Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Significance of Tadd Dameron

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles concludes this ongoing feature on composer-arranger Tadd Dameron with three, distinct assessments of his music, all of which point to his significance in the world of Jazz.

The first is by Jazz composer and tenor saxophonist Benny Golson which was prepared as a Foreword to Ian MacDonald’s Tadd: The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron. A discussion of Ian’s self-published work was the basis of our first posting on Tadd and his music.

Next up is Andrew Homzy’s The Importance of Tadd, which serves as the Introduction to Ian’s biography of Tadd.

The third segment focuses on Matt Lohr’s review of Paul Combs’ Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012].

Irene Kral sings Tadd’s beautiful ballad - If You Could See Me Now - on the video montage that closes this piece.

Benny Golson on Tadd Dameron

AS   A   YOUNG   ASPIRING   SAXOPHONIST in Philadelphia in the mid-forties, I began listening, not only to other saxophonists, but arrangers as well. Tadd Dameron quickly came to my attention because of his penchant for melody. His compositions were memorable. They always lingered after the fact like the taste of a fine, gourmet meal.

Some tend to think of Tadd Dameron as a composer, whereas others think of him as an arranger. He was both!

Those talents were entwined with each other. Even when he was arranging he was composing, because his concept of melody was so flowing. Even

I eventually came to alliteratively and lovingly call him the 'melody master'. It's no wonder, then, that since he was my idol, I, too, developed an affinity for melody . . . until this very day I aggressively pursue it.

It was in 1951 that I first met Tadd. He was the pianist with Bull Moose Jackson who was from the same town of Cleveland, Ohio. They knew each other as kids.

'Moose' had offered him an interim job as pianist while he was deciding what to do with his own group.

That meeting was a glorious fantasy fulfilled. I was in awe of his ability to make a quintet sound much fuller than a quintet usually sounded.

Being a completely unselfish person, he later showed me everything he knew, including how to arrive at a fullness of sound in a dearth situation (few instruments).

After hearing me play on our first one-nighter together, he excitedly approached me at the intermission and said, "I love the way you play. I'd like you to do some things with me sometimes, perhaps even go to Europe with me".

I couldn't believe my ears. This was a solid stamp of approval as far as I was concerned. And from that day onward, we were fast friends right up until the day he died.

He taught me how to listen for logical chords to a tune even if I didn't know the tune. His harmonic prowess was unequalled. Because of him I learned how to move around smoothly in harmonic concepts, without causing emotional 'bumps' in the musical scheme of things.

While we were together in Moose's group, he often wrote things for other people.
I remember once he was writing something for the Duke Ellington orchestra. I was so excited that he shared the entire score with me from beginning to end.

In fact, I copied the arrangement for Duke just so I could eviscerate it even more.
It was instances like this that helped me on my journey of moving progressively forward. Tadd was completely illuminating and I was the direct recipient of his talent and years of practical experience. Many of the things he lovingly passed on to me in my early days of immaturity and development still hold me in stead today.

It was Tadd who drew upon the talents of young Clifford Brown. He hired him to play in his group in Atlantic City in 1953. He also hired Philly Joe Jones (whose name was then simply, Jo Jones), Jymie Meritt, Gigi Gryce, Cecil Payne, Johnny Coles and me.

During the existence of the group we recorded the album 'Dameronia'. It was during this album that he changed Jo Jones’ name to ‘Philly Joe Jones’ so as to distinguish him from Jo Jones who used to play with Count Basie. He, in fact, featured him on one of his original tunes called 'Philly Joe Jones' which was why the ‘Philly' handle came about.

We all loved Tadd because he always had a way of pulling things together and making them work in a quite natural way.

None of his music ever sounded artificial, arbitrary, or manufactured. It always had depth and personality - his personality. It touched not only our minds but hearts as well. This is what's really important.

Though he never permitted his creativity to be pressed between the pages of other people's history, he was flexible enough so as not to hinder his growth and power of reason.

He had an acute sense of comprehensibility (assimilation) and could intellectually approach his music on the deepest levels, however, his heart was always the true crucible - barometer of emotional fulfilment; it took his music in directions only he and his heart would indefatigably go.

