reputations they deserve, but they create endearing music that doesn’t reveal all its secrets at once.

Aside from two originals and the poignant BLACK BUTTERFLY, the repertoire suggests a formulaic Mainstream set that one might hear at a jazz party. But that narrow assumption vanishes once the music begins, for Chris, Dave, Erika, and Ashley offer serene yet searching chamber jazz, refreshing improvisations on familiar songs. (Although I suppose that SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE is now arcane to all but a few listeners.)

I delight in the delicately streamlined instrumentation, reminiscent of sessions by Ruby Braff and Warren Vache. Hearing this music, I am breathing in the light-hearted interplay, without the conventions of four-bar trades or ensemble-solos-ensemble. The players have created an airy, open music, full of pleasant wanderings but solidly grounded in melody and beating-heart rhythms.

And this music gladdens on many levels: a musician could analyze and admire subtle rhythmic displacements, chord substitutions, shifting textures. A casual listener would say, “What is that? That sounds beautiful,” and both responses would be true.

Chris is a master of his instrument. He can modulate from what Agatha Beiderbecke heard in her son’s playing, a “sudden perky blare,” to what Ruby Braff recognized in Lawrence Brown’s “a wonderful little cry.” I hear echoes of a grand tradition – everyone from George Mitchell to Clifford Brown and beyond – but Chris is himself throughout.

Emotionally warm music comes out of the emotions of the players – not only their love of sounds and textures, but a love for the people who have gone before and who have created personal art. On this CD, one hears everyone’s affection and admiration for the great ancestors, but Chris cites two people in particular.

One, his older brother, played trumpet, so Chris heard Louis and Morton and more, but, as he says, “When I was about 14 or 15, my brother said, ‘You don’t want to hear it, you want to play it!’ so he got me a trumpet from a second-hand shop and I never looked back.”

Later, Chris played with guitarist Vic Parker. “He was born in Cardiff, played in London before and during the war. In 1940 he worked at the Embassy Club in Bond Street playing accordion and double bass with Don Marino Barreto. He can be seen in Barreto’s band during a nightclub sequence in the musical film Under Your Hat. He came back to Cardiff and I used to work with him in the Quebec every Monday and Wednesday. We had a little duo, just playing standards, and he would sing in a Cardiff accent. When you’re young, you forget so much. You can be handed the keys to the kingdom and you don’t notice. Working with Vic was like that: he was in his late 60s then, one of the nicest guys you could meet.”

Chris has also played alongside Pete Allen, Rod Mason, Kathy Stobart, Humphrey Lyttelton (whose passionate influence I hear), Buddy Tate, and Wild Bill Davison.

Chris is also a wise generous leader, someone who knows that Being Out Front Always is hard on one’s chops as well as on band morale, so each performance makes his colleagues equals rather than subordinates. One of the most moving performances here is A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, an etude for piano and two double-basses, both celebration and elegy for wartime Britain, with death, romance, and endurance intermingled.

And those colleagues! Bassist Erika Lyons appeared on a BBC master class with Ray Brown, and studied with Buster Williams, Rufus Reid, and Hal Galper. Now she plays jazz festivals all over the world. Pianist Dave Price is a deep student of jazz piano from the Thirties to tomorrow, and he has worked with Tubby Hayes, Tony Coe, Nat Adderley, and Peanuts Hucko among many others. Bassist Ashley John Long is known not only for his work with Hans Koller, Bobby Wellins, Keith Tippett and others, but for his compositions for film, television, and the concert hall.

Together, they make BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD what jazz recordings should be, no matter what genre: warm, wide-awake, deeply personal.

If you go to the channel that Chris has created on YouTube, you can hear two more beauties from BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD and more lovely music.

The CD offers SWEETHEARTS ON PARADE, A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM, A KISS TO BUILD A DREAM ON, STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE, SUNDAY, ANGEL EYES, LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, BLACK BUTTERFLY, JEEPERS CREEPERS, BACK IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE, SWINGING AT THE COPPER BEECH, BUDDY BOLDEN’S BLUES, YOU’D BE SO NICE TO COME HOME TO, VP, JUST FRIENDS — and it’s beautifully recorded. Here you can find out more — including how to purchase the disc, which I do recommend.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

SPIKE MACKINTOSH: MEMORIES and A MANIFESTO

Thanks to trumpeter Chris Hodgkins, jazz research archivist David Nathan (National Jazz Archive – Loughton Library), and trombonist / scholar Michael Pointon for more information about Spike Mackintosh:

ORIGIN OF THE CODGERSand some priceless first-hand information from Jim Godbolt’s book:

Godbolt Two

including Spike’s aesthetic manifesto:

Godbolt OneGodbolt’s assessment is in keeping what others have said, but I think anyone who ever heard Spike, live or on record, knew that he had a particular genius. I wonder what else is contained in that Melody Maker article, and launch a possibly fantastical question.  British jazz of the Fifties seems well-documented and not only on official recordings, but radio broadcasts, location recordings, even television and film.  Even given that Spike was reticent about playing — not simply about being recorded — it may be understandable that his recorded legacy is so small.  But are there any archivists who know of more music?

I talked with banjoist Bill Dixon of the Grand Dominion Jazz Band, who had heard Spike in the UK, and Bill told me he hadn’t played with or spoken to Spike — but provided this cameo:

I was playing on the UK jazz scene late 50’s through 60’s and was aware of him. Fiery but melodic lead,always seemed to have his beret hanging from his horn. Wild Bill Davison/Henry Red Allen style.

But one should never despair.  Earlier this year, I received this wonderful email from Spike’s youngest son:

Dear Mr. Steinman,

My daughter Lauren came across your article on my father Spike. I have yet to ask why she was googling his name but nevertheless I was very surprised but delighted to see an article about him so long after his death. I am in the US at the moment but going back tomorrow to the UK.

I am the youngest of the three sons. Cameron has probably said it all and you have obviously done your research, so I am not sure if can add to your knowledge. There is of course the story of him returning to a cafe to retrieve his trumpet before boarding a boat at Dunkirk and then refusing to go into the hold with the other soldiers because he wanted a ‘fag’ ( cigarette!) on deck! Needlessly to say a bomb was dropped into the hold and dad survived to keep blowing his trumpet!

Thanks for the article.

Kind regards,

Nicky

If my fascination with Spike seems excessive, I ask only that you listen to his playing:

 and this:

I’ve written much more about Spike — here is my most recent post — and hope to continue (with friends Jim Denham and Bob Ironside Hunt assisting).

May your happiness increase!