© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“Do you know Hot House?, asked the piano player
The bassist replied: “No, I don’t.”
The pianist asked: “Do you know What Is This Thing Called Love?”
The bassist said: “Yeah.”
“Then you know Hot House,” the pianist said. “Tadd Dameron just superimposes a new melody on the chords to the tune [circle of fifths].”
That was the first I ever heard Tadd Dameron’s name or played his tune, Hot House.
It has been one of my favorite bebop tunes ever since for as Ted Gioia explains in his always informative The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire:
“Many bop charts were built on the foundations of older standards, but Hot House is one of the more effective examples. I especially admire the unexpected tet, starting in bar nine, where Dameron inserts an ardent new melody when me expects a repetition of the first theme. The chart is drenched in chromatic color tones, and the altered higher extensions of the chords are more than just passing notes here. Jazz fans and even other musicians must have been unsettled, back in 1945, to hear a melody where phrases ended on flat fives and flat nines.” [p. 147]
Next up in our continuing series on the late pianist, composer and arranger Tadd Dameron [1917-1965] is the following feature by Bill Coss which appeared in the February 15, 1962 edition of Down Beat magazine.
“TADD DAMERON says he is the most "miscast person in the music business." So? Who is Tadd Dameron?
Few new jazz listeners would know.
But Dameron is responsible for some of the most-known bop tunes, as well as being partly responsible lor some of the most significant talents in the big world of bop.
Miscast he was because never was he really a pianist or arranger yet he is always written about as such.
Miscast he is because he is an important member of modern music, but practically unknown to all who deal with modern jazz.
They called him "The Disciple" in the early days of bop, but, as critic-author Barry Ulanov has said, "maybe The Mentor” would be a better name for Tadd Dameron, since so many of the young beboppers crowded around him, demanding and getting opinions and advice. He had no formal music education. He wrote music before he could read it. He regarded bop as just a steppingstone to a larger musical expression. Yet no one who gives bebop serious consideration can omit Tadd from the list of prime exponents and wise deponents of this modern jazz expression."
Who is Tadd Dameron? Hughes Panassie quaintly has said he is good, "but his work often strays into modern European music."
Who is Tadd Dameron? Leonard Feather says that only a few of the "men who have enobled the jazz pantheon as arrangers, Fletcher Henderson through Tadd Dameron to Gerry Mulligan, have surmounted technical limitations as pianists to offer solos of piquant quality."
Who is Tadd Dameron? He wrote songs or arrangements recorded by Dizzy Gillespie: Good Bait. Our Delight. Hot House, and I Can't Get Started. For Georgie Auld: Air Mail Special; Just You, Just Me; and One Hundred Years from Today. For Billy Eckstine: Don't Take Your Love from Me. For Sarah Vaughan: If You Could See Me Now and You're Not the Kind.
These records of these songs are universally acclaimed. Dameron calls them "turkeys, all of them. I've never been well represented on records."
Who is Tadd Dameron? Miscast, he says, but his songs are played by jazzmen over the world, his arrangements remain as standards in the jazz world, and some of those whom he "coached" were the most important voices in the new jazz.
"I'm a composer." he said, and his many excellent compositions attest to that.
"But, see," he continued, "you're not prepared to accept what I say. I wrote most of the songs you praise me for in 1939. See, I was just a composer. My brother and I played them then. But no one else would. I couldn't get an arranger to work on what I had written. They thought I was weird. So I had to become an arranger to get my music played. Just by research I learned the range of the different instruments. Suddenly, I was an arranger. I still am. But I'm not. I'm only an arranger because there was no other way to get my music played."
Dameron is sometimes listed as a pianist.
“I've played since I was 5," he said, "but I never was a piano player. Actually, I began as a singer in Freddie Webster's band. But, one night. Don Byas called me up. He was playing at the Onyx on 52nd St. with Dizzy Gillespie, George Wallington. Oscar Pettiford, and Max Roach. He asked me to take George's place on piano for the night.
"First I said no. Then he talked me into it, but I told him I couldn't take any solos, and he said all right. So, we begin, and everyone takes a solo, then Don points at me and says, 'You take it.' I had to play. That's how I became a piano player."
Miscast, as he says, but even more so, because from 1958 until 1961 he spent his time in the federal "hospital" in Lexington. Ky., as a narcotics addict.
Now. back in New York City, he says he has to find out who Tadd Dameron is.
"Just a composer — that's what I am," he said. "Of course, I'll arrange. That's a way to make bread. I don't think I'll play much. I'm too old for that. But I'd like to record some. I play much better now than I ever did before. I'd like to do an album of just lovely music."
He has a lot to recapture.
And there are a lot of musical moments to remember.
Born in 1917 in Cleveland, Ohio, as Tadley Ewing Dameron, with a father who played several instruments, a mother who played piano for the silent movies, and a brother, Caesar, who taught him the rudiments of jazz, young Tadd ("please spell it with two of those") fell naturally into the musical scene. Some of that was spoiled though because his high school teachers, intent upon teaching him in conventional methods, lost him. "I flunked the courses in theory and harmony." he said.
Discouraged away from music, Dameron decided to become a doctor, entered Oberlin College as a pre-med student, and then turned against it after a few years of study because he caught sight of a severed arm.
"There's enough ugliness in the world," he said. "I'm interested in beauty."
