Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Saturday Night

Len Lyons - The Great Jazz Pianists


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


“All drummers are frustrated piano players,” said one of my best friends who was himself, an excellent pianist.

“C’mon, Man. Help me tune these drums,” I said.

Having just added a third tom tom to my drum kit, along with the turned-off strainer on the snare drum and the bass drum, I hoped to tune the five drums to a pentatonic scale.

This was a breakthrough period for me as I was learning to keep the melody in my mind while soloing on a tune; something that helped me to play drum solos that were more “musical” and less “technical” [i.e.: relying on a combination of drum rudiments – think marching band drum cadences].

It was a skill that I had worked up to after first learning to trade four-bar and eight-bar breaks with other instruments. Sometimes 12-bar breaks were used if the tune we were playing on was a standard blues.

But taking an extended drum solo on the full 32-bars of a standard tune structure was different because all the other instruments stopped playing.

So how do you find your way through a drum solo on a tune when the 4-bar/8-bar/ 12-bar benchmarks for trade-offs are gone?

Simple, you do what the melody and harmony instruments are doing when they solo: you keep the basic song structure in your mind and you make-up an alternate melody. Yeah, but, easier said than done.

The first drummers that I recall performing drum solos over full choruses were Max Roach and Shelly Manne. Max was a bit more mechanical in his approach than Shelly – who was probably the most musical drummer who ever lived – but they were both great at constructing extended drum solos – solos that other musicians in the band actually liked to listen to.

These extended solos were not intended to be played as the show-stoppers that drummers such as Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and Joe Morello were noted for, but rather, as expressions of Jazz using the timbre and texture of drums rather than brass, reeds or woodwinds.

Interestingly, the piano fits into all of these categories as it can be as percussive as drums but also interpret melodic and harmonic elements in the music as well.

Maybe my pianist friend’s contention is true in that all drummers would like to have access to the piano’s myriad capacities for producing sound instead of being limited to striking drum heads and cymbals.

Whatever merit there is in his assertion, he is right about one thing; next to drums, piano has always been my favorite instrument.

Which is why I was so surprised that I hadn’t read Len Lyons’ The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of Their Lives and Music when it was first published by DaCapo Press in 1983.

I had been aware of Len’s book for many years as other Jazz writers often reference it in their work, but I didn’t actually acquire my own copy of it until last year when a friend gave me his copy as a gift.

When I sat down to read The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of Their Lives and Music, I devoured it. It is one of the best books about Jazz that I have ever read, perhaps, not surprisingly, because it contains interviews with many of my favorite Jazz pianists.

In many ways, the origins of the book are quite accidental in that Len didn’t initially realize what he had in the interviews with Jazz piano masters which he had conducted over the years.

As he explains it in his Preface:

“Jazz piano has always seemed to me to be a single language of a thousand different dialects. It embraces a multiplicity of styles, yet has a strong underly­ing continuity that its artists study formally or absorb naturally through their listening and playing.

It has been six years since it first occurred to me that the jazz piano tradition was an autonomous subject deserving book-length treat­ment. My original idea was to write a collection of journalistic stories about the pianists I had interviewed over the years for magazines and newspapers, contrasting their individual differences with their commonly shared heritage. The project was slow to start. It was superseded by my ongoing work as a free­lance journalist and the time-consuming process of writing a listener's guide to jazz, published in 1980 as The 101 Best Jazz Albums.

Then, in May 1982, while organizing my portfolio, I began rereading my transcribed interviews with jazz pianists, which, by that time, exceeded three dozen. An hour later I was still reading, finding their stories delightful (even the second time around) and their insights enlightening and thought-provoking. Suddenly I realized I had the key to presenting the jazz piano story: The pianists must speak for themselves. Their opinions, reminiscences, and anecdotes reveal intimately who they are, and their comments on playing jazz, and on their unique heritage, ring truest in their own words. In short, the focus of the book I was imagining shifted from jazz piano to the jazz pianists, who are, after all, the lifeblood of the music.

The book has finally taken shape in two parts. Part One is a survey of jazz pianists from 1900 to today. It places these musicians in the context of the overall history of jazz and its changing instrumental styles. There were some intimidating challenges involved in composing this overview. First, there is the inevitable overlapping of some material in this section with information pro­vided in the introductions and interviews of Part Two. Having interviewed many of the key figures in the history of jazz piano, I could not very well survey the field without referring to them and their work. Repeating certain points seemed preferable to ignoring them. (As they are introduced into the survey, the names of pianists interviewed in Part Two are followed by an asterisk [*].) …"

The interview material in Part Two (except for the Dave Brubeck inter­view, which was arranged with this volume in mind) was gathered for maga­zine publication between 1974 and 1979. In many cases the interviews herein are expanded versions of the articles that first appeared in print. Whenever possible, they have been supplemented and updated with this book in mind, to allow the pianists an opportunity to express themselves fully on crucial subjects. …

The introductions to the interviews have been kept brief to avoid duplicat­ing topics discussed during the interviews themselves and in the survey in Part One. …”

Some of the pianists interviewed by Len in Part Two have been the subject of earlier pieces on JazzProfiles. This list includes Teddy Wilson, John Lewis, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Ahmad Jamal, Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, Jimmy Rowles, Bill Evans, Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock. 

To ease my frustration at not ever having become a Jazz pianist, from time-to-time, I thought I might use Len’s book as a guide to developing a few more “Jazz Piano” features for the blog.

If you haven’t already done so, why not check out Len Lyons great book.

You don’t need to be an ex-Jazz-drummer-cum-frustrated-pianist to do so.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson

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


I’m not sure why, but the piano artistry of Oscar Peterson, particularly the one on display in his Verve recording – The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson – conjures up flights of fancy in my mind while listening to it.

His version of Dizzy Gillespie’s Con Alma [which translates to “with soul”] has always seemed to bring imagery of beautiful birds into focus, hence the stitched graphic above.

After many years with guitarists Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis, Oscar had decided to bring in Ed Thigpen on drums and Edmund’s brilliant playing in all facets of the drum kit added different coloring and sonorities to the trio’s music.

Here’s more about Oscar and his career in a brief piece about him by Gene Lees, one of Oscar’s closest friends and a fellow Canadian, as excerpted from Jazz Lives: A 100 Portraits in Jazz [photograph by John Reeves].


Oscar Emmanuel Peterson

© -Gene Lees, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Hank Jones has said, "Oscar Peterson is head and shoulders above any pianist alive today. Oscar is at the apex. He is the crowning ruler of all the pianists in the jazz world. No question about it." Andre Previn says emphatically, "He is the best!  When I surveyed seventy pianists on the subject of jazz piano, the close winners in the categories of personal favorite and "best" pianist were Art Tatum, Bill Evans, and Oscar Peterson. Oscar was Bill's favor­ite pianist. He is Roger Kellaway's favorite pianist. Dizzy Gillespie cites him as one of his favorite pianists to play with. Critic Leonard Feather said that if he were to be reincarnated, he would want to come back as Oscar Peterson.

