doubles down—literally—on his pursuit of big-band arrangements of the works of Tadd Dameron
with Madd for Tadd’s August 25 release of Central Avenue Swing & Our Delight
(Tighten Up). The two-disc set (a follow-up to their 2018 debut The Magic Continues
) finds MFT, Ohio-based alto saxophonist Engelhardt’s 15-piece Dameron big band—co-led and conducted by trumpeter Stephen Enos—performing 21 new orchestrations of the totemic composer’s tunes as well as a new original composition by Engelhardt.
As the title suggests, Central Avenue Swing & Our Delight
is really two separate albums in one. Central Avenue Swing
features music that Dameron wrote in 1940 for the Kansas City bandleader Harlan Leonard and His Rockets, as well as his 1949 composition “Heaven’s Doors Are Open Wide” and Engelhardt’s title track. Our Delight
, meanwhile, comprises songs that became showpieces for some of the bebop era’s greatest soloists. The package features incisive annotation by 2024 NEA Jazz Master Willard Jenkins.
For Engelhardt, who serves as Professor and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Youngstown State University, Dameron’s music held a natural attraction. “He had a profound gift of melody, like George Gershwin and Duke Ellington
,” Engelhardt says. “He created melodies that instantly stuck, and his harmonic inventions brought colors to the music that just hadn’t been heard before, foreshadowing what was to come.”
Yet Dameron (1917-1965) did most of his work for the small combos that were bebop’s staple; though he personally preferred writing for large ensembles, he was rarely able to realize those ambitions during his lifetime. “The challenge was carrying over Dameron’s concept to a large ensemble setting without losing the integrity and spirit of the small groups, and the improvisational component,” says Enos, who is also the founder of the Tri-C Jazz Studies Program at Cuyahoga Community College. “The key was to try and hear what Tadd was hearing at the piano and basing everything on that. The more time we spent with this music, the more we appreciated what a genius he was.”
Of course, Engelhardt and Enos are no slouches themselves. They breathe new life into prewar swingers like “Dig It” (with its buoyant call-and-response between vocalist Erin Keckan and the band) and “Take ’Um” (with Dave Kana’s marathon tenor sax solo) and reaffirm the charge of bebop classics “Lady Bird,” highlighted by an Engelhardt alto solo, and “Mating Call,” whose Latin rhythms are accented by beautiful brass and reed exchanges. It’s enough wonderful music to drive anyone Madd for Tadd.
Kent Engelhardtwas born May 20, 1963, in Youngstown, Ohio to parents that loved music and spread that love to their son. He began taking piano lessons at the age of six, switched to saxophone in middle school, and studied jazz with campus legend Tony Leonardi at Youngstown State University.
After completing his bachelor’s degree, Engelhardt went on the road with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (under the leadership of Buddy Morrow) before returning to YSU to teach and earn a master’s degree. He earned another master’s as well as a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Pittsburgh (with Dr. Nathan Davis), while continuing to teach at his alma mater, where he remains to this day.
Drawn to Tadd Dameron’s music since his undergrad days, Engelhardt directed his research professorship at YSU toward the project of transcribing, notating, and editing Dameron’s compositions for big band (as recorded on his final album, 1962’s The Magic Touch
). That accomplished, Engelhardt put together an ensemble that would allow him to hear the music he’d written. Thus was born, with the help of his friend and colleague Stephen Enos, the 15-piece Madd for Tadd ensemble, drawing together musicians from around the country to vivify Engelhardt’s interpretations of Dameron’s work.
Madd for Tadd showcased Engelhardt’s arrangements as part of a celebration of Dameron’s centennial at the 2017 Tri-C Jazz Festival in Cleveland; following that performance, the band recorded the tunes for their first album, 2018’s The Magic Continues
. Rather than sating Engelhardt’s appetite for Dameron, however, these accomplishments only increased his hunger to explore the great composer’s music. Central Avenue Swing & Our Delight
forms the next link in a chain that, says Engelhardt, is not yet complete.