Dodds, Baby (actually, Warren)

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Dodds, Baby (actually, Warren)

Dodds, Baby (actually, Warren), famed New Orleans jazz drummer, brother of Johnny Dodds; b. New Orleans, La., Dec. 24,1898; d. Chicago, 111., Feb. 14, 1959. He gained his nickname through being the youngest of six children. While doing day work in a sack-making factory (1912), he took first drum lessons from Dave Perkins and later studied with Walter Brundy and Louis Cottrell Sr. He did occasional parade work with Bunk Johnson, but had his first regular gigs with Willie Hightower’s American Stars. Played for a while at Fewclothes Cabaret, then did a spell with Manuel Manetta at The Casino before returning to Fewclothes. He worked with Frankie Dusen’s Eagle Band, then with Papa Celestin, before joining Fate Marable on the S.S. Sydney in the autumn of 1918. He remained with Marable until September 1921, then returned to New Orleans. King Oliver—then in San Francisco—sent for the young musician, and he joined the band on the road. Dodds moved to Chicago with Oliver in 1922, but left the band by late 1923. Early in 1924, he worked in Honore Dutrey’s Band at Dreamland, then played at Kelly’s Stables with Freddie Keppard and Johnny Dodds. During the period 1925–30 played for various leaders in Chicago including: Willie Hightower, Lil Armstrong, Ralph Brown, Charlie Elgar, Hugh Swift, etc. He worked regularly at Kelly’s Stables with Johnny Dodds from 1927–29 and also did extensive freelance recordings, including sessions with Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and many others. He performed briefly with Dave Peyton at Club Baghdad (December 1927 to January 1928). Throughout the 1930s he played many residencies in Chicago with small groups led by Johnny Dodds, and also helped his brother Bill run a taxi service. From 1936 to 1939 he worked on and off as house drummer at The Three Deuces, Chicago. In January 1940 played at 9750 Club with his brother Johnny’s band. Trouble with his teeth forced Johnny to leave, and Baby became the band’s leader until the end of the residency in March 1940. He continued to work in Chicago through the mid-1940s, working with various musicians. He recorded with Bunk Johnson in 1944, and worked with Bunk the following year, including his first visit to N.Y. in September 1945. After briefly returning to Chicago, he was back in N.Y. working with Art Hodes in 1946–47, and was regularly featured on Rudi Blesh’s This Is Jazz radio series. Dodds traveled to Europe in February 1948 to play at the Nice Festival with Mezz Mezlrow, did a brief tour, then returned to the U.S. He returned to working with Art Hodes in N.Y. (April-September 1948), but then returned to Chicago to work at Beehive Club with Miff Mole from late 1948 to March 1949. While visiting N.Y. in spring 1949, he suffered a stroke; while recuperating he played occasionally with a band led by trombonist Conrad Janis. He had a second stroke in spring 1950, but resumed playing the following year. He worked with Natty Dominique in 1951 and 1952 (sharing drum duties with Jasper Taylor), and also visited N.Y. in 1951 and 1952. He played at Ryan’s, N.Y., in December 1952, but was again taken ill and returned to Chicago to convalesce. In late 1954 he played again in N.Y. with the Dor Frye Trio at Ryan’s, then returned to Chicago. By this time Baby was suffering from partial paralysis. He played occasionally until 1957, but was then forced to quit. He directly influenced Dave Tough and Gene Krupa.


Baby Dodds Drum Method: Trio (1944); Baby Dodds Drum Method: Band (1945); Footnotes to Jazz, Vol. 1 (1946); Baby Dodds Drum Method: Solo (1951).


Warren Dodds and Larry Gara, The Baby Dodds Story (Los Angeles, 1959).

—John Chilton, Who’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter