Dottie Dodgion didn't set out to become one of the few women jazz drummers. She was originally a singer who liked to play drums in her spare time.

But her husband of that time, alto saxophonist Jerry Dodgion, had other ideas.

"One day Jerry told me I should make a choice," she recalled the other day in her Arlington apartment. "He said I should either sing or play: Otherwise, I was going to end up known as a singer who sometimes played drums or a drummer who also sang."

So Dodgion chose drums - and the uncertain world of female jazz instrumentalists, where women still face the antagonisms of male performers and discouraging teachers. Only Mary Lou Williams and Marian McPartland, it seems, have had the reputations and ability to carry them in a largely male world.

This may be changing now: In fact, the second annual Kansas City Women's Jazz Festival is just over and similar events are beginning to pop up elsewhere.

Nevertheless, Dodgion has held her own with the men. Since the early '60s she's worked with Benny Goodman, Billy Mitchell and Al Grey, Wild Bill Davison, Ruby Braff, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and McPartland.

She plays in a crisp, rhythmically charged style that nudges performers to greater improvisational heights. Until Harold's Rogue and Jar closed in January, Dodgion was the resident drummer and booking agent for the cellar club.

At the Rogue, she performed with a variety of groups, local and New York, near-amateur and highly polished professionals, mainstream and experimental.

She's always played - in the tough big leagues.

Being married to a musician helped, she said. "Jerry really wanted me to play. He didn't want me around the house doing wifely duties. I practiced with the pros. I played with them."

Dodgion started fooling around with drums as a child. Her father played drums in strip bars in San Francisco and occasionally led a big band in which she sang.

Her first husband was bassist Monty Budgwig, who didn't like her playing drums ("He thought it was unladylike").

But jerry Dodgion was different. "Jerry really had to be in love with me," she said. "We lived in Larkspur, Calif., on a hill - up 156 steps, Jerry used to carry my drums up all those steps. Now that was love!"

Despite the increasing number of women jazz musicians, Dodgion says there are still large gaps in training for women.

"If I could get a bass player like George Mraz or Ron Carter, I'd start an all-women's group," Dodgion said. "Women just don't have the opportunity to get experience and the guys don't want you to play with them."

However, male resistance to female musicians is lessening, she added, because so many girls are playing in high school stage bands. Dodgion said Terri Lyne Carrington, the 13-year-old drummer recently featured at Blues Alley, was a good example.

"By the time she's 21, she'll have to club the guys away wanting her to play with them," Dodgion said with a big smile.

Right now Dodgion is getting ready to play with guitarist Mary Osborne's group at a women's jazz festival inDearborn, Mich., on May 10 and 11.

In Washington, she leads a trio (including pianist Ellsworth Gibson and Bassist James King) at Manuel's, 18th Street and Columbia Road NW.).

Dodgion would still like to lead a band made up entirely of women. "Sure, it would be a gimmick," she said, "Just like it is to have a group that's half black and half white.

"But in this case the gimmick would be worth it. We could make some money and open up some opportunities." CAPTION: Picture, Dottie Dodgion, by James A. Parcell-The Washington Post