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Gene Rodgers: Lost Pianist


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One of jazz's most enduring hits is Coleman Hawkins' October 1939 recording of Body and Soul. The rendition ranks pretty near the top of every jazz fan's list of favorites in terms of daring and influence. The tenor saxophone came into prominence after Hawk's recording and its sound would never be the same. [Pictured above, Gene Rodgers]

Backing Hawkins that day on the three-minute recording was Tommy Lindsay, Joe Guy (tp) Earl Hardy (tb) Jackie Fields, Eustis Mo (as), Gene Rodgers (piano), Oscar Smith (bass) and Arthur Herbert (drums). But only one of the sidemen stands out—Rodgers. 

The first four bars of the track feature the pianist's dramatic tinkling, and today that inventive introduction is among jazz's most famous piano lead-ins—along with Walter Bishop Jr.'s intro to Charlie Parker's Star Eyes and Duke Jordan's intro to Stan Getz's Time on My Hands. But who was Rodgers? Wikipedia sketches out his biography here, but I want to spend this post letting you see and hear his extraordinary style in a few clips. Rodgers was adept at classical performance as he was boogie-woogie—often combining the two.

From the film Sensations (of 1945), teamed with Dorothy Donegan...

Also with Donegan...

Here's Rodgers in That's My Baby! (1944) playing spectacular boogie-woogie. The film is awful, but slide the bar up to 52:55 (courtesy of John Cooper's fine eye)...

And in the film noir Shoot to Kill (1947), here's Rodgers playing his own compositions Ballad of the Bayou and Rajah's Blues in a club scene (slide the bar to 9:40)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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