It is ironic that tenor saxophonist Al Sears' one hit, Castle Rock, was recorded under Johnny Hodges' name (the altoist is virtually absent on the record), denying Sears his one chance at fame. Sears had actually had his first important job in 1928 replacing Hodges with the Chick Webb band. However, despite associations with Elmer Snowden (1931-1932), Andy Kirk (1941-1942), Lionel Hampton (1943-1944), and with his own groups (most of 1933-1941), it was not until Sears joined Duke Ellington's Orchestra in 1944 that he began to get much attention. His distinctive tone, RB-ish phrasing, and ability to build up exciting solos made him one of Ellington's most colorful soloists during the next five years, although his period was overshadowed by both his predecessor (Ben Webster) and his successor (Paul Gonsalves). Among Sears' many recordings with Ellington are notable versions of I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues and a 1945 remake of It Don't Mean a Thing. Sears worked with Johnny Hodges' group during 1951-1952, recorded a variety of RB-oriented material in the 1950s, and cut two excellent albums for Swingville in 1960 before going into semi-retirement. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi

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