Peterson is the son of a Montreal rail­way porter and former ship's bos'n who taught music to his five children. One of them was his daughter Daisy, who then became Oscar's teacher. Oscar went on to study with Paul de Marky, a Hungarian pianist who had studied in Budapest with Istvan Toman, whose teacher in turn was Franz Liszt. Oscar was already well known in Canada when he burst on the rest of the world in 1949 during a Jazz at the Phil­harmonic concert at Carnegie Hall. Since then, he has been at the pinnacle of jazz piano, a virtuoso whose playing has roots in the bravura of Liszt.

Oscar has led trios since the early 1950s, played solo recitals all over the world, explored the world of electronic music, and worked extensively with young peo­ple. Now he dedicates himself more and more to composition. Oscar suffered the slings and snubs of outrageous racism in Montreal in his youth. This has led him to take a staunch public stand against racism in Canada and elsewhere. In 1973 he was invested as a Companion of the Order of Canada, and afterwards told me almost shyly, "I never thought my country would honor me this way.” It continues to do so. In 1991 he was appointed Chancellor of York University in Toronto and received a Toronto Arts Award for lifetime musical achievement. At my last count he had ten honorary doctorates in music.”

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Remembering Frank Wess: 1922-2013

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




One of the most joyous Christmas gifts I ever received was the Basie Plays Hefti Roulette LP.


I must have practiced to it on countless occasions so I could get all of drummer Sonny Payne’s “kicks, licks and fills” down to perfection.


In the process, I memorized all of the horn solos as well.


It’s where I first “met” tenor saxophonist and flutist, Frank Wess. I loved his playing then and have enjoyed it ever since.


Frank Wess was the personification of the stand-up-and-blow-your-horn Jazz musician.


One summer, I worked a gig in The Space Bar at Disneyland, a venue that is long since gone from the Anaheim, CA park.


The Basie Band often worked Disneyland during those summer months and many that followed.


I got to know and hangout a bit with Frank Wess during that summer gig at Disneyland. He introduced me to Sonny Payne by saying: “Hey Sonny, this kid knows all your sh**!” Me and my big mouth!!


Frank died on October 30, 2013 and I wanted to remember him on these pages with a look back at Frank via Peter Vacher’s obituary from the November 4th issue of The Guardian.




© -Peter Vacher/The Guardian, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“For 11 years, the tenor saxophonist Frank Wess, who has died aged 91, was half of one of the most irresistible pairings in jazz. He played alongside fellow saxophonist Frank Foster in the Count Basie orchestra and the two became known worldwide for their duets or "tenor battles", Wess taking the softer line while Foster played the tough guy. "Frank was smooth and I had a little more drive," Foster said. Billed as the Two Franks after Neal Hefti composed a special feature for them with that title, and seemingly joined at the hip, they continued their association long after both had left Basie, often performing together.


While with Basie, Wess soloed on flute as well as saxophone, helping to change the way the instrument was heard in big bands and winning Downbeat Magazine's critics' poll on flute every year from 1959 to 1964. It is no exaggeration to say that he "established the flute as an appropriate instrument for Jazz", in the words of Barry Kernfeld in the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz.


Born in Kansas City, Missouri, into a middle-class African-American family, Wess grew up in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, where he began to play alto saxophone in his father's amateur band as a 10-year old, before settling in Washington DC in 1935. Both parents were schoolteachers and intended their son to be a dentist although Wess claimed that he knew early on that jazz was to be his career. He was soon good enough to play with local dance groups and to work in the house band at the Howard theatre, Washington's leading black entertainment arena.


It was then that he moved over to the larger tenor saxophone, inspired by the great Basie soloist Lester Young. "Lester showed me a lot of things about the horn," Wess told the writer Stanley Dance. His first "name" band experience was with the vocalist Blanche Calloway, the elder sister of the more famous Cab Calloway, this sojourn interrupted by his army call-up in 1940 (he was solo clarinettist with the 5th Army band).


After demobilisation in 1945, Wess joined the Billy Eckstine orchestra for two years, playing alongside several eager young boppers before he moved on to Eddie Heywood's small group and then worked for a year with Bull Moose Jackson's rousing R&B combo. Determined to take his flute studies seriously, Wess enrolled at the Modern School of Music in Washington under the GI bill in 1949 and was tutored by Wallace Mann, the National Symphony Orchestra's flute soloist, eventually earning his degree.


Wess's Basie breakthrough came in 1953 and if it took a while for the bandleader to realise that Wess was a flautist too, it did not take him long to sense that here was a crowdpleaser who deserved to be featured extensively on record and for live dates. Wess's time with the band coincided with its hugely successful rebirth following the Atomic Mr. Basie album, recorded in 1957, and its greatest period of international fame.


The memory of their first appearance in London in 1957 still resounds, the band's sheer swing power and the solo elan of the musicians, Wess included, proving quite overwhelming. Wess was the last surviving member of that mighty ensemble.
He recorded regularly away from the band with other modern jazz stars and under his own name for a variety of labels, his whole-hearted tenor sound and flute capability making him the ideal sideman. He also began to write for the Basie band, having studied arranging at Howard University; Seque was perhaps his most widely performed piece.


Wess left Basie to go into the pit band for Golden Boy on Broadway in the mid-60s, adding clarinet to his arsenal of instruments (Wess once said the clarinet "was invented by five men that never met") and continued working as a freelance, living at home with his family while responding to every kind of commercial call, in addition to leading his own jazz groups. This included playing for The David Frost Show (1969-72) and Saturday Night Live and for further Broadway musicals and on jingles.




He was a member of the trumpeter Clark Terry’s big band from 1967 to 1970 and toured overseas with the New York Jazz Quartet. His association with Foster was revived regularly. He travelled internationally with the Philip Morris Superband, visited Japan with his own equivalent to the Basie orchestra and played with the ensemble Dameronia. Meanwhile, his recording career continued unabated and it is estimated that he appeared on more than 600 recordings, his final album appearing a few months ago.


Dance described the softly spoken Wess as "one of those undemonstrative musicians who are the backbone of the profession". Revered by his peers, Wess was made a National Endowment for the Arts jazz master in 2007 and continued to perform at the highest level until earlier this year.


He is survived by his partner, Sara, and two daughters, Michelle and Francine, from his marriage to Virginia. A son, Richard, predeceased him.


• Frank Wellington Wess, jazz saxophonist and flautist, born 4 January 1922; died 30 October 2013”


Not surprisingly, the following video tribute to Frank features him along with fellow tenor saxophonist Frank Foster and the Count Basie band performing Neal Hefti’s Two Franks.


Saturday, June 27, 2020

[HD] Greatest Hollywood Car Chase of All Time - Bullitt (1968)

A Portrait of Clark Terry As A Young Man


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


With apologies to James Joyce for modifying his book title, I’ve always enjoyed this story about the young Clark Terry as told by Gene Lees.

“Clark Terry was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on December 14, 1920, the son of a laborer at Laclede Gas and Light Company, the seventh of eleven children, seven of them girls. Before Clark's birth, one girl died. Clark's brothers never escaped the destiny of their father. Clark alone did. …

I'd known about the garden hose for years.

