The Lady Swings: Memoirs of a Jazz Drummer

Univ. of Illinois. (Music in American Life). Mar. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780252043598. $110; pap. ISBN 9780252085512. $22.95. MUSIC
Drummer Dodgion (b. 1929) tells her life story, delivering a full portrait of the obstacles American women faced in the 20th-century jazz scene. She started out singing as a teenager in California before becoming a respected drummer hired by artists as diverse as Benny Goodman, Charles Mingus, and Dave Brubeck. With help from coauthor Enstice (coauthor, Jazzwomen), Dodgion relates a series of vignettes that highlight her years in New York and on the West Coast and touring opportunities in the United States and Europe. Dodgion’s prose is unpolished but infused with her personality. Scrappy and resolute, she was undeterred by sexism in the industry (men attempted to sabotage or sideline her, sometimes midway through a performance), a suicide attempt, a rape, and a then-illegal abortion in Tijuana. Charming photographs showcase her personality and participation in combos and bands.
VERDICT Dodgion’s pull-no-punches style and determination in the face of daunting situations bring an obscure figure to vivid life. The title should appeal to jazz aficionados, who will recognize many of the musicians with whom she played, as well as those interested in ways in which women have flourished in the creative arts.
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