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The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron

Paul Combs

Publication Year: 2012

Dameronia is the first authoritative biography of Tadd Dameron, an important and widely influential figure in jazz history as one of the most significant composers and arrangers of jazz, swing, bebop, and big band. He arranged for names like Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Jimmie Lunceford, and Dizzy Gillespie and played with Bull Moose Jackson and Benny Golson. This book sets out to clarify Dameron's place in the development of jazz in the post–World War II era. 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 also an important influence on several high-profile musicians, including Miles Davis, Benny Golson, and Frank Foster. Dameron was a very private man, and while in some aspects of his life he will probably remain an enigma, this book manages to give an intimate portrait of his life at a couple of key stages: the height of his career in 1949 and the brief but productive period between his release from prison and his death.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Jazz Perspectives

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xi

The year was 1951. I had just been hired as a saxophonist in Bull Moose Jackson’s band, and when I arrived I discovered, very much to my surprise, that Bull Moose’s pianist was, of all people, my hero Tadd Dameron. I had been a fan of his long before I joined Bull Moose. I marveled at the way he treated small groups of five or six musicians consisting of trumpet, a saxophone or two, piano, ...

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pp. xiii-xv

I was touched by the spirit of Tadd Dameron in the early 1960s. As a fifteen-year- old boy who lived for music and wanted to compose and perform, I was profoundly inspired by Tadd’s famous words, “There is enough ugliness in the world, I’m interested in beauty,” reprinted in Barry Ulanov’s A History of Jazz in America. This was not the first I had heard of Dameron; I already knew some of ...

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pp. xvii-xix

Books of this nature are, in a sense, the work of many people. I could not possibly have managed to write this account without the help and cooperation of others. First I want to thank, from the bottom of my heart, Valerie Wilmer, whose generous and steadfast support of this project was invaluable. Among her many important contributions to this book are her interviews, made on my behalf, with Ivor Mairants and Jack Parnell. ...

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1. Early Days

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pp. 1-12

Though seldom credited as such, Cleveland, Ohio, is an important city in jazz history. Although it not on the scale of Chicago or New York, the list of significant players who came from and developed their skills there is diverse and impressive: Joe Alexander, Albert Ayler, Benny Bailey, Bill D’Arango, John Fedchock, Bobby Few, Jim Hall, Buster Harding, Bill Hardman, Eugene “Fats” Heard, Benjamin “Bull Moose” Jackson, Joe Lovano, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Noble ...

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2. The Early 1940s—Kansas City

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pp. 13-28

Harlan Leonard’s Rockets, an offshoot of the original Benny Moten Band,1 was one of the premiere bands in Kansas City, after those of Count Basie and Andy Kirk. The Rockets had a long history in Kansas City, but not until late 1939 did they—and the Jay McShannn band—begin to be known outside of the Southwest. Much of the Rockets’ growing visibility came thanks to some good ...

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3. The Early 1940s—New York

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pp. 29-40

At some point in the fall of 1941, Dameron became a staff arranger for Jimmie Lunceford. Gerald Wilson remembers him being with Lunceford late in the year, after they picked him up in Ohio.1 In the 1930s, Tadd had listened with great delight and interest to Lunceford’s band. “As a boy, I was always most interested in Duke Ellington and the Lunceford band, because they were trying to ...

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4. The Architect of Bop

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pp. 41-65

There is a subtle but quite noticeable change in the overall sound of big-band arrangements in general between 1940 and 1944. This change is apparent, for instance, if one compares the recordings of Count Basie from the late 1930s with those from the mid-1940s. It can already be heard in Dameron’s work between the Harlan Leonard charts and the Lunceford charts. While the instrumenation ...

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5. 1947—Into the Limelight

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pp. 66-82

The days of the big band as a practical, commercially viable musical ensemble were drawing to a close. Among the many to turn to other ways of working in the music business were Georgie Auld, who gave up his big band in the summer of 1946, and Billy Eckstine, who would disband his orchestra the following spring or summer. Jimmie Lunceford himself died of a heart attack in the ...

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6. 1948—The Royal Roost

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pp. 83-94

After his busy late summer and fall as a leader and recording sideman, Dameron went out on the road with Dexter Gordon. For this trip Gordon formed a band with Dameron, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, bassist Curly Russell, vocalist Earl Coleman, and drummer Roy Porter. Porter, a friend of Gordon’s from the West Coast, took the gig in part to get out of Los Angeles, but he was also happy to ...

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7. 1949—International Fame

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pp. 95-113

In the summer of 1948 Nicole Barclay, Charles Delaunay, and others were already involved in planning the 1949 Paris Jazz Festival. Nicole Barclay and Kenny Clarke had become good friends by this time, no doubt because of her interest in promoting jazz in Paris and because her husband, Eddie, a pianist and bandleader and owner of Barclay Records, was interested in recording the ...

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8. 1950–55—Into the Shadows

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pp. 114-133

In the Call and Post article of July 1, 1950, Tadd Dameron presents his dream of what might have been, had he stayed in England or France. Perhaps the article would not be quite so disturbing if Dameron’s comments, which have so little connection with reality, had been addressed to a community where he was not very well known. One has to wonder what he was thinking when he was telling ...

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9. 1956—Back in Action

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pp. 134-146

After over two years of near-total obscurity, Tadd Dameron returned to the jazz world again in 1956. The first project Dameron was connected with was finishing the Clifford Brown/Max Roach album At Basin Street,1 one of the seminal recordings of the style that would become known as “hard bop.” Three of the selections, “Step Lightly (a.k.a. Junior’s Arrival),” by Benny Golson, “Gertrude’s ...

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10. 1957–1961—Incarceration

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pp. 147-156

After Mating Call, only a couple of pieces of Dameron’s music survive from the 1956–58 period. The year 1957 is another one for which we have little information, but he was probably in New York much of the time. Presumably, he would have needed to report to his probation officer on a regular basis. Jackie McLean, who worked with Art Blakey in 1956 and ’57, remembered Tadd dropping by ...

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11. 1961–1962—Release

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pp. 157-173

Not long after Tadd Dameron was released from prison, Groove Music, a publishing company held by Blue Note records, registered copyrights for seven of his tunes, including one titled “Bevan Beeps,” named for the son of Maely Dufty. By the fall of 1961, Tadd and Maely were known to be socializing as a couple, and the following April they would take an apartment together and start a publishing ...

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12. The Final Sessions

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pp. 174-188

Dameron’s health was not his only concern at this point. It seems his relationship with Maely was never an easy one. They were both stubborn by nature, and while Maely’s watchfulness was, no doubt, good for Tadd’s health, he found it increasingly irritating. The couple’s quarrels, already a matter of concern to their friends, would come to a head in the course of the latter part of 1962 and ...

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13. “Le Fôret”—The Legacy of Tadd Dameron

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pp. 189-205

Like so much else about his life, only a portion of Tadd Dameron’s work remains known to us today. Over the years, much of his music has been lost. Still, there is reason to hope that, in time, some of it might be recovered. There have been fortuitous recent discoveries, such as “Zakat”—which had not been heard in decades—and “Mary Lou,” which had never been performed. Neither ...


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pp. 207-233

Comprehensive Index

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pp. 235-258

Musical Works Index

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pp. 259-264

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028818
E-ISBN-10: 0472028812
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472114139
Print-ISBN-10: 0472114131

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 22 musical examples, 10 halftones
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Jazz Perspectives

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Subject Headings

  • Dameron, Tadd, 1917-1965.
  • Composers -- United States -- Biography.
  • Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography.
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