THE BABY DODDS HEADSTONE FUNDS BY PAIGE VANVORST
Date Posted: 2005-05-26
Reader Herb Schultz, a longtime New York record collector, contacted JazzBeat after the last issue was delivered with a novel suggestion- Let`s Buy Baby Dodds a Headstone Schultz is a lifelong Dodds fan and, among other things, wrote the liner notes for the RCA Vintage LP (LPV-558) of Johnny Dodds` Victor sides. In addition, he worked with Joe Oliver`s heirs in providing a headstone for the King.
Baby Dodds is buried in Lincoln Cemetery, a historically-black burial ground in Blue Island IL. The cemetery has been in use for over one hundred years and is still an active burial ground. The gravesites are small- Baby`s grave is one of four in a section no larger than an average office desk and many are
unmarked- only one of the Baby`s four neighbors has a headstone. Presumably poverty and the cemetery`s remote location are contributory to that. In Baby`s case, he had no immediate heirs- his wife predeceased him by three years and his nephew John Dodds Jr, was overseas with the Air Force.And all of Baby`s meager resources would have been used up during his lengthy final illness.
Lincoln Cemetery is the final resting place of a number of important early
jazzmen- you could put together a good New Orleans band from its denizens- Freddie Keppard, Johnny Dodds and Preston Jackson are all buried there along with Baby.
I visited the cemetery in December to verify Herb Schultz`s report- it would make no sense to buy Dodds a headstone if he already had one, and the photo attached shows his unmarked grave. The caretaker of the cemetery looked him up in the meticulously-maintained index card file and after a false start I was able to locate his resting place and verify that it was indeed unmarked. The cemetery indicated a headstone would cost about $1000 installed.
We`ve never asked for money in JazzBeat before, but it seems like a good idea to provide a simple memorial for one of the greatest early jazzmen.
Baby Dodds was the first great jazz drummer- certainly the first one documented on record. The Dodds brothers were the only musicians common to all three of the major New Orleans bands recorded during the 1920s- King Oliver`s Creole Jazz Band, Louis Armstrong`s Hot Seven and Jelly Roll Morton`s Red Hot Peppers, though unfortunately the recording technology of the 1920s wasn`t favorable to drummers- they were forced to clatter around on various small devices as a bass drum would have knocked the sensitive recording apparatus into a swoon.
Baby made up for that slight by becoming the first jazz drummer to make solo records, and even recorded a series of albums for American Music in the early 1950s that were to serve as a drum tutorial, to be accompanied by a film demonstrating some of the figures Baby was talking about. The records received limited distribution and the film remained in the can until Barry Martyn finished the project (American Music AMVD-One) in 1999.
Johnny Dodds died in 1940, at the relatively young age of 48, just a year or two before the revival of interest in New Orleans jazz, which would have certainly provided his career with a major boost. Baby was around to take advantage of the revival- he seems to have spent most of the 1940s in front of a
microphone- Bill Russell invited him to New Orleans to record with Bunk Johnson and he went to New York for a residency at the Stuyvesant Casino with the Johnson band. In addition, Baby became a fixture on Rudi Blesh`s This is Jazz broadcasts and recorded with other New York sessions of that time, with Tony Parenti`s Ragtimers, Mutt Carey`s New Yorkers, and the Art Hodes Trio.
Baby returned to Chicago in the early 1950s when work in New York slowed up, and his health problems began with a series of strokes. He continued to play when he could- Bill Russell even organized The Chicago Slow Drag Orchestra, a band that specialized in slow numbers, which Baby could play without risk in his weakened condition.
He was finally forced to give up music altogether, though he remained interested in jazz and spent significant time dictating his memoirs to Larry Gara, a young graduate student from the University of Wisconsin. His memoirs were initially published in Jazz Journal, an English magazine, and finally became the Baby Dodds Story, a wonderful little book which immediately became one of the key references on New Orleans jazz.
Baby Dodds died in 1959, though he certainly lives on as long as people are listening to jazz. During his early days he was highly influential and the young drummers of the day- Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, George Wettling, even Ormond Downes of Ted Weems` band- all spent time watching Baby and trying to master his techniques.
It`s high time Baby Dodds is memorialized with a headstone. Please send your contributions to:
Baby Dodds Headstone Fund
c/o JazzBeat Magazine
1206 Decatur Street
New Orleans LA 70116
We`ll use whatever funds are received for the headstone and publish a photo of the stone in a future JazzBeat and hopefully acknowledge all of the contributors at that time. Every little bit helps and $1000 is not a lot of money, so please contribute whatever you feel you can afford. Thank you.