The pages of this book will explore - on the deepest level - who and what Tadd Dameron really was, the effect of his music on the jazz scene, and its longevity as in the case of 'If You Could See Me Now.’

Ian MacDonald has been inexhaustible in his research: looking into the man, his music, his life as well as people associated with him. He gives us privy into many things never before seen or heard, things that have never reached the eyes and ears, and possibly the hearts of people.

Of course, we'll not be able to hear all of these, but we will have the knowledge of their existence. Tadd wrote many things that not even I know about. Ian MacDonald magnificently and amazingly brings all of this to our attention ... no small feat.

I'm hoping readers around the world will enjoy and remember the things brought to life and frozen for all time within the quadrilateral boundaries of these two dimensional pages.

Would that Tadd Dameron could tell his own story. But, Ian MacDonald has masterfully done that for him.”

Benny Golson
Friedrichshafen, Germany

Andrew Homzy - The Importance of Tadd

“WHILE COMPLETING MY MUSICAL STUDIES at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, I played in a weekend Dixieland band led by trombonist Ralph Gnigel. Our club, Pagan's Beacon House located where the Cuyahoga River empties its industrial filth into Lake Erie, was a place where sailors and longshoremen used to relax - but they were essentially pushed out on weekends as the pre-yuppie crowds filled the club in search of the exotic.

Near the end of Winter in 1967, after the gig one Saturday night, Ralph asked me to meet him on Sunday afternoon, and to bring my horn. He then took me to a place on Cedar Avenue that had seen the charm of another era. But despite the slum-like decay of most buildings there, I saw a few that maintained an imposing elegance.

As we walked up to one, Ralph told me to be quiet and look confident. He then rapped a rhythm on a large door and to my surprise, a small plate slid open with the demand: "Who's there?" Ralph gave his name, and after a few seconds, the large door swung open and we were led into a beautiful dance-hall decorated with large photos of black servicemen and their friends seated at the very tables I could now see neatly placed around the perimeter.

We were then led to one of these tables and asked what we would like to drink. I then realized that since the consumption of alcoholic beverages was prohibited in Ohio on Sundays, that we were in a genuine speakeasy.

I saw some musicians gathering on the elevated stage and Ralph told me to bring my horn; there was someone I should meet. 'This is Caesar Dameron" said Ralph, "He plays alto sax and runs the Sunday jam sessions." 'Welcome" said Caesar; and then with some concern, "Is that your horn? "Yes", I said, lifting up my tuba. "We've never had a tuba player here before, but Ralph said you can play modem jazz as well as Dixieland, so come on up and join us."

The truth is that I believe Ralph overestimated my abilities. But, my love of playing music and youthful naivete" blinded me to any shortcomings I may have
had. We played a variety of modern tunes such as On Green Dolphin Street and variants of I Got Rhythm and the blues.

I was thoroughly enjoying myself and after the session Caesar and the other musicians welcomed me to come back. I did return on several occasions and once I met a great tenor saxophonist named Joe Alexander. He and Caesar were very, very good. Later, I was to learn that Caesar was Tadd's brother and that Joe Alexander was a local hero on the Cleveland jazz scene.

That September, I moved to Montreal to continue my studies at McGill University.
In Montreal, I inevitably learned more about modern jazz and began playing my tuba with the Vic Vogel Big Band - Pepper Adams sat in with us a few times and we once accompanied Gerry Mulligan.

The importance of Tadd Dameron became clearer to me. And perhaps the combination of playing with his brother and pride in my home town led me to pursue any leads concerning Dameron and his music.

Almost thirty years later, and now teaching Jazz Studies at Concordia University, I've done my utmost to help keep Dameron remembered among my students and Montreal audiences. Last year while surfing the Internet, I heard of someone working on a Dameron biography.

Through the miracle of news groups and e-mail, I met Ian MacDonald, a Londoner now living in Sheffield, England. Ian told me about his book which was nearing completion. Since I had always wanted to write something about my Cleveland mentor, I suggested to him that I contribute a brief appendix -perhaps a study of Dameron's Fontainebleau. Ian, to my grateful surprise accepted the idea.

