With or without Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges was always an elemental Ellingtonian, for Hodges' tone and technique were essential components of the Ellington sound and style. Released in 2003 as Proper Box 58, The Jeep Is Jumpin' samples the saxophonist's studio output during the years 1937-1956. After a tour of Hodges' first sessions as a leader and a well-rounded sampling of his best recordings from the '40s, Proper samples his Parisian Vogue sessions of 1950, and closes the set with 20 neatly executed studies in early modern mainstream jazz overseen by producer Norman Granz. 14 of the 95 tracks feature vocalists from the late '30s, and most of these occur on the first disc.
While the period pop tunes sung by Buddy Clark, Mary McHugh, Leon La Fell, and Jean Eldridge constitute valuable evidence of the saxophonist's skill as an accompanist, this collection's instrumental tracks really illuminate his unparalleled genius as composer, interpreter, balladeer and improviser. Beginning with "Wanderlust" (December 1938), Hodges' personality begins to manifest ever more profoundly, and the plot thickens during the 1939 stratum at the beginning of Disc Two, with the arrival of Billy Strayhorn and bassist Jimmy Blanton. "Finesse (Night Wind)" and "You're Driving Me Crazy" are fairly uncommon instances of Hodges accompanied only by bass and piano. "Good Queen Bess" and "That's the Blues, Old Man" are distillations of his personality and temperament, while "Passion Flower" and "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" epitomize the kind of lushly sensuous music that Strayhorn wrote with him in mind. In 1947, Hodges cut a series of excellent records for the Sunrise and Mercer labels, including his masterpiece "A Little Taste" and "Let the Zoomers Drool," a zoomer being postwar slang for a mooch.
There are 14 examples on this collection of music recorded in Paris during the spring and early summer of 1950 by Hodges and a group of Ellingtonians, with tenor saxophonist Don Byas sitting in on "Jump That's All," "Last Leg Blues," "Nix It Mix It," and "Time on My Hands." The other tenor who pops up throughout the second half of the set is Al Sears, who is featured on "Searsy's Blues" and the punchy "Castle Rock." The last 20 tracks in this collection were cut in New York during 1951-1956 under the supervision of Norman Granz, and in many cases feature the trumpet of Emmett Berry. Here Hodges had a chance to stretch out and do his own thing at some distance from Ellington's immediate orbit. The combination of late-'30s material, strong choices from the '40s, highlights from Hodges' visit to Paris in 1950, and the cream of his early Norman Granz sessions places this set among the best of the Johnny Hodges collections, and well among the strongest entries in the Proper catalog.