The release of the Baby Dodds video by American Music, which ties in nicely with a CD on the same label (below), brought me back some perhaps interesting memories.
I have been an ardent Doddsian since hearing the American Music Bunk Johnson records. I don't know if Bill Russell intended it but the drums are just enough and very tastefully over-recorded on these sessions that you can hear what the heck Baby is doing. The Dixie Stompers' drummer, Bob Kornacher, had shown me some of his tricks when he practiced in our old Blue Note Record Shop in St. Louis.
One Saturday in 1954, word reached me that George Mitchell, the wonderful trumpet-player on Jelly Roll Morton's best Red Hot Peppers dates, had come out of retirement and would be playing at the Hunt Club (now Fitzgerald's) in Berwyn, IL the next day. I borrowed a few bucks and took a bus to Chicago where I stayed at the Wabash Y (for $2.25 per night).
At the time Bill Russell and John Steiner were a "must" destination of trad jazz fans visiting Chicago. They operated American Music and Paramount Records out of a commercial apartment at 1637 N. Ashland where they sold vintage 78's at reasonable prices. So naturally I called AM/PM and was told I could ride to the Mitchell concert if I met Bill and Lara Gara at Dodds' Southside apartment.
Baby let me in and we waited for the ride. I recall the African drum in the corner, had a million questions to ask but the bell rang and the time in the car turned out to be part of work on the bio in progress.
Unfortunately, as I later found out, George Mitchell had gotten badly sunburnt and was unable to be part of an excellent ensemble (Albert Wynn, tb; Armin van der Heydt, clt (more recently the leader of the Classic Jazz Ensemble, Delmarks 221, 222); Don Gibson, p; and Jasper Taylor, dms.)
The trumpet slot had been filled by James Ogletree, old enough to be said to be on the 1940 Bluebird session by Charlie Creath's old drummer Floyd Campbell. James fit in nicely. He later appeared on a mysterious Parrot 78 of "Uptown Stomp" on which the artist credit apparantly was omitted. The capital letters were obviously the composer credit: BENSON-OGLETREE. The solo on Uptown Stomp was much more traditional than the accompaniment. Latest word on James Ogletree is that he is a member of Merchants & Co., a south-side rehersal big band whose LP's and CD's we sell at the Jazz Record Mart.
Of course Baby sat in. He had had several strokes and had to thread a drumstick into one of his hands but it was an experience! This was the occasion of my first meeting with underage Erwin Helfer, who also sat in and played "Parkway Stomp", dedicated the Albert Wynn who had recorded it for Vocallion c.1928.
I journeyed to the Hyde Park neighborhood the next day after being invited to attend trumpeter Natty Dominique's recording session for Windin' Ball Records and got to see Bill Russell in action. (He would walk forward to catch Lil Armstrong's piano solos.) It was truly an all-star session with Floyd O'Brien,tb; Frank Chace, clt; Israel Crosby ,b and Baby on drums. I rode back to the north side with Frank Chace (whom I'd met in St.Louis where he worked in the Don Ewell-Sid Dawson band with Dewey Jackson which will appear on a Delmark album before long.) after a stop at Marty Grosz' apartment. (Now that Windin' Ball is reactivated, let's hope the Natty date will be reissued on CD.)
Well, I missed an interesting and very fine trumpeter, heard a
couple of other ones and spent some time with the greatest New
After I moved to Chicago and bought Seymour's Record Mart, I got
into a discussion with a rash young drummer who felt that Dodds music
was old hat. Gene Krupa and Max Roach were his idols. I suggested he
speak to Krupa after an upcoming concert for the Roosevelt U. Jazz
Society (in the same building as Seymour's) and ask whom Krupa would
list as his idols. Krupa proudly showed the kid the crash
cymbal Baby had willed him and for once I won an argument with a
A year or so later I sold a Baby Dodds LP to Max Roach; the first
of several over the years.
There was serious magic in Baby's playing (and that of his students): a less muscular approach, more psychological -- he does things that somehow do rhythmic things in your gut without pounding them in with a stick or a mallet. I call it "gingerbread". All the great jazz and blues drummers have it: Philly Joe, Odie Payne, Fred Below, Roy Haynes, Robert Shy, Big Sid Catlett, and happily many etc's.
- Bob Koester
Baby Dodds' American Music Video and CD are available from the Jazz Record Mart: