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Tadd Dameron Birthday Celebration at Smoke

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Tadd Dameron was born on Feb. 21 in 1917, and for the past few years, Smoke has celebrated his birthday over President's weekend. This year the tribute featured tenor saxophonists George Coleman
George Coleman
George Coleman
b.1935
sax, tenor
and Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander
Eric Alexander
b.1968
sax, tenor
on alternating nights, with a rhythm section of drummer Joe Farnsworth
Joe Farnsworth
Joe Farnsworth
b.1968
drums
, bassist John Webber and pianist Richard Wyands
Richard Wyands
b.1928
piano
.

Tadley Ewing Peake Dameron hailed from Cleveland and began his arranging work with swing bands, writing for Harlan Leonard, Jimmie Lunceford
Jimmie Lunceford
Jimmie Lunceford
1902 - 1947
composer/conductor
, Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
, Count Basie
Count Basie
Count Basie
1904 - 1984
piano
and Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
Artie Shaw
1910 - 2004
clarinet
. Very little of this swing writing has survived in present-day retrospectives—a glaring omission, given his later popularity. In the early '40s, he became enamored with bebop and began gigging in New York leading groups as a pianist. At various times such bebop stalwarts as Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
Fats Navarro
1923 - 1950
trumpet
, Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
Sonny Rollins
b.1930
saxophone
, Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon
1923 - 1990
sax, tenor
and Wardell Gray
Wardell Gray
Wardell Gray
1921 - 1955
sax, tenor
performed in his groups. His bebop writing was much in-demand and appeared in arrangements for the pioneering Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
Billy Eckstine
1914 - 1993
vocalist
and Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
bop orchestras. His signature song "If You Could See Me Now" was written for Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
Sarah Vaughan
1924 - 1990
vocalist
later in the decade and in 1948 his orchestral piece "Soulphony" was world-premiered at Carnegie Hall by Gilespie's band.

Dameron's writing has endeared itself to many performers in the post-bop era and the celebration at Smoke drew guests such as drummer Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb
Jimmy Cobb
b.1929
drums
, all eager to join the party. On the other hand perfunctory analysis of his work has led to some critical misconceptions—that he failed to sufficiently incorporate bop rhythms and other stylistic devices. Revisionist critical commentary of Dameron's contribution is much needed and that is bound to come because of tributes like the one at Smoke.

On the night I attended I had to catch the last of three sets and, by that time, most of the Dameron standards had already been performed. Actually, only one of his compositions, "Ladybird," was left, but Webber dazzled the late nighters on this tune with some interesting intervallic leaps. Dameron's melodies often transcend octaves, making them difficult for singers—which may be the reason vocal recordings of his songs are relatively rare. But knowledgeable instrumentalists find the heads fodder for exploratory improvisations.

Dameron's groups in the early '50s often featured trumpeter Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
, who continually performed and recorded Dameron tunes like "The Scene is Clean" throughout his career. After years of drug abuse, which included a two-year prison sentence, Dameron passed away in 1961 at age 48 but his music has never been forgotten thanks to many tributes such as the annual birthday celebration at Smoke.

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