"I must have been ten, eleven years old," Clark said. "Twelve, maybe. My older sister's husband, Cy McField, played tuba in the Dewey Jackson band — Dewey Jackson's Musical Ambassadors — at a place called Sauter's Park in Carondolet in South St. Louis. That's where I was born.

“The park was all Caucasian. We were not allowed to go in there. Us kids, we'd walk down there, about three miles. Walk down to the end of Broadway, the county line. We'd stand up on something behind the bandstand and we'd listen to the band that way.

"I remember one cat who played in Dewey Jackson's band, Mr. Latimore. He was a big, huge guy, played lead trumpet. He used to like me and my brother-in-law used to take me to all the rehearsals. He'd say, 'Son, you can watch my horn.' And I'd say, 4Oh thank you,' and I'd literally sit there and watch his horn. After so many rehearsals, I became very, very close to him. He owned a candy store, and he always kept a pocket full of caramels and mary janes, and he'd give me a couple of caramels and a couple of mary janes and sometimes a couple of pennies. He was the greatest cat in the world, so I wanted to play the horn he played. I'm glad he wasn't a banjo player!

"So one time they went on a break. He said, 'You watch my horn.' I said, 'Okay, Mr. Latimore,' and by the time they came back, I had been magnetically drawn to this horn, huffin' and puffin' away, trying to make a sound. And he walked in. He said, ‘Ah, son, you're gonna be a trumpet player.' And I've always said, 'And I was stupid enough to believe him.'

“That, plus the fact that on the corner called iron Street and Broadway, near where I lived, there was a Sanctified church. We used to sit on the curb and let those rhythms be instilled in us." Banging a beat with his hands, he sang against it a strong churchy passage. "You know, with the tambourines, and the people dancin' and jiggin' and all that. That was as much as you needed to be instilled with the whole thing.

"We had this little band. We used to play on the corner. My first thing was a comb and tissue paper. The paper vibrates. Then I came across a kazoo, which is the same principle. Later on in my life, we had to have kazoos as standard equipment in the studio. Sometimes we would have do little things when you were record­ing for different commercial products.

"We had a guy named Charlie Jones — we called him Bones - who used to play an old discarded vacuum hose, wound around his neck like a tuba, into a beer mug." Clark sang a buzzy bass line in imitation, mostly roots and fifths. "It was a better sound than the jug." The jug of course was the old earthenware jug used in country music and jazz.

"We had a cat who played the jug, too. With the two of them, we had a good solid foundation. My brother Ed played — we called him Shorts, he was a little short cat — played the drums. He took the rungs out of some old chairs for sticks. In those days we didn't have refrigeration, we had ice boxes, and when the pan wore out, started leaking and got rusty, it would sound just like a snare. They had those tall bushel baskets in those days, I haven't seen one in a long time. He'd turn one of those upside down and hang the old discarded ice pan on the side and take the chair rungs and keep a rhythm like that. He got an old washtub and put a brick and fixed it so he could beat it." Clark laughed that delicious and slightly conspiratorial laugh of his as he pounded a beat.

I said, "He sounds like some kind of a genius."

"Yeah!" Clark said. "He was. Well, I got an old piece of a hose one day and coiled it up and got some wire and tied it so that it stuck up in three places so it would look like valves. I took a discarded kerosene funnel and that was my bell. I got a little piece of lead pipe — we didn't realize in those days that there was lead poisoning — and that was my mouthpiece."

It struck me that Clark had invented a primitive bugle, on which he could presumably play the overtones.

"Yeah!" he said. "By the time I got into the drum and bugle corps, I had already figured out the system like the Mexican mariachi players use. They were taught back in those days to play the mouthpiece first."

He did a rhythmic tonguing like a mariachi player, then pressed his lips together and buzzed. "After a while I figured out how to change the pitch." Pursing his lips, he did a glissando, up one octave and down, flawlessly. "And then they could do that with the mouthpiece. After you got the mouthpiece under control, and you got a bugle, you could play notes. You could make all the notes that went from one harmonic to the other."

Never having seen Clark teach, I realized what makes him such an incredible — and so he is reputed — pedagogue, and why young people who study with him worship him. And all of it is communicated with laughter and a sense of adventure.”

One of the earliest Jazz long-playing records I ever heard was a Emarcy sampler which included a track from Clark Terry’s first album as a leader. The tune is entitled Swahili which I found out many years later was co-composed by Clark and Quincy Jones. You can listen to it on the following video. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Jazz Piano / Christian Jacob - Remembrance

Tadd Dameron - A Career Overview

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


“... Dameron is a much underrated performer who stands at the fulcrum of modern Jazz, midway between Swing and Bebop. Combining the broad-brush arrangements of the big band and the advanced harmonic language of bop, his own recordings are difficult to date blind. The title of one of his most renown tunes - On A Misty Night - catches the sense of evanescence which seems to surround both the man and the music.”
Richard Cook and Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.  


At the time [1948] that Miles began spending more time at Gil's basement apartment, the New York scene was vibrant but also in another state of upheaval. Big bands were bailing out, and the 52nd Street clubs were closing one by one or converting to strip joints. Yet New York's jazz world, drastically shrunk now in its venues, was still innovating. The seeds of a post-bop direction were already in evidence, not just among Evans and his friends. Arranger/composer/pianist Tadd Dameron, who had written for Gillespie's big band, was fronting a medium-sized combo; his current music had a light, fluid approach that veered off from the more frenetic side of bop.6 Dameron's music and working groups provided an alternative to Miles Davis's work with Charlie Parker in the late 1940s and had a formative impact on Davis’ evolving style.”
- Stephanie Stein Crease, Gil Evans, Out of the Cool: His Life and Music [pp. 154-55]


“‘I taught Tadd, you know,’ recalled Dizzy. ‘You can tell that his writing was very much influenced by my harmony, by what I had worked out on the piano by myself.’”
- Dizzy Gillespie to Alyn Shipton, Groovin’ High, The Life of Dizzy Gillespie [p. 163]

While doing research of the music of Tadd Dameron, mainly to increase my own knowledge of it and to enjoy listening to more of it in the process [blog master’s perquisite?], I came across this information about Ian MacDonald’s own search for information about Tadd that resulted in his self-published book on the subject: Ian McDonald, author of TADD: The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron.

I have yet to obtain a copy of Ian McDonald’s TADD: The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron, but while I continue the search, I thought you might find this article about Ian’s Tadd-quest of interest. It was published online by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

Below Ian’s overview of his book,you will find the review of it that Don Rose posted to the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s website.

We are planning to add future features on Tadd’s music by Max Harrison and Dan Morgenstern.

© -  Ian McDonald and Don Rose, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


In Search of Tad(d) Dameron by Ian MacDonald


“The following material is based on the author's research into Dameron's life and music, which culminated in the recent publication of Tadd—the life and legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron….


In October [2003], a compilation CD titled "The Lost Sessions" will hit the stores which will include previously unreleased material from the Blue Note vaults. Featured will be various bands led by Charlie Rouse, Ike Quebec, Duke Pearson and...Tadd Dameron.


