Dameronia With Strings
A celebration of the music of Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron (2/21/1917 – 3/8/1965) is a man relatively unknown to many today. As an arranger and composer his work was largely in the background, and except for a few years in the late 1940’s, he was not a band leader or recording artist per se. However, the impact of those few years gives us some insight as to his importance. From 1947 to 1950, he recorded music that inspired, indeed showed that way, for Horace Silver, Benny Golson, Frank Foster, Gigi Gryce, and Quincy Jones, as well as several European musicians. He also had a direct personal influence on many younger musicians of the time, including Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis, Charlie Rouse, and Benny Golson. He has contributed at least seven classics to the Jazz Canon, four of which are included in this recording, and he left us many more great melodies, some of which make up the balance of this project.
Dameron began his career as a pianist, and soon an arranger, right out of high school in the late 1930s. Largely self-taught and mentored by older musicians in his home town of Cleveland, his first work was recorded by Harlan Leonard’s Rockets of Kansas City in 1940. It stands up well next to that of more established arrangers represented in those recordings. Soon he was on the staff of the Jimmie Lunceford band, and working in New York with Count Basie. While WWII and the Musicians Union recording strike make documenting his activities in the early 1940s difficult, by the middle of the decade we find him helping to create the sound of the next generation of jazz big bands, most notably those of Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie. He was also on the scene for the early recordings of his friends Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who recorded his “Hot House,” a tune he had written in 1939, and generally regarded as one of the great Be-Bop anthems.
By the late 1940s he was not only recording under his own name, but was represented in the repertoire of the Don Redman Band, the first American jazz band to go to Europe after WWII. Tadd would soon be there himself at the 1949 Paris International Jazz Festival, co-leading a band with Miles Davis. He also visited the UK at this time and wrote for the band of Ted Heath, as well as others in England and France. Sadly, upon his return he fell into obscurity due to various personal problems, although he was still in demand for his arrangements.
Throughout the 1950’s Dameron would resurface on occasion, always with significant work. 1953 saw the release of a 10-inch LP titled A Study In Dameronia, which presented not only striking new compositions, but introduced the young trumpet sensation Clifford Brown. 1956 saw the release of Fontainebleau, the title piece of which demonstrated Dameron’s interest in writing outside of the usual jazz format. It is a long form composition, one of five that we know of, in this case a tone poem on the subject of the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. Dameron also released a small group recording in 1956, Mating Call, which featured the then-journeyman tenor saxophonist John Coltrane.
1958, unfortunately, saw Tadd’s incarceration for a drug offense. However, he continued to write while incarcerated at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington KY. It was here that he scored arrangements for strings and brass, recorded by Blue Mitchell on his Riverside LP Smooth As The Wind. It is this recording that is the primary inspiration for this project.
After his release in 1961, Dameron spent a couple of busy years on the New York scene, scoring projects for Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Brook Benton, among others, as well as some writing for TV. It was during this time that he made his final recording, The Magic Touch, which is another source for the music recorded here. As 1962 wore on illness began sideline him, and by 1964, when a benefit concert was organized for him, the devastating effects of cancer were obvious to everyone. He died at home on March 8, 1965.
The Music and The Project
As stated above, the initial inspiration for this project comes from the Dameron/Blue Mitchell collaboration Smooth As The Wind. I say collaboration here because the album is as much a Tadd Dameron record as a Blue Mitchell. Tadd had been off the scene for more than four years, and he pulled out all the stops on this LP. Tadd sets Blue’s playing the way a creative jeweler sets a beautiful gem, his score cast as a dialog between himself and the trumpeter.
Going back to 1946 and Dameron’s string arrangements for Sarah Vaughan, we hear his sophisticated and idiomatic writing for the strings, and are left to wonder how much string writing he might have done that, for one reason or another, was not recorded. On his blog David O’Rourke, who arranged the strings for this album, commented on Tadd’s “amazing inner line movement on ‘Smooth As The Wind.’” Ferit Odman has, perhaps intuitively, brought out an aspect of Dameron’s music that the composer himself might well have wanted to explore to a greater degree, if only his all-too-short life allowed.