So, in 1938, he joined a band led by the late Freddie Webster ("Freddie got me interested in music again"). There was no piano in the band. Tadd was the singer.
He spent a year there and then went with bands led by Jack While and Blanche Calloway. Immediately afterward, he played piano in his saxophonist brother's band in Cleveland. Dameron said the absence of a bassist in this band is the reason why his own left hand is so strong—and has been so strongly criticized. But this was the band that played Hot House, Good Bait, and such, leading into the times when Dameron would extend himself further.
By this time, a Cleveland friend, Louis Bolton, had helped him to understand some of the techniques of arranging. That helped him considerably after he had been fired by Vido Musso when that leader's band came to New York City in 1939. Immediately afterward, he went to Kansas City with Harlan Leonard's band. "I had an apartment there," he remembered, "and the spirit was fantastic. Everybody would drop by."
In 1941 he went into a defense plant for a year. Then, from 1942 until 1945. he arranged for Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Billy Eckstine, and Georgie Auld.
In 1945, Dameron and John Birks Gillespie came to know each other, and the former's songs and scores enlivened many a big-band Gillespie performance. It was also a time tor an increase in his own personal problems, an increase in his help to other artists, and a phenomenally long booking at New York's Royal Roost — 39 weeks as a kind of house-band leader.
The Gillespie performances are, thankfully, mostly a mailer of record. So are some of the others. Certainly Sarah Vaughan's If You See Me Now is one of the most beautiful jazz ballad renditions known to jazz.
What is not so well known is the amount of actual "coaching" Dameron did in those years. It began with Freddie Webster.
"He and I talked about the business of singing on your horn," Dameron said. "Breath control was the most important thing if you had the other things. So many people forgot that. I would work with Fats Navarro. Freddie, Sarah, and Billy, and tell them to think this way — sound the note, then bring it out. then let it slide back. Another thing so many musicians forget is what happens between the eighth and ninth bar. It's not a place to rest. What you play there is terribly important. It should be. It should make all the difference between the great musician and just someone else.
"It's funny, I thought differently about things right from the beginning. Like that. Or, like, about arranging, I never wanted to be that, but once I did. I would never go to a piano to write until I had the whole thing in my head. For example, you remember The Squirrel I thought that out in Central Park, New York, one day, watching a squirrel — the jerky motion they move in. After you know what you have, then you go to the piano. I guess you prove things at the piano, but only after you've written them. At least, that's the way it is with me."
The long stay in New York began in the middle 1940s at a 52nd St. club, the Nocturne, managed by Monte Kay and Symphony Sid Torin. There, Dameron led Doug Mettome. Charlie Rouse ("Wow! has he improved!"), Nelson Boyd, and Kenny Clarke in 1947. Before the year was out, Dameron had moved to the Royal Roost on Broadway with Fats Navarro, Allen Eager, Kai Winding, Curly Russell, and Clarke.
Dameron remembers Navarro joining the group at $125 a week. "But Fats," he said, "used to do things—now that I look back at it. I believe he did them on purpose— so Id fire him. Then, I'd try someone else for a while and get so disturbed I'd go back to him and hire him back. Each time I did, he'd ask for a raise. Of course, I'd have to pay it to him. By the time we were through, he was making $250 a week. I fired him again. Then I went back to him, and he wanted more. I told him, like I always told him, that he way too expensive. He told me, like he always did. that he didn't want to play for anyone else. But that was it as far as I was concerned. I told him he was drawing leader's salary, and it was about time for him to be a leader."
Immediately afterward, Dameron went to Paris for a 1949 jazz festival with the Miles Davis Quintet and then to England as an arranger for Ted Heath, returning to the United States to arrange for Bull Moose Jackson during 1951 and 1952. The next year, he formed his own band again, playing that summer in Atlantic City, N.J., with Clifford Brown and Benny Golson.
The long summer of addiction settled in. From then, Tadd was mostly legend even to those who appreciated him most. Finally, in 1958. he was arrested and sentenced. Now he is very much back again.
This article is meant to be a recommendation. Much of the assessment has been suggested earlier. In most simple terms. Tadd is a superior musician who took superior, simple, swing melodies (for example, Hot House is based on the chords of Cole Porter's What Is Tim Thing Called Love? and applied devices. With his most original compositions, he was one of the first, certainly one of the most disciplined, of the young arrangers who brought modernity to jazz. About all that, he said only. "I'm a much better arranger now."
He always has been a fascinating pianist, not really technically proficient but always melodically rewarding. "I've had time to practice." he said. "I can play better now."
But about it all, he remains constant in that he is "really only a composer. The years have gone by. I've learned a lot. One of the things I've learned is to concentrate on what you can really do. In the end. it will make you more of a person, and happier."
"I'm a composer." he repeated. "If you want to say what I am, or what I'm doing, or what can people expect from me, just tell them that. I'm a composer. That's what I'm going to be doing."
If you are old enough to remember the Tadd Dameron of yesterday, there is a treat held in store for today. It you are young, you may wait with confidence and anticipation. In either event, you will hear your first present-day Tadd Dameron composition and want to hear it again. That is the test. He's been graduated with honors.”
[Tadd died in 1965, three years after this article was written.]
The following video features alto saxophonist Charlie Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in a 1951 TV appearance performing Tadd’s Hot House.