The Dameron session dates from December 1961, a few months after his release from the Lexington Federal Narcotics Hospital and four years before his death. It will provide the only available record of his piano playing since the 1956 "Mating Call" session with John Coltrane. The band features Donald Byrd, Curtis Fuller, Julius Watkins, Sam Rivers, Cecil Payne, Tadd, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. It was produced by Michael Cuscuna and it includes material originally listed as "rejected." 

A couple of years back, when I was researching my biography of Dameron, I asked Cuscuna about this unreleased session. He said that, "The ensembles were a mess. There had been trouble with the copyist." He added that he hoped "to revisit the tapes at some stage to see if they could be released—for historic importance."

Happily, that has now happened, although Cuscuna stresses that the issue will include a caveat about the flaws. This is not likely to bother true Dameron followers, who will be keen to know if Dameron's piano playing changed during his three year stay in Lexington, where he not only led the "house band' but also practised piano most days. [See George Ziskind's essay about the post-Lexington Tadd Dameron.]


Until now, only a few people have heard the post Lexington piano of Dameron. A few lucky souls heard a tape of his solos made privately for Chris Albertson, in December 1961, which went missing after being loaned to Lil Harding. Another private tape that year, made at Ray Bryant's apartment, was stolen.


In 1947, a numerologist had advised Tadd, "To be lucky, you need to add an extra letter to your name." Thus Tad become Tadd. He must have wondered about the wisdom of that change. His run of bad fortune continued in early 1962 when master tapes from a studio session featuring Dameron directing a band led by Milt Jackson and Kenny Dorham were destroyed in a fire.


The "Lost Sessions" from Blue Note will include Dameron tunes Aloof Spoof, The Elder Speaks, Bevan Beeps and Lament For The Living. The first two have not been recorded, but Beeps and Lament were recorded by Chet Baker.


Many Dameron stories have entered into jazz folklore—an Oberlin pre-med doctor story; a Sir Thomas Beecham connection; I Love Lucy theme rumors; Dimitri Tiomkin and the Love Theme from the film Giant; a Mexican ballet; and more. As I researched my book, I naturally sought the truth.


Interviews with people who knew Tadd going back to the 1930s (including someone who saw Tadd make his public debut playing Stardust with the Snake White band in 1936), research at the Oberlin alumni archives, talks with Beecham's road manager, and with Tadd's widow Mia, brought us most of the answers. You'll have to read the book. For now—the Mexican ballet story is untrue.


I wanted to build up as complete a picture as possible of Dameron's compositions and recorded output. I started with a core of about 100 known Dameron tunes and was greatly aided by Dameron buffs such as Andrew Homzy, Brooks Kerr, Bob Sunenblick and Don Sickler in finding more. The tune and song list is now at 190, with the probability of more to come. Along the way I found Sermon On The Mount, a nine part religious suite written by Tadd, Irving Reid and Ira Kosloff (co-writer of Elvis Presley's early hit I Want You I Need You I Love You).
Some of the songs were collaborations with Carl Sigman, Irving Reid, Bernie Hanighen, Maely Daniele, Shirley Jones, Jack Reynolds, Charles White, Albert Carlo, Darwin Jones, Ira Kosloff, and Ann Greer. Boxes of manuscripts, some without chord symbols, are still to be sorted and catalogued. Many of these are likely to be Dameron compositions.


Putting together a Dameron discography proved a lot easier, which ran to almost 300 recordings as player, arranger or conductor. Many have been issued under Tadd's leadership, but others sessions were under the names of Harlan Leonard, Jimmy Lunceford, Sabby Lewis, Billy Eckstine, Georgie Auld, Buddy Rich, Sarah Vaughan, Dickie Wells, Earle Warren, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Redman, Illinois Jacquet, Louie Bellson, Pearl Bailey, Babs Gonzales, Fats Navarro, Dexter Gordon Coleman Hawkins, Anita O'Day, Kay Penton, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Miles Davis, Tony Proteau, Ted Heath, Bull Moose Jackson, Billy Paul, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Carmen McRae, Blue Mitchell, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Chet Baker.
Scores in Tadd's hand were unearthed for Duke Ellington, Boyd Raeburn and Stan Kenton, none of which was ever recorded. Tadd collaborated early on with Billy Strayhorn—they regularly compared notes and ideas at the home of Billy Taylor—but apparently they did not write anything down. Scores written for Gil Evans exist but are missing. Detailed searches by Bob Sunenblick and Gil's son, Miles, have failed so far to unearth them.


I listened to many Dameron tribute albums. Not just the well known material by the Philly Joe Jones Dameronia repertory band, but also albums by Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Muriel Winston, Barry Harris, the Japanese big band The Blue Coats, Per Husby, Andy LaVerne, Warren Rand, Dave Cliff and Geoff Simkins. This led me to the beautiful voices of Dameron admirers Vanessa Rubin and Jeri Brown.


I found professionally-recorded versions of Dameron tunes for which I possessed sheet music or lead sheets, but had never heard. These included I'm Never Happy Anymore (three different versions), Lovely One In The Window, Love Took The 7.10 Tonight, Never Been In Love, Take A Chance On Spring, That's The Way It Goes and Weekend.


I owned two versions of Dizzy Gillespie's band playing A Study In Soulphony In Three Hearts but also unearthed a piano solo based on one portion of the longer orchestral piece. Pianist Clifton Smalls told me that Tadd had given him a copy of that piece. He said that Tadd was writing a whole stage act for singer Brook Benton, much in the style of his stage act writing for the 1953 Atlantic City Harlem Revue.


Research into the 1953 Atlantic City period unearthed an agonizing "might have been." I located a tape of Tadd's band which included Clifford Brown which was made privately by cab driver, and occasional baritone saxist, Kellice Swaggerty. He sometimes sat in with the band and taped not just the jazz proceedings, but the whole revue—comics, dancers, singers et al.


Unfortunately Swaggerty's tape machine sounds as if it was placed too near to a bandstand air-conditioning unit. The sound is so distorted that it is unlikely that this could ever be packaged for a wider audience—not even for historical purposes


The search for more tunes and missing tapes goes on. In the meantime Dameron fans have those 1961-vintage "Lost Sessions" to look forward to.


[Ian MacDonald, a journalist and editor for 35 years, is the secretary of the Sheffield (U.K.) Jazz Society and author of Tadd—the life and legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron. It includes a foreword by Benny Golson and is published by Jahbero Press (ISBN 0 9533778 0 6) and distributed by Cadence (North America), Norbert Ruecker (Germany) and Cadillac Jazz Distribution (UK). For more information, email Jahbero@aol.com or write Jahbero Press, 38 Wadbrough Road, Sheffield S11 8RG, England. Copies of photos of Dameron may be obtained directly from Val Wilmer at 10 Snyder Road, London N16 7UG. Send a SASE for details.]


[Caution: the above contact information dates back to 2003 when this piece was published by the Jazz Institute of Chicago and it may no longer be accurate or active as of this posting].

