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On this date, we mark the birth of Warren “Baby” Dodds, born in 1898. He was a Black jazz percussionist, and one of the first major jazz drummers to be recorded.
Born Warren Dodds, he was from New Orleans. At an early age, he played drums in New Orleans parade and jazz bands, and from 1918 to 1921 he played in Fatte Marable's riverboat bands. In 1922, he went to San Francisco to join King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Dodds recorded with Oliver in Chicago the following year, and before the end of the decade, he appeared on classic recordings with other ex-New Orleans small-group leaders such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and his brother Johnny Dodds.
He also played in Johnny's bands during the 1920s and '30s; during the 1940s traditional jazz revival, he was active in New York City as well as in Chicago, including a period with Bunk Johnson's popular band (1944-45). Poor health led Dodds to perform only irregularly after 1949. Even when he was restrained by the limitations of early recording technology, as in his recordings with Oliver, Dodd’s distinctive qualities are evident to the listener. His style incorporated an unusual range of sound colors; his percussion patterns sometimes changed from chorus to chorus, and the offbeat punctuation he provided for soloists and ensembles was often so active that it amounted to interplay.
While some of his later work was criticized as being mere showmanship, early jazz performers and audiences admired him. He was popular with many bebop drummers as well. Among his most valuable documents are two albums of percussion demonstrations with his own narration; 1940s recordings with the revival bands of Bunk Johnson and George Lewis; and late 1920s recordings on washboard, as well as on drum kit, with Johnny Dodds.
His reminiscences, "The Baby Dodds Story," written with Larry Gara, was published in 1959. He died on Valentine's Day of that year in Chicago.
Jazz: A History of the New York Scene
Samuel Charters and Leonard Kunstadt
(Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., 1962)