Monday, December 14, 2015

DJ Baby Dodds

The drummer Warren "Baby" Dodds is best known for his jazz improvisations. He was one of the first drummers to be recorded improvising while performing. Furthermore, because improvisation is so core to jazz, Dodds is known for his role in the development of jazz as a genre and drum solos in general. In the book The Baby Dodds Story by Larry Gara (1959) includes references to some live radio broadcasts Dodds made in 1947.

Born in 1898, Dodds was almost 50 by the time that 1947 program aired. But he had been playing drums since he was 16, and recording since 1923, (with Louie Armstrong no less.) Much of his early catalog would be considered Dixieland, or ragtime. It was only later that as the genre developed, he played in swing and jazz bands... what at the time was called "hot jazz." He is considered by many to be one of the all-time greatest drummers alongside Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. In 1947 Dodds had already recorded sessions for Victor, Circle, Steiner-Davis, American Music and Blue Note. The radio reference he makes in the book is short on details but enticing:
"In 1947, while I was broadcasting on Rudi Blesh's "This is Jazz" program, I made some records from the broadcast. I had also done some broadcasting years before, in 1927 when I played with Hughie Swift's band in Chicago's Jeffrey Tavern. We had a special broadcast show worked out which took a half hour every week. "
Ever the musician, Dodds recollection goes on to detail the arrangements and the players but not dates, times, or call letters.The program "This is Jazz" is well known. The program originated at WOR Studios in New York City. Known recorded sessions began in January and continued until 1947 of that year. [Discography here] The Jazzology label released most of those sides, and Dodds is all over "This Is Jazz: The Historic Broadcasts, Vol. 2" if you want to give a listen.

But that other 1927 show is quite obscure.The Hugh C. Swift band did play at the Jeffrey Tavern, other texts even list some of the personnel such as Ernest "Punch" Miller, Charlie Allen, and Roy Palmer. The book Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz by Nat Hentoff and Albert McCarthy, actually includes a claim attributed to Swift that these broadcasts were "the first South side group to have nightly remotes."  The claim is very narrow, but they do identify the call letters was WSBC-AM. That makes this one of the oldest black radio programs ever. Their appearance follows Jack Cooper by under 2 years. [SOURCE]

*It's worth noting that that at that same venue, Swift was followed by another jazz group led by Sammy Stewart with Ikey Robinson and Sid Catlett who have all the same claim to that particular radio first.