Jerry Dodgion Day

August 29, 1932 – February 17, 2023

A tribute to the valuable if unsung saxophonist

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Altoist Jerry Dodgion passed away on Feb. 17, 2023 at the age of 90.

He was born Aug. 29, 1932 in Richmond, California and began playing alto as a teenager although he would eventually also master the tenor, soprano, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, piccolo and nearly all of the reed instruments.

Dodgion performed with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra during 1953-55 (making his recording debut with Wilson in 1954) and had important stints with the Vernon Alley Quartet (including accompanying Billie Holiday) and Red Norvo (1958-61) but he was essentially a freelance sideman and studio musician throughout his career.

Because he was soft-spoken, reliable, and often played quietly, Dodgion tended to be underrated but he was always a top-notch soloist when called upon, particularly on alto.

Dodgion, who often worked with Benny Goodman during 1958-62 including touring the Soviet Union in 1962, and was a fixture with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra during 1965-79, was on a countless number of recordings including with Charlie Mariano, Frank Sinatra, Oliver Nelson, Tadd Dameron, Cal Tjader, Blue Mitchell, Count Basie, Duke Pearson, Randy Brecker, Herbie Hancock (Speak Like A Child), Earl Coleman, Jack Sheldon, Marian McPartland, Eddie Bert, Susannah McCorkle, and Daryl Sherman.

With all of that activity, it is surprising that Dodgion, who was the leader on two songs in 1955 and co-led an album with fellow altoist Charlie Mariano in 1957, only had one full-length album as a leader, 2003’s The Joy Of Sax.

He was married to drummer Dottie Dodgion for 20 years and was active into his seventies.

Here is altoist Jerry Dodgion at the age of 83 in a quintet with tenor-saxophonist Lew Tabackin (who solos first) in 2015 along with pianist Don Friedman, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Bill Goodwin, performing “Just You, Just Me.”

–Scott Yanow


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