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Dottie Dodgion, outstanding drummer in more than one way, dies at 91


Dottie Dodgion, one of the few top drummers in the male-dominated jazz world of the 1950s and 1960s, died on September 17 in a hospice in Pacific Grove, California. She was 91 years old.

The cause was a stroke, her daughter and only immediate survivor, Deborah Dodgion, said.

Ms. Dodgion, who was known for her stable and swinging yet understated approach to drums, has worked for over 60 years with some of the biggest names in jazz including Benny Goodman, Marian McPartland and Ruby Braff. She also ran her own combos. But she rarely recorded.

“She didn’t have the exposure that she might have gotten by recording because of her gender”, said Wayne Enstice, who collaborated with her on her autobiography, “The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer“(2021). “It wasn’t taken as seriously as it should have been – not by other musicians, but by people on the business side.”

Unlike some drummers, Ms. Dodgion was more concerned with keeping the beat than drawing attention to herself.

“There is no denying that many drummers love the spotlight,” she writes in her autobiography. “That’s why I sometimes say I’m not a ‘real drummer’.”

She rarely took solos, she wrote, and when she did solos her approach “came from being a singer.”

“I was hearing the melody in my head,” she added, “so the rhythms I set have always followed the song form of any track I’ve played.”

She continued to perform until the age of 90, with her own trio, on Thursday evenings at the Spanish Bay Inn at Pebble Beach, near her home in Pacific Grove – a concert that lasted 14 years. After breaking a shoulder in 2019, she sang while another drummer, Andy Weis, replaced her, until the coronavirus forced the hotel to temporarily close.

“She rocked hard – and that meant there was a lesson to be heard watching her play,” Mr. Weis said by phone. “She knew exactly what tempo would swing the hardest.”

Famous jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington recalled that she started playing drums at age 7 and first saw Ms Dodgion about two years later at a women’s jazz festival. As far as Ms Carrington knew at the time, Ms Dodgion was the only drummer around.

“She’s always had a great time feeling, which is the most important part of being a drummer,” Ms. Carrington said in a phone interview. “She was never the fanciest, most cunning drummer in the world who dazzled with solos, but she really captured the essence of being a drummer.”

Dorothy Rosalie Giaimo was born on September 23, 1929 in Brea, California. His father, Charles, was a drummer. Her mother, Ada (Tipton) Giaimo, aspired to be a dancer but became a waitress after her husband left the family when Dottie was 2 years old.

One day, when she was 5 years old, her father stopped by her grandparents in Los Angeles, where she lived, and, as she put it, “kidnapped” her, taking her on. the road for two years to hotels, road houses and strip joints where he led a group. Absorbing the sounds and rhythms of his father’s drums was his introduction to show business, albeit against his will. She was 7 when she returned to her mother who had remarried.

Her stepfather, a chicken farmer, raped Dottie when she was 10; he was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. After moving with his mother to Berkeley, Calif., Dottie found peace on his weekend bus trips to San Francisco to see his father’s band at a strip club, Streets of Paris.

“Her great time drew all of the best strippers,” she wrote.

As a teenager, she sang at private parties and weddings, which led her to work in the mid-1940s with groups led by the jazz guitarist. Nick esposito and the famous bassist Charles Mingus. Vocals eventually gave way to drums, which she learned from listening to her father, and in the 1950s she performed at clubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Nevada. For a while she was the house thresher at Bop Cit by Jimboy in San Francisco.

Meeting bassist Eugene Wright, who would become an integral part of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, had a transformative effect on how she viewed her role in a band.

“Eugene coached me on the nuances of playing in a rhythm section,” she wrote, “including intangible interiors on how to adjust to piano and bass.”

Mrs. Dodgion’s first marriage, to Robert Bennett, was called off; his marriages to Monty Budwig, a bass player, and Jerry Dodgion, a saxophonist, ended in divorce.

Along with Mr. Dodgion, who was part of Benny Goodman’s group, Ms. Dodgion moved to Manhattan in 1961. On the first day, the group rehearsed for an engagement at Basin Street East. Mrs. Dodgion dropped off her husband; when she returned at the end of rehearsal she was surprised when Goodman, who was looking for a new drummer, asked her to sit down with the band.

“I thought it was just a jam session,” she told the New York Times in 1972. “Benny was calling a number – “I must be this or that” – and I would start looking for the music. But he said, ‘Don’t open the book.’ Every song was the same – “Don’t open the book. At the end of the rehearsal, Benny said, “See you tonight, Jerry. You too, Dottie. That’s how I found out that I was going to play with the band.

Ten days after the engagement began at the club, Goodman forgot to introduce her when he checked the names of some members of his 10-piece group. When the crowd demanded that he announce his name, he relented and she received a standing ovation. But as she left the bandstand, she later recalled, Goodman’s manager whispered “Goodbye” in her ear, indicating that she was fired for receiving more applause than his boss.

Mrs Dodgion was not long without work. She quickly got a job with Tony Bennett at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Over the next 40 years she performed with Marian McPartland, Ruby Braff, Zoot Sims, Wild bill davison, Joe Venuti and others.

“She could adapt from swing to bop, to Latin rhythms, all without drawing attention to herself,” Mr. Enstice said. “She could fit in with anyone.”

Mrs. Dodgion worked with Mrs. McPartland in 1964 and again 13 years later when Mrs. McPartland led an all-female group.

“Dorothy had a natural sense of swing,” Ms. McPartland told the Sacramento Bee in 1989. “She keeps time steady and she swings – these are the most important things for a good drummer.”


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