Reviewed by Don Rose for The Jazz Institute of Chicago


“Tadd Dameron, born in 1917, seamlessly bridged the crucial musical years from swing to bebop. He wrote and arranged for late-1930s bands such as Lucky Millinder, Andy Kirk and Vido Musso before he was 20, jammed with his fellow musical "outlaw" Charlie Parker in Kansas City in 1939 and went on to become an indispensable—though undersung—part of the modern music scene of the '40s through the early '60s.


His compositions "Hot House" and "Good Bait" were heralds of the bebop era. The latter was first introduced by a Dizzy Gillespie small band at one of the first bop-age recording sessions, though the Basie band played it occasionally as many as three years earlier. The former, an unusual ABCA riff on "What is This Thing Called Love," was part of the first Gillespie-Parker small band session that essentially launched the era.


He first recorded another of his masterpieces, "Lady Bird," in 1948 with a remarkable group that included Fats Navarro on trumpet and Wardell Gray and Allen Eager on tenors. It became an instant classic—Miles Davis wrote the counter-melody "Half Nelson" for a recording session that included Parker on tenor—and we're still hearing the lovely tune today, though it actually dates from 1939!




The Cleveland-born composer-arranger-pianist led the band that backed Sarah Vaughan's landmark recording sessions of 1946 and wrote one of the great hits from that session, "If You Could See Me Now." (He adapted a Gillespie coda to create the line.) Two years later the Gillespie big band introduced Dameron's "A Study in Soulphony," the first extended composition of the bop era—but sadly no studio performance was ever released. Most of that year, however, Dameron led what was essentially the house band at the legendary Royal Roost in New York, frequently with Navarro, sometimes with Davis.


He recorded with Navarro for Savoy and Blue Note— almost every side a classic—mentoring the brilliant horn man along the way. (Dameron, like Thelonius Monk, was an excellent teacher, even to the extent of helping horn players improve their tone. Another mentee was Clifford Brown.) Eight years later, Dameron recorded his most impressive extended work, "Fontainebleau," which remains one of the epic jazz compositions. The same year, 1956, he accompanied an emerging tenorman named John Coltrane on an album of Dameron originals.


Like so many of his compadres, Dameron was also hooked on heroin and, two years after the Coltrane date, served three years in the federal narcotics prison at Lexington, Ky. He emerged to find a rapidly and radically changing musical scene in 1961. But he went right back to work playing, composing and recording until his death from cancer in 1965, leaving behind a repertoire of close to 200 songs, including many ballads that have been set to words—even an amazingly popular commercial jingle "Get Wildroot Cream Oil Charlie." (Some of his other well known tunes, done for Gillespie's big band as well as his own groups, include "Cool Breeze," "Gnid," "Our Delight," "The Tadd Walk" and "On a Misty Night.")


This is just the quickest sketch of the life and achievements of this extraordinary musician — one who should be ranked right up there, just behind Ellington, Monk and Mingus as a composer — but who still remains an undersung hero even though several tribute bands exist and testimonial albums have been issued.


Author MacDonald set about accumulating the facts of Dameron's life, mainly through clippings, discographical material and interviews with dozens of the admiring musicians who knew and worked with Dameron. This self-published biography (the publishing house name is another Dameron tune) is a great tribute to its subject and reveals a trove of forgotten or ignored facts. It also includes several discographical appendices, which are interesting and useful, albeit a bit confusingly organized and lacking in detail.


This work is far from fine biography and almost devoid of musical analysis—rather, it's a fan's appreciation, richly and extensively quoting scores of players who knew or worked with its subject. As such it can't compare with works such as Lewis Porter's exemplary bio of Coltrane and works of that caliber, but it's serious in its effort to tell a story that well deserves telling. Dameron fans and relative newcomers alike will be enriched.”

The following video montage features Dameronia under the direction of Don Sickler performing If You Could See Me Now with Charlie Rouse doing the honors on tenor saxophone. It was performed at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, NYC in August, 1988 and, to my knowledge, it has not been released as a commercial recording.




Tadd Dameron - Fontainebleau - Max Harrison 9.15.2014

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



Fontainebleau originates from Tadd Dameron’s last full year of freedom [1956] before the term of imprisonment that more of less ended his career [he was released from prison in 1962 and died of cancer in 1965].

It is a fine set with no clutter in the horns. The title piece if entirely written-out with no scope for improvisation.

Here is Jazz critic Max Harrison’s of it from the February, 1960 edition of the Jazz Review.

© -Max Harrison, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Dameron should have been one of the most prominent jazz composers, arrangers and bandleaders in the immediate postwar years for he was certainly among the most gifted. He lacked technical slickness, and that was surely a disadvantage in the busy world of the record makers, but nearly everything he wrote was modestly yet firmly individual. The melodic style, warm but fresh, was the most distinctive single aspect of Dameron's work, yet his orchestration for small and medium-sized groups was instantly recognisable, too. Confining himself mainly to conventional instrumentations, and never seeking really unusual sounds, his textures are almost always striking.

The concise inventiveness of many of his themes, such as Ladybird, Cool breeze, Stay on it, Jahbero, Our delight, The Squirrel, Half step down, please, Symphonette, Hothouse and Good Bait, won them classic status in the jazz of the 19408, and they gave rise to remarkable improvisations by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and others. Navarro was, indeed, the finest interpreter the composer ever found, and they recorded together often during those years. Following the great trumpeter's premature death in 1950, Dameron's career appeared to lose its impetus, and from then until his own demise in 1965 little was salvaged except bits and pieces. Malcolm Lowry (Dark as the Grave, London,1969) compares an artist to a fireman rescuing valuables from a burning house, that house being the work of art, unscathed, intact in the mind which conceived it, but which the artist has had to set on fire before he can exteriorise it. What he finishes with—the 'completed work' —is a small heap of salvaged objects. This will scarcely serve for the greatest works of art, but it would be hard to better as an image of the last decade and a half of Dameron's life.

He had the more gifted jazzman's usual ambition to break out of the straitjacket of repeating twelve- and thirty-two-bar choruses, and wrote an extended piece called Soulphony for Gillespie to play at Carnegie Hall. This has sunk without a trace, but he made further attempts, and the most convincing is Fontainebleau, which he first recorded in 1956 (American Prestige D7842). It tries to suggest, rather than directly portray, the palace of that name (described in the sleeve note of the original American issue as "where the Bourbons used to cavourt"!) and the surrounding forest.

According to Dameron, the quite simple formal plan has three parts. The first, Leforet, opens with a brooding introductory theme that is heard first on the string bass, then on bass doubled with baritone saxophone, then on the remaining horns—trumpet, trombone, alto and tenor saxophones. This leads to the main theme of the section, and of the whole work, stated by Kinny Dorham's trumpet. It is a flowing, lyrical melody characteristic of the composer, and, though perhaps unsuitable for large-scale development, is entirely suitable for its limited use here. This theme is extended in a written-out (not improvised) alto saxophone solo played most expressively by Sahib Shihab, and by the ensemble. A transitional piano solo from Dameron himself leads to Les cygnes.

