Paul Combs: Dameronia: The Life and Times of Tadd Dameron

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Dameronia: The Life and Times of Tadd Dameron
Paul Combs
264 Pages
ISBN: # 978-0-472-03563-2
The University of Michigan Press
2013

"There is enough ugliness in this world; I'm interested in beauty."—Tadd Dameron

"Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay. " —Robert Frost

Composer, arranger, and pianist Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
Tadd Dameron
1917 - 1965
arranger
(1917-1965) was a creative force in jazz whose "dawn went down to day" due to his personal anonymity, heroin and alcohol addiction and finally through cancer. Dameron played a crucial role as a composer/arranger for big bands and became a central figure in the transition from swing to bebop and hard bop. A dreamer, but with a keen ear and impeccable skill, he always sought the "gold" of beautiful voicings and structures. He was respected, admired, and hired by the greats: Harlan Leonard, Jimmie Lunceford
Jimmie Lunceford
Jimmie Lunceford
1902 - 1947
composer/conductor
, Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
1914 - 1993
vocalist
, Tommy Dorsey
Tommy Dorsey
Tommy Dorsey
1905 - 1956
trombone
, Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
1910 - 2004
clarinet
, Ted Heath
Ted Heath
b.1900
, Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
, Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
Carmen McRae
1920 - 1994
vocalist
, Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
, Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
1923 - 1950
trumpet
, Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
Charlie Rouse
1924 - 1988
sax, tenor
, Benny Golson
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
, John Coltrane
John Coltrane
John Coltrane
1926 - 1967
saxophone
, Chet Baker
Chet Baker
Chet Baker
1929 - 1988
trumpet
(the list goes on and on). He composed jazz standards such as "If You Could See Me Now," "Our Delight," "Hot House" "The Squirrel, "Good Bait," "Lady Bird," and "Soul Trane," and longer compositions for ensembles of every kind, of which "Fontainebleau" and others have been compared with works of Gershwin and Ellington. A modest and self-effacing man who was capable of disappearing into the streets of his birthplace, Cleveland, even after he had become a New York and international icon, Dameron's legacy was kept alive by his fellow musicians such as Benny Golson
Benny Golson
Benny Golson
b.1929
sax, tenor
, Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
Philly Joe Jones
1923 - 1985
drums
, Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
Milt Jackson
1923 - 1999
vibraphone
, Don Sickler
Don Sickler
Don Sickler
b.1944
, and Barry Harris
Barry Harris
Barry Harris
b.1929
piano
, but the renown he deserved by virtue of his contributions has eluded him to this day. Fame knocked at Dameron's door more than once, and then went away. "Eden sank to grief."

Recently, after 25 years of devoted work gathering information and pondering his subject's nature, and encouraged in his efforts by Dameron's friends, especially Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Golson, musician and educator Paul Combs has published Dameron's definitive biography. (An earlier biography by Ian McDonald:Tadd, the Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron (Jahbero Press, 1998) was a good start, but less comprehensive, especially with regard to musical analysis.). Paul Reyes' review of Comb's excellent book in Jazz Times provides a rich summation, which need not be repeated here.

Suffice it to say that, because Dameron was a very private figure, Combs had to "comb" multitudes of documents, recordings, and conversations to develop a full picture of the man and his music. Over time, many of Dameron's compositions, arrangements, and details of his life were lost. Therefore, the author's meticulous efforts give the impression of putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, but in the end a portrait of the man and his music emerges clearly.

Combs takes pains to fill the gaps with careful inferences, never overstepping his bounds as biographer. He provides numerous and detailed analyses of Dameron's music, in itself a major contribution to jazz. Musicians and scholars will learn much from these studies, which provide insights into what Dameron accomplished musically, much of which was far-reaching and ahead of his time. (Any serious composer/arranger should investigate these analyses, which, thanks to Combs' acumen, illuminate the subtleties of their craft.)

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