By Nick Morrison
Jazz pianist, arranger and composer Tadd Dameron was born 94 years ago on Feb. 21, 1917, in Cleveland, Ohio. During the 1940s and ’50s, after working for several years as an arranger for big bands (including those of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie), Dameron focused his considerable compositional talents on the emerging jazz style called bebop. During a relatively brief period, Dameron wrote music that helped define and expand the parameters of this music.
Tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon called him the “romanticist” of bebop, and many of his compositions live on as jazz standards. In honor of his birthday, here are five Tadd Dameron compositions — some performed by groups led by Dameron, others by artists who’ve continued to embrace and explore his music long after his death in 1965.
Artist: Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron
Song: Our Delight
Album: Complete Blue Note and Capitol Recordings of Fats Navarro and Tadd Dameron
Although trumpeter Fats Navarro gets top billing in the title of the album, this was Dameron’s band. As a performer, Dameron always surrounded himself with great players. On this 1947 recording, along with the ground-breaking Navarro, Dameron’s band featured Ernie Henry (alto sax), Charlie Rouse (tenor sax), Nelson Boyd (bass) and Shadow Wilson (drums). In the opening of “Our Delight,” you can hear an echo of Dameron’s big-band days before the sextet bursts into straight-ahead bop.
Artist: Tadd Dameron and John Coltrane
Song: On a Misty Night
Album: Mating Call
For this 1956 LP, Dameron put together another notable group, this time with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane (who’d just left Miles Davis‘ group), drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist John Simmons. Hearing this beautiful and enduring song, listeners will understand why Dexter Gordon termed Dameron a romanticist. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that Dameron has Coltrane interpreting his lush melody.
Artist: Sarah Vaughan
Song: If You Could See Me Now
Album: Ken Burns Jazz
Here, we get a double-dose of Dameron’s skills. Not only did he compose this piece (along with lyricist Carl Sigman) for Sarah Vaughan, but he also did the orchestral arrangement you’ll hear. The 1946 recording became an early hit for Vaughan, and remained a cornerstone of her repertoire throughout her career.
Artist: Philly Joe Jones’ Dameronia
Song: Look, Stop and Listen
Album: Look, Stop and Listen
Tadd Dameron and drummer Philly Joe Jones were the best of friends. In the early 1980s, nearly two decades after Dameron’s death, Jones formed a group called Dameronia as a way of paying tribute to his friend’s music. The tribute road ran both ways. Dameron had originally written “Look, Stop and Listen” as a showcase for Jones, and he certainly makes the most of it here with a terrific band. This incarnation of Dameronia also included Don Sickler (trumpet/tenor sax), Johnny Griffin (tenor sax), Charles Davis (tenor sax/flute), Frank Wess (alto sax/flute), Walter Davis Jr. (piano), Cecil Payne (baritone sax), Benny Powell (trombone), Virgil Jones (trumpet) and Larry Ridley (bass). This video is Tadd Dameron’s “Look, Stop and Listen.”
Artist: Ethan Iverson, Ben Street, Albert Tootie Heath
Song: Good Bait
Album: Live at Smalls
“Good Bait” was originally written by Dameron for the Count Basie Big Band. Like many Dameron compositions, it has become a jazz standard that musicians continue to explore. This 2010 trio version is led by pianist Ethan Iverson of The Bad Plus, with Ben Street on bass and Tootie Heath on drums. Iverson opens the performance with some rubato acrobatics, but then drops the song into a perfect groove, laying the path for a fine solo from Street. Iverson’s solo is, in part, a lovely tribute to Basie’s piano style, while Heath holds it all together as only he can.
Live at Smalls is available from Smalls Live.