This opens with a brief ensemble that manages to suggest the main Foret theme without direct statement, and then a baritone saxophone ostinato bridges to the Cygnes theme, the other principal idea of Fon-tainebleau. It is announced on baritone saxophone and trombone accompanied from above with another ostinato by alto and tenor saxophones. As this is developed, trumpet and alto interject motives derived from the main Foret theme.

Transition from Les cygnes to L'adieu is ill-defined and the third section introduces no fresh material. It begins with another ensemble suggesting the chief Foret theme, followed by the baritone saxophone ostinato that earlier appeared at the be ginning of Les cygnes. Over this a modification of the Cygnes theme itself is given out by alto and tenor saxophones, and it resolves, still supported with the baritone ostinato, to the introductory Foret theme on alto, then on both alto and tenor. This, too, is in modified form—almost jaunty compared with its sombre initial appearance. Restatements of this motive, by trumpet, then by alto and tenor saxophones, alternate with two further ensembles, the last of which brings Fontainebleau to a close.

It is typical of Dameron to proceed by suggestion rather than direct statement, but his thematic cross-references from one section to another help to produce a satisfyingly tight structure. And the listener's interest is sustained by real melodic invention. As usual, the orchestration is effective, and recalls a comment by Dexter Gordon (Quoted in Ira Gitler, Jazz Masters of the 40s, New York, 1966), made after playing some Dameron scores, that every line—all the subsidiary parts—had melodic significance, not just the top one. In fact variety is achieved here with diversified themes and the melodic extensions arising from them, by line, that is, not colour. Colour and texture have their place, however, and the composer gets a notable effect by introducing two of his themes— the Foret introduction and Les cygnes—in low register and then transposing them to high on their reappearances. Similarly, the baritone saxophone ostinato is succeeded by an alto and tenor one in Les cygnes.

These changes, allied to the slowly quickening tempo, produce a feeling of increasing brightness as the work moves from its brooding start to an affirmative conclusion. The weaknesses, as noted, are the vague demarcation between Les cygnes and L'adieu, and the fact that the latter, because it introduces no material of its own, does not constitute a truly independent third section: another theme was needed, and it is hard to believe that Dameron would have found it difficult to think of one.

Fontainebleau leaves no room for improvisation, but this performance is considerably aided by Dorham's trumpeting, by Sahib Shihab's alto and Cecil Payne's baritone saxophone, and by Shadow Wilson's drumming. The ensemble playing is scarcely in the highest class, yet a more cleanly executed reading by a larger group which the composer recorded in 1962 (American Riverside RLP419]) has a rather unpleasant routine-session glibness which robs the piece of some of its character. Dameron often complained about the poor quality of the performances his work received, and insisted that he was poorly represented on records, but Dorham and Co. showed a proper understanding of his pithy yet relaxed music ….”
Jazz Review, February 1960


Dameronia: Theatre de Boulogne Billancourt/Paris 9.24.2014

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


“There are artists who create beauty but whose character fails to reflect it; Tadd was not one of those."
- Dan Morgenstern

Here’s another installment in our ongoing feature about the late composer and arranger Tadd Dameron [1917-1965], this time from the perspective of Dameronia, a tribute band originally created by Tadd’s close friend, drummer Philly Joe Jones.

The origins, personnel and music of Dameronia are discussed at length by the esteemed Jazz writer and critic Dan Morgenstern in the following insert notes which he prepared for the Soul Note CD - Dameronia: Live at The Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt/Paris [121202-2] - and which Dan has graciously allowed us to reprint on these pages.

© -  Dan Morgenstern; used with the author’s permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved. [Paragraphing modified to fit blog format.]

“It is both touching and ironic that a band (Dameronia) that was formed in memory of a great musician (Tadd Dameron) by another great musician (Philly Joe Jones) who had learned much from him was in turn reincarnated some four years after Philly Joe's death to commemorate both Tadd and Philly Joe, and that this performance by that band, now issued five years later, becomes a further memorial to two fallen heroes who performed so well on that occasion, Walter Davis Jr. and Clifford Jordan.

And what was the occasion? A concert held at the Theatre de Boulogne Billancourt, not far from Paris (whose denizens know it as TBB) as part of the fifth season of spring jazz events, in 1989 dedicated to the theme "Around Charlie Parker." And that theme certainly fits the music of Tadd Dameron, whose most famous Parker-associated tune is the opener on this program, Hot House.


Dameron was a very special presence on the modern jazz scene. Like Thelonius Monk, who also was that rare thing - a quintessential jazz composer - Tadd was in but not of bebop.

To be sure, many of his pieces lent themselves well to bop (among those included here, that would fit the two blues, Good Bait and The Squirrel; Lady Bird and the aforementioned Hot House). Moreover, it was in particular Dizzy Gillespie, who came to love Tadd's writing while in the Billy Eckstine band, who took many of Tadd's charts into his own big band after Mr. B had given up band leading. Also, it was Dizzy's replacement in the Eckstine band, Fats Navarro, who became perhaps the supreme interpreter of Dameron's music.

Yet the rich and warm harmonies and essentially romantic melodies that flowed from Tadd's imagination were neither structurally nor rhythmically bebop per se. A piece like the lovely tone-poem Fontainebleau may be closer in spirit to Duke Ellington, and to the world of big band music into which Dameron was born.

Professionally, he came to music relatively late, at age 21, after he'd given up studying medicine because he couldn't tolerate the sight of carnage and suffering. His first recorded arrangements and compositions appeared in 1941/42, on discs by Harlan Leonard and his Rockets, a Kansas City band. He subsequently wrote for Lunceford (who recorded some of his charts) and Basie (who didn't, but played them; we have airchecks), and Don Redman (who performed Tadd's For Europeans Only in 1946 in Copenhagen, where I first heard a sample of Dameronia).


By next spring, I'd emigrated to the U.S., and in 1948, I found myself at the Royal Roost, listening to Tadd's fine band with Fats Navarro, Kai Winding and Allen Eager. I was escorting not one but two quite stunning girls, one of whom knew some of the cats in the band. When they came by on their break, the only one who took the slightest interest in me was Tadd, who was so friendly to and curious about this 19-year-old European import that I never forgot it.

Years later, Tadd and I became friends. There are artists who create beauty but whose character fails to reflect it; Tadd was not one of those. He was a gentle and noble soul, and consequently, life kicked him hard. Drugs became a way to hide from pain; but they cost him dearly: first his freedom, then his health.

Had Tadd Dameron had an orchestra, or a permanent smaller group at his disposal, there's no telling what his legacy could have been. Meanwhile, we must be thankful that he was productive enough to leave us more that a few works of substance. In Dameronia, there was finally, if only temporarily, a first-class ensemble to interpret them.

