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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 compositions “Good 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 John Coltrane, 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 Milt Jackson.
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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