“On A Misty Night” was recorded three times by Tadd, and Ferit’s take is based in tempo and tone on the first recording, the 1956 quartet session with John Coltrane. The beautiful “Soultrane” also comes from that session.
“If You Could See Me Now,” was written in 1946 for Sarah Vaughan’s first recordings under her own name. It remained a staple of her repertoire, and indeed, few are the jazz singers who do not include it in theirs. “Our Delight” is another of Dameron’s contributions to the Jazz Canon. Written for Billy Eckstine’s band in 1944, it was recorded by Dizzy Gillespie in 1946.
There are four pieces here that come from those last short, but very productive years of Dameron’s life. “Smooth As The Wind,” is of course the title tune on the 1961 collaboration with Blue Mitchell. “You’re A Joy,” is a late Dameron ballad, and one of those great melodies of Tadd’s that deserves to be heard much or often. It was sung by Barbara Winfield on The Magic Touch. The blues “Just Plain Talkin’” was also first heard on The Magic Touch. It was also arranged for one of the charts Dameron contributed to Benny Goodman’s historic tour of the USSR in 1962.
While the trumpet of Terell Stafford and the string arrangements of David O’Rourke are the most obvious features of this project, it is of no small significance that it is a drummer who has organized it. Dameron had a fond place in his heart for drummers, and the list of those who played with him, or on his own projects is a distinguished one. In the 1940s he had a particularly close relationship with one of the fathers (perhaps the father) of modern jazz drumming, Kenny Clarke. In the 1950s and 60s his favorite was Philly Joe Jones. In fact it was Tadd who gave him the nick name “Philly Joe.” The fourth of the late Dameron compositions is “Look, Stop and Listen,” a feature for Philly Joe on The Magic Touch. I think Tadd would have enjoyed Ferit’s take on this, and probably Philly Joe as well.
Ferit Odman has put together a first class ensemble for this recording. Indeed, while not well known in the United States, Mr. Odman has a very distinguished resume himself, having played with several major jazz musicians while resident in New York. He is a major figure on the jazz scene in his home country of Turkey. American listeners may not realize it, but Turkey has a very healthy jazz community. Starting with his tenure with Bobby Watson’s Horizon, Terell Stafford has emerged as one of the outstanding trumpeters of our time. He is also an important educator, currently on the faculty Temple University in Philadelphia. Arranger, composer and guitarist David O’Rourke has established himself on the New York scene as one of the go-to people for jazz sensitive string arrangements, having scored recent recordings for saxophonist Steve Wilson and trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.
Over the last ten years or so pianist Danny Grisett has become well established in the jazz world, playing with the likes of Benny Golson, Russell Malone and the Mingus Big Band, among many others. His own projects as a leader have been well received as well. Bassist Peter Washington is one of the very finest in jazz. From the time he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, he has been in demand for recordings, and has specialized in piano trios, starting with his tenure with Tommy Flanagan, and continuing today with Benny Green.
String sections often go un-credited, which I never thought was right. Violinist Diane Monroe is right at home in a jazz project having been a member of Max Roach’s Double Quartet, The Uptown String Quartet and the String Trio of New York. Likewise, the versatile violinist Antoine Silverman, is at home in almost any style, and has become one of the most respected players in the New York theater world. Third violinist Tamara DeMent works in the New York/New Jersey area in a variety of styles, as well. Thanks to David O’Rourke’s beautiful writing, she gets some juicy parts to play here, too. Violist Chris Cardona is a veteran player not only in the theatrical world - where he has even been on stage as the Fiddler in Fiddler On The Roof - but has toured and recorded with many pop artists. Cellist Emily Brausa graduated from Julliard, and was an Aspen Music Festival Fellow. She is currently a member of the Lost Dog New Music Ensemble. Cellist Clarice Jensen, is another versatile performer, playing music from Baroque to rock. She is also the founder of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.
I know you will enjoy this recording of beautiful music, beautifully performed,
-Paul Combs, Author of Dameronia – the Life and Music of Tadd Dameron