Hodes was born in Ukraine. His family settled in Chicago, Illinois when he was a few months old. His career began in Chicago clubs, but he did not gain wider attention until moving to New York City in 1938. In that city he played with Sidney Bechet, Joe Marsala, and Mezz Mezzrow.
Later Hodes founded his own band in the 1940s and it would be associated with his home town of Chicago. He and his band played mostly in that area for the next forty years.
In the late 1960s Hodes starred in a series of TV shows on Chicago style jazz called "Jazz Alley". Here he appeared with greats like Pee Wee Russell and Jimmy McPartland. He also wrote for jazz magazines like Jazz Record. He remained an educator and writer in jazz.
He toured the UK in 1987 recording with drummer John Petters. In 1988 he returned to appear at the Cork jazz Festival with Petters and Wild Bill Davison. A tour, the Legends of American Dixieland, followed in May 1989 with the same line-up.
Other musicians he played and recorded with included Louis Armstrong, Wingy Manone, Gene Krupa, Muggsy Spanier, Joe Marsala, Mezz Mezzrow, Sidney Bechet, Albert Nicholas, Wild Bill Davison, and Vic Dickenson.
In 1998, he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. His name is pronounced "Hodees".
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