Dameronia wasn't launched overnight. Philly Joe had long nursed a dream of forming a band to give Tadd "credit for all the beautiful music he left us," but first that music had to be put together. Sadly, almost all Dameron's scores had been lost over the years. lt was when the drummer met multi-faceted Don Sickler- trumpeter, transcriber, researcher, publisher- that Dameronia began to take shape. Don and his friend and fellow transcriber, pianist John Oddo (perhaps best known today for his excellent work with Rosemary Clooney) went to work on Tadd's recorded music, mostly following the original instrumentation, but sometimes (as in the case here of Soultrane, a quartet recording) adapting Tadd's piano voicings to an expanded instrumental!urn- and very idiomatically, it must be acknowledged.Eventually, a library of 19 scores was ready for performing.



Dameronia made its debut in Philly Joe's hometown, where he'd first worked with Tadd in singer-saxophonist Bullmoose Jackson's band, and after its Philadelphia engagement, the band opened in April of 1982 at the short lived but well remembered Lush Life club in Greenwich Village. 

The reviews were ecstatic. As Robert Palmer wrote in the New York Times, "word spread that something extraordinary was happening...... By the weekend, the club was packed for every set, and people had to be turned away. A loving and scholarly re-creation turned into a box office smash." Two months later a record was made for the small but enterprising Uptown label.

That original group included several players also on hand for this recreation; Sickler, of course; saxophonists Frank Wess and Cecil Payne; bassist Larry Ridley, and Walter Davis Jr. By the time Dameronia made its second album for Uptown in July 1983, Virgil Jones and Benny Powell were also on hand. So this 1989 version was a very authentic Dameronia. It was a wise choice to let young Kenny Washington fill the late leader's shoes; Kenny loves Philly Joe's playing and understands it so well that he doesn't need to copy. As for Clifford Jordan, he was a more than able replacement for the group's original tenor sax, Charles Davis.

Indeed, this was a formidable saxophone section, led by a master, Frank Wess, and anchored by one of the bosses of the baritone, Cecil Payne, who'd worked and recorded with Tadd back in 1949. As for the brass, the underrated Virgil Jones is among the most able of trumpeters on the New York scene, while Benny Powell has continued to grow in stature as a soloist since leaving Basie many years ago, and director Sickler, when he lets himself take a sole role, shows he can hold is own fast company. We've mentioned Kenny Washington; his rhythm section mates leave nothing to be desired. Professor Larry Ridley knows and loves Tadd's music, and Walter Davis Jr. was a true master of both solo and accompaniment, and never played better than during the final years of his life.

Ensemble figures work well behind the soloists on Hot House; they are Jones, Powell, Payne and Davis. This is an expansion of a quintet piece, while Mating Call (like Gnid and Soultrane) stems from the famous quartet album of the same name, with Coltrane and Philly Joe. Jordan's solo is the centerpiece here, and Clifford certainly had Trane in mind. Fine Davis here, too. Gnid's pretty melody is in Wess's good hands for openers; after the piano solo, Powell comes into his own. Benny's humor here brings to mind his early favorite, Bill Harris. Wess returns for the recapitulation of the theme, authoritatively.


There was a time when no jam session was complete without a rendition of Lady Bird- it's the kind of piece that makes musicians want to play. Clifford is outstanding here, and Ridley has a fine solo spot. Good fills by the drummer spruce up the finale. (There was a big-band version of this piece in the Gillespie book, but the most famous recording, of course, was the Blue Note one with Fats.) Good Bait is taken at the right tempo-relaxed. Both trumpeters are heard here, as well as Powell and Davis- the latter is outstanding; at times, he came closer to the essence of Bud Powell than any other pianist but always with his own accent.

Soultrane belongs to Frank Wess, who here reminds of the still-so-fresh Benny Carter. Frank's tone is gorgeous, without ever becoming too sweet, and his intonation is impeccable. Payne's fat sound adds to the ensemble flavor, and Frank tops it all off with an elegant cadenza. (I'm looking forward to playing this cut on the radio.)

The Squirrel is a blues that captures the motions of its namesake. Davis's fills are in a Tadd groove, Payne takes five booting choruses, there's an ensemble variation (probably based on a solo from one of the many recorded versions), nice Jones trumpet, and an agile arco solo by Ridley. Philly Joe Jones is one instance where all original recording had the exact instrumentation of Dameronia. The changes remind of Dizzy's Woody'n You, and while Kenny is marvelous here in the featured role, using dynamics, space and imagination brilliantly, we should also mention Jordan's best solo (I think) on this disc, and the fine piano. This piece builds to a genuine climax and Larry was right to ask Kenny to take a bow.


We conclude with a masterpiece- the mini-suite Fontainebleau inspired by a visit when Tadd was in France for the first time for the 1949 Paris Jazz Festival (where Miles Davis, James Moody and Kenny Clarke were sidemen in his group). The three segments (La Foret, Les Cygnes, L 'Adieu) are performed without interruption, and the shining instrumental textures allow each instrument a moment in the sun. The playing here does justice to a composition that indicates what Tadd might have been capable of creating in larger forms had he been given the opportunity.But we're lucky to have what we have of Tadd Dameron's legacy, which this recording further enhances.”

- Dan Morgenstern

The following video montage of images of drummers Philly Joe Jones and Kenny Washington is accompanied by the Dameronia version of Tadd’s Philly JJ that was recorded at Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York City in August 1988. Kenny’s drum solos on the piece give a nod to Philly Joe Jones’s influence but are powerfully Kenny’s statement from conception to execution. Today’s Jazz drummers tend to be in the ambit of Elvin Jones and Tony Williams, but Kenny found his muse in Philly.




I Remember Tadd by George Ziskind 10.1.2014

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


“George Ziskind is an ex-Chicagoan, pianist, and child of the bebop age, who has lived in New York City since the mid-'60s. He was one of Lennie Tristano's first students and notes that, "The low point of my career was a month spent as musical director for Brenda Lee. The high point is yet to come." He believes in: "God, Country, and Art Tatum (not necessarily in that order).”

Here is another in our continuing series about the late, lamented composer-arranger Tadd Dameron [1917-1935]. It was original posted to the Jazz Institute of Chicago website as a remembrance-cum-interview and is featured here with George’s kind permission.

As the conclusion, you’ll find a video tribute to pianist Tommy Flanagan with Tommy performing Tadd’s Our Delight. George Mraz is on bass and Kenny Washington plays drums on this track which is from radio broadcast of a concert held at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City in August, 1988.

© -  George Ziskind; used with permission; copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I had the great good fortune—and it was totally fortuitous—of having my life path cross with that of Tadley Ewing Dameron, in 1958. Tadd saw right away that I had ears and knew what I was talking about on these subjects, and took an interest in me. Thank God! Tadd and I formed a close and symbiotic friendship that lasted until his untimely death in 1965.

If you want to talk about "Been there, done that" in the modern jazz business, well, that's Tadd Dameron. What Bird was to the alto, Dizzy to trumpet, Tadd was in the category of composer/arranger of the new music of the '40s. Most casually-interested jazz fans only know Tadd as the composer (with lyricist Carl Sigman) of "If You Could See Me Now." This standard was just the tip of Tadd's musical iceberg.

