The music industry is ruthless. Even when it comes to veteran tuba player Aaron Dodd, who passed away twelve years ago in his hometown Chicago.
For the record, he played the boucing bass line, dubbing in unison Louis Satterfield’s Fender Bass line on Donny Hathaway’s cover of the classic track originally written and performed by Ray Charles, I Believe to My Soul.
It is noteworthy that Hathaway turned the sorrowful soul tune, composed in a minor mode, into a catchy and hopeful major mode song. In so doing, he transfigured a painful downtempo lament into a blustering plea.
And yet, the big and whopping horn is still seen as boring and ungrateful, and not that much highlighted, left apart symphonic orchestras and marching bands (the tuba was the very first Jazz bass component, before the “string bass”).
Aaron Dodd died broken and ill. Still, even in aching pain, he would not withdraw and kept playing under a pouring rain or in a freezing cold.
Let’s briefly retrace his history.
His sister Linda tried briefly to learn the cornet in highschool, then she let the instrument gathering dust.
Instantly, Aaron took it and learn to play it naturally, proving a remarkable ability. In the highschool band, Aaron Dodd played multiple horn instruments, to the point that his sister Linda told “he could play any instrument”. The tuba winned his favors, eventually: luckily he met Chicago Symphony’s tuba player Arnold Jacobs, who taught him free courses.
Moreover, Jacobs got him a scholarshop at the Roosevelt University in Chicago.
Though, his favorite genre was Jazz. In 1968, he joined the Philip Cohran & the Artistic Heritage Ensemble. Together they recorded Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute In Music).
In 1970, as he just cut tracks for Everything is Everything with Donny Hathaway, Chicago tuba player Richard Armandi praised his way of giving the instrument a new role in a musical genre rather that seemed unsual for such a big horn instrument, making its singularity necessary to the whole musical ensemble.
He then joined The Pharaohs, a R&B band. Together they recorded two albums, The Awakening (1971), and In the Basement (1972).
The band’s lineup was comprised of Charles Handy (trumpet), Louis Satterfield (trombone), Don Myrick (alto saxophone), Big Willie Woods (trombone), Oye Bisi et Shango Njoko Adefumi (African drums), Yehudah Ben Israel (guitar and vocals), Maurice White (drums), Alious Watkins (drums), Derf Reklaw-Raheem (percussions and flute), and of course Aaron Dodd on tuba. The short-lived group disbanded in 1973.
In 1975, Aaron Dodd records with New Jersey native R&B singer Leroy Hutson. Hutson was a previous member of The Impressions, together with Curtis Mayfield. Aaron Dodd was a respected Jazz musician in Chicago, who travelled all over the world. Mwata Bowden, both a saxophonist and an orchestra conductor in Chicago remembers the man in fond terms: “He was a respected musician… Aaron was really
rewriting the book on the capacity of the tuba.”
Afterwards came personal issues, leading him to perform in the streets. Following a tumultous period of time, he kept busking. His last official participation to a recording session was in 1985, when he joined 8 Bold Souls, under the supervision of Edward Wilkinson. The latter was his last contribution to commercial recordings: together they recorded 4 albums, from 1985 to 1999.
In 1998, Dodd is devastated by Arnold Jacobs’ death. He wanders, playing to whoever wants to hear him the opening of Wagner’s Meistersinger before the Chicago Symphony Center.
Not later than 2008, Colleen Mastony, in the columns of The Chicago Tribune, wrote that the Chicago Symphony’s tuba section undertook a charity initiative to help Dodd. Knowing and deploring that Dodd’s tuba was in bad shape, they raised fund to buy him a whole new instrument, with the help of master crafstman Wayne Tanabe.
At that point, one could see him busking in a wheelchair, through the streets of Chicago. Whoever met him testifies that he breathed music and never gave up against the throes of life, be it for his health or to survive.
When Dodd passed away June 17, 2010, his family was saddled with debts: the medical fees and the funeral were a financiel burden. Consequently, the Chicago Symphonic Orchestra played benefit concerts to help the Dodd family through these hard times.
* Previously published in French in 2019: https://www.dispatchbox.net/index.php/2019/09/19/aaron-dodd-1948-2010/
- Pokorny, Gene, and Brian Frederiksen. “Aaron Dodd (1948-2010).” windsongpress.com, 2010. https://www.windsongpress.com/jacobs/written/pokorny-frederiksen%20-%20Aaron%20Dodd.pdf.
- Chicago Tribune. “Tuba Softens a Hard Life.” Accessed February 25, 2022. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2008-08-07-0808060744-story.html.
- William Lee, “Street’s Tuba Specialist ‘Just Breathed Music,’” The Chicago Tribune, June 20, 2010, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune.