Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
Jazzed in Cleveland Complete Index

Part 121 - Unheard Tadd Dameron Music
Story filed Sept 8, 2008

When English author Ian MacDonald published the first Tadd Dameron biography in 1998, he listed more than 200 songs composed by the Clevelander and more than 360 recordings of his music. The sheer volume of Dameron’s creative output was astonishing. But now, even more Dameron music has been discovered.

Dameron, who died in 1965 at the age of 48, was probably Cleveland’s most important and influential jazz musician. Best known for his compositions "If You Could See Me Now," "Good Bait" and "Our Delight," he bridged the gap between swing and bebop and translated the rough new jazz of bop from small combos to big bands. Pianist and composer Horace Silver once said, "Duke Ellington was the main man, then came Thelonious Monk and Tadd Dameron."

Now, another Dameron biography is being prepared by Paul Combs, a Boston area saxophonist and educator. In the process of researching his book, Dameronia – the Life and Music of Tadd Dameron – Combs has discovered some unheard Dameron music – some never recorded and some never even played.

Combs told me, "I have found Dameron music that was never recorded but was played by Jimmie Lunceford and I have found music that he wrote for Lunceford that was never played. There’s one, a favorite of mine, that he wrote for Lunceford called ‘Don’t Forget It,’ and another called ‘Do You Remember Now.’ They’re both just lovely tunes," said Combs.

He also discovered a piece Dameron wrote for pianist Mary Lou Williams to play with Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy. "Tadd gave it to her just before she left Kirk," said Combs, "and it was never played. It’s a set of riffs that are very carefully composed, like a little concerto to feature Mary Lou." Combs discovered the music when he was searching through the archives at the Smithsonian Institution. He said, "The curator of Mary Lou’s papers brought it to my attention and provided me the parts."

Combs also found a piece that Dameron wrote for Duke Ellington in 1951 (when Dameron was playing with the band of Clevelander Bull Moose Jackson). The song, called "Opening Theme," was based on "I Got Rhythm" and was intended as a feature for trumpeter Clark Terry. It was never recorded by Ellington, but the melody later appeared as "Spring Swing" when it was recorded by Miles Davis. Combs speculates that after Ellington never did anything with the tune, Dameron gave it to Davis.

While mainly remembered as a bebop pioneer, Dameron also arranged for the big bands of Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ted Heath, Artie Shaw, Louie Bellson, Stan Kenton, and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Combs said he discovered a couple of songs Dameron wrote for Goodman that were never heard. One was called "Moon From the East" which Combs said was commissioned by Goodman but never performed on his Moscow tour.

Another unheard Dameron composition found by Combs is a waltz called "This Night of Stars." He says, "It’s absolutely gorgeous."

There is also an arrangement of "Look, Stop and Listen" that Dameron wrote for the Stan Kenton Orchestra. It’s a completely different arrangement from the version Dameron recorded on his Magic Touch album in 1962. The Kenton arrangement, said Combs, "features a couple of horn players and has the potential for a tenor battle." It was never recorded by Kenton but Combs said he got the charts from former Kenton band member Bob Curow.

Combs said he has uncovered about 30 unheard or unrecorded Dameron compositions and arrangements. So, what’s he going to do with them?

"I’m going to do a recording of ten or eleven of these never-heard-before Dameron pieces," said Combs. Playing gigs in the Boston area, he has occasionally played some of the unheard Dameron songs and they frequently get good reaction from his audiences. He is hoping to release a compact disc of the newly-discovered music in conjunction with the publication of his Dameron biography.

Combs, who has been working on the Dameron book off and on for 20 years, said it will be published by the University of Michigan Press by the summer of 2009.

A new Tadd Dameron biography and a recording of unheard Dameron music will both be valuable additions to Cleveland’s long and colorful jazz history.

CLICK HERE for an audio excerpt from Mosbrook’s interview with Combs.

Copyright 2008 Joe Mosbrook

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