He intuitively knew that I greatly respected him and his accomplishments. He also was drawn to my harmonic sense at the piano. One day we walked from his NYC apartment on West End Avenue in the 80s over to Gil Evans' apartment for an unannounced social call (!!!). (He dragged me over to Miles' brownstone, on 77th, another time.) After introducing Gil and me, he blithely said, "George, play something for Gil." Well, I could have shot Tadd, and wanted to die right there. PLAY FOR THE GREAT GIL EVANS? I think I ended up doing "How Long Has This Been Going on?"

In Gil's work area, on a draftsman's table, was a score pad with an arrangement in progress. I went over and looked. It was the Rodgers and Hart tune "Wait 'til You see Her"—which finally appeared on the last Miles and Gil collaboration. I believe this one also had some Lincoln Center concert material on it, too.

During many of the long conversations Tadd and I had about harmony, melody, voicing, rhythm, and other meat-and-potatoes aspects of crafting this new music, he would let drop little crumbs of wisdom—all as casual parts of the conversation of the moment—which I regarded (and still do) as priceless and which could never be learned in such a succinct manner in the leading music schools.


MAKE LITTLE SONGS

This was Tadd's most basic advice to the improviser. When playing one's chorus(es) on a tune, it is not sufficient to know the harmony (backwards and forwards, so to speak!!); to be 100% comfortable with its figurations; and to have more than a passing familiarity with the composer's conception. Tadd stressed that the above were merely starting points. They were the basic building blocks necessary to construct a credible solo and only when you had those items fully covered could you be ready to deal with the heart of the matter, i.e., to make "little songs" as you played—little self-contained melodic bits—that could be two beats long, or two bars long, or nine or ten bars long.

The length of these motifs was not the important thing; rather, he believed that there should be lots and lots of little melodies within your solo—little songs—and that this was one of the most important defining factors when analyzing the work of any great improviser, no matter what the instrument or the style.
Stop and think for a moment of just a few of the jazz giants whose careers began under the impetus of Tadd's direction or support. Three heavily melodic players instantly come to mind: Clifford Brown, Benny Golson and John Coltrane. Three players, with almost completely disparate playing styles, shared a mastery of harmony and a capacity for pouring out torrents of heavily melodic improvisation.

BARI AS INDEPENDENT VOICE

We had a standing joke between us—whenever I'd leave his place after a hang. (I'd be there to talk music or have a quick informal dinner that Tadd would rustle up—great cook! One thing he could whip together with great dispatch and panache was simply to buy a couple pounds of large cubes of good beef, and throw together with some fresh veggies—potatoes, carrots, beans, etc—and saute the whole mess in a large skillet with a lid on it. Nothing elaborate—but good! Of course these were the days before anyone knew not to eat a lot of meat.) More often than not, Philly Joe Jones would be crashing at Tadd's place and would be present for many of these hangs. Anyway, upon my departing, he'd stick his head out in the hallway and call out, "You know, I specialize in writing for saxes!" Then, about 5 seconds later, as I neared the elevator, his head would come out again and he'd say, "I also specialize in writing for brass!" And so on...through all the sections. We both cracked up, every time he did it.

But, to get serious about his saxophone section writing. He dropped this clue on me once: in a five-man section, harmonize the two tenors and two altos and use the baritone sax as an independent voice, moving it any which way with or against the other four, contrapuntally, in contrary motion, or whatever strikes the writer's fancy, as long as it sounds good.

This is similar to something I learned from Warne Marsh many years later: "You can write or play anything you want, as long as you keep it moving!" There's a world of wisdom in that seemingly simple statement.


PLAY THROUGH THE TURNAROUNDS

The statement is self-defining, but I'll elaborate anyway. Many improvisers are locked into the habit of playing four- or eight-bar phrases, terminating their last phrase (on a 32 bar tune) at the end of bar 30 or so—or on bar 10 or so if it's a blues. A musical statement, Tadd said, sounds much more interesting if you play right through the turnaround. No matter what changes are being employed, just play on those changes all the way through. Better yet, terminate the phrase a couple of bars into the next chorus.

Although a bit off-topic, I want to pass along an anecdote that Tadd told me. Around 1940, Bird and Tadd were on the same bandstand at a jam session in Kansas City. This was the first time they had met. The tune was "Lady Be Good." On the last four bars of the bridge, Bird played two beats each of | E-9 A9 | D-9 G9 | and then on the final two bars of the bridge, the usual bar of | G-7 | and then a bar of | C7 |. Tadd, at the piano, was comping exactly the same thing. At the end of the bridge, Bird ran over to Tadd at the keyboard, threw his arms around him, and exclaimed, "I KNEW someone else would hear it that way!"
These are some small insights that were pointed out to me by Tadley Ewing Dameron, one of the great musical minds of the new jazz music that came into being in the early 1940's.

Jazz Institute of Chicago–MP: You mention the tune, "If you could see me now." Were there other tunes that Tadd was particularly proud of—that he felt really captured what he was trying to do? If so, which ones and why?

GZ: He never expressed an opinion of "his favorite tune" but I know that he wanted to be remembered as a composer and not as an arranger. And CERTAINLY not as a pianist. He did feel that his mini-suite "Fountainbleu" was a composition to be proud of. Although he comped with great rhythmic authority and swagger, his solos were always, to my ears and those of observant others, mainly him spelling out, serially, the notes of the particular chord at hand. Giant that Tadd was, I know of no one who considered him a great pianist.
There was a tune he showed me (I mean at the keyboard, so that I could play it) that killed me. It appears in big band form on his Riverside record of 1962, "The Magic Touch." The title of the tune is "Look, Stop and Listen." For me, this tune shines as a solo piano piece—and it is a certified chopbuster! Tadd wrote it while on Rikers Island and the original title of the tune was "The Great Lockup."

What recordings best illustrate Tadd to you?

Can't answer that—and he felt the definitive one hadn't been done yet.

Did Tadd tell you anything of his early training—how he got interested in music, who were his teachers and influences?

Like many of us, "The University of the Streets," plus God-given talent, and hanging out with other talent, and jamming. The usual routine—which sadly doesn't exist in the same form any more. Nowadays, all you have to do is attend Berklee.

How did you get started in jazz?

I attended Senn High School [on the north side of Chicago.] My early associates are largely mentioned in Marty Clausen's piece [Growing up musically in Chicago]. Also Eddie Baker, Sandy Mosse, Lew Ellenhorn, and Lou Levy. In an incident Lou and I still laugh about, I beat him in a North Side High School Council boogie-woogie contest play-off. Also Hotsy Katz, Cy Touff, Red Lionberg, Ira Sullivan, Wilbur Campbell.

Caught the boogie-woogie bug at age 12; then, when 14, while in a rehearsal band run by Irwin Tunick, my world changed: I stayed behind to explore the delights of their Steinway "D" and a janitor with push broom quietly sidled up to me and said "Ever hear of Art Tatum?" Within a year, Bird had been added to the mix. What more could one need after those two, unless you want to add Bach?”



Tadd's Back - The Return of Tadd Dameron 10.10.2014


© -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’s Back

“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.


The Significance of Tadd Dameron 10.16.2014

© -  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].

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
1997


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.”