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Tadd Dameron is hailed by critics as one of the most significant
composers and arrangers of the era spanning swing and bebop. Dameron began
arranging for swing bands in 1938, but he was absorbing the new music of the
beboppers and was the first to inject these new ideas into big band
arrangements. He became especially skilled at achieving a big sound for
small groups, apparent in his
Fontainebleau recording for octet from 1956.
Dameron began his career as a pianist in a Cleveland band, but in 1940 he
went to Kansas City to arrange for Harlan Leonard’s Rockets. Two years later
he met Dizzy Gillespie who introduced his
Bait” and “Our
Delight” and in 1948 performed his extended work, “Soulphony,” at
Carnegie Hall. Dameron arranged Sarah
Vaughan’s hit 1946 session in which she introduced his enduring ballad “If
You Could See Me Now,” based on an improvised line of Gillespie’s and
with lyrics by Carl Sigman.
In 1947 Esquire magazine named Dameron Best New Jazz Arranger. By
this time he was leading his own small group featuring the brilliant
trumpeter Fats Navarro, who died
prematurely in 1950. Dameron then hired another trumpet genius,
Clifford Brown, who died tragically young in a car accident in 1956, the
same year that Dameron recorded his landmark album with
Mating Call. Unfortunately Dameron’s narcotics addiction led to his
arrest in 1958 and two years in prison. During the ‘60s he wrote for
Blue Mitchell, Sonny Stitt, and
As a composer Dameron is remembered for his melodic and harmonic
strengths in songs such as “Hot
House,” “Casbah,” and “Lady Bird,” which have entered the jazz canon. In
1989 Dameronia, a group originally organized by drummer
Philly Joe Jones, memorialized Dameron’s work in a Paris concert. A
biography of Dameron was published in England by Ian MacDonald, Tadd, The
Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron (ISBN 0953377806 - Out of print
but can occasionally be found used).
- Sandra Burlingame
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