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

Victor L. Schermer By

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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

"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 (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, Billy Eckstine, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, Ted Heath, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Charlie Rouse, Benny Golson, John Coltrane, Chet Baker (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, Philly Joe Jones, Milt Jackson, Don Sickler, and Barry Harris, 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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