Jazzed in Cleveland

Part Forty-Four
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Story filed March 26, 1999

The first biography of native Cleveland jazz pioneer has been published in Great Britain. The book is entitled Tadd, The Life and Legacy of Tadley Ewing Dameron and it was written by Ian MacDonald, a journalist and editor who lives in Sheffield, England.

MacDonald says he began the project in 1996 and originally envisioned a comprehensive discography of Dameron supported by a short biography. But, his idea developed into a full biography which is supported by the full discography.

It may surprise many people that the full discography includes almost 300 recordings on which Dameron appeared as a performer or the arranger. Perhaps even more surprising, MacDonald has uncovered almost 200 songs which Dameron composed. The best known, of course, is "If You Could See Me Now." But, there were dozens, if not hundreds of Tadd Dameron compositions which most people, even ardent jazz fans, have never heard. They include such songs as: "Aloof Spoof," "A Pin Striped Mind," "Buy Bonds Right Away," "Dial D For Dorsey," "I Know My Coffee's Getting Cold," "Society Steps Out," "The Hepster's Guide," "Zakat." and an old radio commercial that Nat Cole used to sing -- "You'd Better Get Wildroot Cream Oil, Charlie."

Of course, the long list of Tadd Dameron compositions includes many much more familiar songs -- such tunes as "Dial B For Beauty," "Fontainebleau," "Hot House," "Mating Call," "Our Delight," "The Squirrel," and "Good Bait."

In his forward, MacDonald says the book was not a solo effort. He acknowledges the help received from such well-known jazz artists as: Milt Bernhart, Johnny Coles, Art Farmer, Benny Golson, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Milt Hinton, J.J. Johnson, James Moody, Horace Silver, Billy Taylor, Cedar Walton, Joe Wilder, Tony Williams and Bill De Arango of Cleveland. MacDonald also expresses special thanks to two of us from Cleveland. Musicologist Andrew Homzy, who wrote two chapters of the book (on Dameron's importance and a study of Dameron's "Fontainebleau") -- and a guy named Mosbrook.

MacDonald says Dameron's widow, Mia, who lives in London, gave him a copy of our Cleveland Jazz History book. He contacted me and asked if he could use some information about Dameron from the book. Later, he asked me to do some research in Cleveland for his Dameron biography.

Included is our discovery that Tadd and his older brother, Caesar Dameron, were the sons of Ruth and Isaiah Peake. They did not take the name "Dameron" until their mother later married a Cleveland restaurant owner named Adolphus Dameron. MacDonald also says Dameron spelled his first name "Tad" (with only one D) for years until a numerologist told him, "To be lucky, you really need to put another letter in your name." From then on, it was "Tadd."

Much of the information in the new biography on Dameron's early years in Cleveland comes from interviews on our Cleveland Jazz History radio series. Veteran Cleveland saxophonist Andy Anderson remembered first hearing Tadd Dameron play the piano when he was still a teenager. Anderson was playing with the Snake Whyte band at a Cleveland nightclub when Caesar Dameron brought his little brother in one night. "We were playing at 46th and Carnegie," recalled, Anderson, "and knew that Caesar had a brother who studied piano. One night, Caesar came in and asked, 'Can my brother sit in?' 'Yeah, some one, sit in, play something. Let's do "Star Dust."' Anderson, years later, remembered, "He's got ten fingers and all of them went down on different notes! He'd been studying!" Anderson said the teenaged Dameron was playing all sorts of things many of the older professional musicians were not used to hearing. "And I said, 'Gee whiz, you don't expect to hear that!'"

The Dameron biography also quotes from our interview with Cleveland bandleader Johnny Powell who remembered, as a boy, hearing Dameron, when he was 21, playing at Cedar Gardens at East 97th and Cedar. Powell said, "I used to go around in the back and sneak down there where the trash was and look through the window. We used to watch him practicing." (QUICK OUT).

When Dameron was 21, he remembered, he first tried arranging for a big band, a band formed in Cleveland by James Jeter and Hayes Pillars, Dameron later said, "My first big band arrangement was for Jeter-Pillars. It was 'I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart' and everything was wrong with it. But there were some good ideas."

Biographer Ian MacDonald traces the career of the Cleveland musician through his tragic death, at the age of 48, in 1965. Golson, in a foreword to the new book, says, MacDonald "has masterfully told the Tadd Dameron story."

In doing so, MacDonald also explodes several myths about Dameron. According to one story, Dameron was a pre-med student at Oberlin College. MacDonald says he found no record of Dameron ever attending Oberlin. According to another story, Tadd had three children. Again, MacDonald found no evidence of any children. Dameron also told people he had gone to North Africa sometime before 1948. MacDonald found Dameron had never left the United States at that point in his life.

MacDonald's biography of Tadd Dameron will be distributed in the United States by North Country Distributors of New York City.

Another Dameron biography is also in the works. Paul Combs of Revere, Massachusetts has been working on his since 1986 and says he hopes to complete it by the summer of 1999. Combs, who also says he has consulted my book, reports his Dameron book will be essentially a listener's guide, attempting to put Tadd's work into the context of his life and the evolution of the music.

CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"

Copyright 1999 Joe Mosbrook

You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).