That idea has since grown into a whole chapter of his book. I hope you, the reader, enjoys my contribution, and while there are a few musical examples, I hope my text conveys sincere love and enthusiasm for this beautiful music.”

Matt Lohr A Review of Paul Combs - Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron

Paul Combs’ Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron which is described on the University of Michigan’s website as “the first authoritative biography of Tadd Dameron, an important and widely influential figure in jazz history and one of the most significant composers and arrangers of jazz, swing, bebop, and big band. This book sets out to clarify Dameron’s place in the development of jazz in the post–World War II era, as he arranged for names like Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Jimmie Lunceford, and Dizzy Gillespie and played with Bull Moose Jackson and Benny Golson It also attempts to shed light on the tragedy of his retreat from the center of jazz activity in the 1950s. By tracing Dameron’s career, one finds that until 1958, when he was incarcerated for drug related offenses, he was at the forefront of developments in jazz, sometimes anticipating trends that would not develop fully for several years. Dameron was a very private man, and while some aspects of his story will probably remain an enigma, this book manages to give an intimate portrait of his life and work.”

Paul Combs  -Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron by Matt Lohr, JazzTimes 5.27.2013

Paul Combs set himself a considerable challenge in Dameronia, his new biography of arguably the most influential composer and arranger of the bebop era. By Combs’ own admission, the record of Tadd Dameron’s personal history is a sketchy one. Dameron was “secretive almost to the point of paranoia,” and frequently provided interviewers with false or misleading information about his life (such as an occasionally mentioned stint as a premed student that never in fact took place). The inevitable result of this guardedness is a book that is only intermittently satisfying in its treatment of Dameron’s biographical background. But musicians and composers will find Combs’ book invaluable in its precision analysis of the seminal works of this singular jazz talent.

Given the problematic sources at hand, Combs delves as well as anyone could into the life and frequently hard times of his subject. The author traces Dameron’s upbringing in Cleveland and his early gigs writing and arranging for Harlan Leonard and Jimmie Lunceford. He follows Dameron through collaborations with such illustrious figures as Milt Jackson, Mary Lou Williams, John Coltrane and Benny Golson (who in his foreword marks Dameron as a major influence on his own songwriting). He tracks the composer’s checkered romantic relationships as well as his all-too-typical battles with heroin addiction, a curse that resulted in arrests, incarceration and the hobbling of his musical output during what should have been his peak years. (These struggles likely exacerbated the illnesses that led to Dameron’s premature death in 1965, at the age of 48.)

Combs makes a valiant biographer’s effort and occasionally unearths a particularly illuminating quote or anecdote—notably a painfully poignant barroom encounter between two touring musicians and Dameron, dressed in workman’s overalls while on break from a factory job he took between stints on the jazz scene. But the hazy nature of the historical record vis-à-vis Dameron lends the book’s prose an unavoidably oblique tone; many points are prefaced with “apparently,” “it is reported that” and other non committal verbiage that protects Combs from making potentially incorrect assertions but nevertheless results in a muddling of the narrative flow. This is not helped by the sparse presence of quotations from Dameron himself. Combs makes the most of the limited interview material available, but as he asserts, “[Dameron] was a man of few words, and those few words were generally reserved for music.”

It’s when Combs turns his own attention to the music that Dameronia proves its worth as a piece of jazz scholarship. A composer and music educator, Combs is fully equipped to tackle the technical particulars of Dameron’s work, and the book features detailed beat-by-beat, sometimes bar-by-bar breakdowns of “Good Bait,” “Hot House,” the ambitious Fontainebleau album and numerous other Dameron classics. Many of these analyses are accompanied by staff notation, and Combs’ explanations are heavy on musical jargon that may prove dry or impenetrable to those not schooled in theory. (I’m not ashamed to admit I had to look up “contrafact,” a term Combs utilizes with some frequency.) But to readers with a musical background, particularly those interested or educated in jazz composition and arranging, these probing and intelligent explorations of an unsung great’s work make Dameronia an essential addition to their library.”

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