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Reuben Roddy - KC/New Orleans Saxophonist


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Okay, I'm back, after a hiatus of six weeks or so. I know that everyone missed my posts about unimportant minor figures in the history of jazz. So here's one.

Reuben Roddy is about as minor as any jazz musician can be said to be - at least he's as "minor" as any figure who recorded with two of the greatest bands in jazz history. And that's why he fascinates me.

Roddy was born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1906. I don't know anything about his early career, and no one else seems to, either. But by the end of the 1920s he was a member of one of the legendary Kansas City bands, Walter Page's Blue Devils. He recorded with them on their only two issued sides, "Squabblin'" and "Blue Devil Blues," recorded for Vocalion in 1929. Roddy plays tenor sax on these sides, and does not solo - all the reed solos seem to be by the great Buster Smith on alto and clarinet. He reputedly also played with Bennie Moten's band during his Kansas City days, although he is not on any of that great band's recordings.

Roddy next showed up on records in the 1950s, playing alto with the Eureka Brass Band and (although not issued until later) Kid Thomas's band in New Orleans. I had often wondered how this KC musician ended up in New Orleans, and Brian Wood's book on New Orleans musicians, A Song for Me, provides a clue - he was stationed in the city as member of the Algiers Naval Band in the early 1940s. Presumably, he stayed in the city after the war; Wood says that he joined the Eureka Brass Band in 1946. He was on the Eureka's first recordings (which were the first recordings of a working New Orleans brass band) in 1951, and he also played on 1956 sessions which showed up on Folkways and American Music, as well as playing on a couple of 1954/55 dance hall sessions with Kid Thomas.

Roddy's New Orleans recordings show him to have thoroughly absorbed the New Orleans brass band and dance band styles. He is sure, but anonymous on the Eureka recordings, playing a strictly ensemble role. He knows just when to play the melody and when to play a harmony part. On the Kid Thomas recordings, his ensemble playing is very spare, and his solos don't stray too far from the melody at any time.

Nothing in his recorded legacy suggests that Reuben Roddy was a great jazzman. But so what? Playing and recording with the Blue Devils and with the Eureka Brass Band means that Roddy was part of some amazing, transcendent music at several stages of his life. The rest of us should be so lucky.

Reuben Roddy died in 1959 in New Orleans, and was buried in Holt Cemetery, where Buddy Bolden is buried. I'm going to make it a point to visit on my next trip to New Orleans. His most accessible recordings are on American Music - AMCD-48, Kid Thomas - The Dance Hall Years, AMCD-70, The Eureka Brass Band - New Orleans Funeral and Parade, and AMCD-110/111, The Eureka Brass Band in Rehearsal, 1956.

Hooray for Reuben Roddy, a thoroughly minor figure in jazz.

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Thanks for the link, jazztrain. I knew I had seen pictures of Roddy with the Eureka, but couldn't find them last night.

And thanks for the info on a current source for the Blue Devils sides. I have them on a long-out-of-print Classics collection.

And reading over my original post, I found an inaccurate statement. In addition to the Buster Smith alto and clarinet solos, Walter Page plays a baritone sax solo on "Squabblin'." Bassists in those days were often expected to play string bass, tuba and bass or baritone sax, and Page plays tuba on "Blue Devil Blues" and string bass and bari sax on "Squabblin'."

A few minutes later: After listening again to confirm what I just wrote, it might be a bass sax that Page is playing. None of his notes go below the range of a bari sax, but it's a "heavy" sound, like a bass sax. We'll probably never know for sure, though.

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