Sometime in the mid-1980s I was at a record store in New York running my fingers through the Tadd Dameron bin when I came across two LPs that were unfamiliar to me. One was called Dameronia: To Tadd With Love. The other was Dameronia: Look, Stop and Listen. Philly Joe Jones appeared on both covers. When I flipped over the LPs, I was blown away by the personnel. The groups on both albums were made up of mostly the same stellar artists, except tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin was added on the latter one. Now Uptown Records has reissued Look, Stop and Listen, and listening to it again after nearly 20 years is like running into an old dear friend. [Photo at top: Tadd Dameron]
Tadd Dameron was bebop's Billy Strayhorn—but a good deal hipper. The pianist-composer started arranging for big bands in 1940, but by the mid-1940s his work for Billy Eckstine's orchestra and friendship with bandmate Dizzy Gillespie exposed him to new ways of thinking about chord voicings, melody lines and harmony. Throughout the late 1940s, virtually every composition Dameron wrote became a work of clear, perfect beauty. His works on recordings with Fats Navarro between 1947 and 1949, and Clifford Brown in 1953, remain astonishing for their post-modern sensibilities. The same goes for his freelance charts for Buddy Rich (Cool Breeze), Count Basie (Stay On It) and Artie Shaw (So Easy) during the late 1940s. In terms of his influence, Dameron's approach rubbed off on Gil Evans, Quincy Jones, Benny Golson, Gigi Gryce and many others in the 1950s.
Philly Joe Jones [pictured] first recorded with Dameron in 1953 and developed a love for Dameron's writing and swinging sensitivity. But when Jones decided to form a Dameron tribute band in the early 1980s with trumpeter Don Sickler, the duo faced three problems: money, arrangements and publicity. The money issue was solved with a grant that Jones' wife applied for and received. There were no Dameron charts in existence, so Sickler had to transcribe Dameron's recordings.
Once the music parts were done and everyone was hired, a gig was set for April 1982 at Lush Life, a New York club that's now just a memory. But there was a legitimate fear that no one would turn up to hear Jones and the music of a composer that young listeners knew even less about. Hard to believe but back in the early 1980s, bop giants roamed New York virtually ignored by fusion and free-jazz fans. Fortunately Jones convinced Robert Palmer of The New York Times to write a preview of the band, its mission and pending gig. The article came out and Lush Life's seats were filled. A few months later, Dameronia recorded its first album, To Tadd With Love. A year and 10 charts later, the band re-grouped and recorded Look, Stop and Listen, with Johnny Griffin on four tracks.
This musicians on the newly reissued Look, Stop and Listen CD feature Virgil Jones and Don Sickler (trumpets), Benny Powell (trombone), Frank Wess (alto sax), Charles Davis and Johnny Griffin (tenor sax) [pictured], Cecil Payne (baritone sax), Walter Davis, Jr. (piano), Larry Ridley (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). Yep, why bother going to see these guys play at a club in 1983.
The lineup of songs on the album is terrific, reminding you once again why Dameron may be the greatest composer-arranger of the post-war years. Included is the lovely Theme of No Repeat, first recorded by Dameron with Clifford Brown in 1953, and the inspiring Focus, from Dameron's Big Ten live dates from the Royal Roost in 1949, with the mighty Walter Davis Jr. handling the piano parts throughout.
By the way, it's interesting to compare the Tadd Dameron Big 10 studio date for Capitol Records on January 18, 1949 (Sid's Delight and Casbah) with the Miles Davis Nonet ("Birth of the Cool") session for Capitol two days later. A bit of trivia: Kai Winding was on both sessions.
As to Dameron's importance in jazz, Sickler [pictured] provides the following analysis in the liner notes:
"Tadd's use of sharp fives and flat nines to create the sounds that he did, this is a very important musical vocabulary. It was new to jazz. It wasn't new to music. The French classical composers came up with most of these sounds, and I'm sure Tadd spent a lot of time listening to Debussy and Ravel. But Tadd put it into the conventional jazz instruments."
I, for one, can't wait until Uptown Records releases the second Dameronia album.
JazzWax tracks: Dameronia: Look, Stop and Listen is available only on CD here and at other online retailers. It has been remastered by Rudy Van Gelder, the album's original engineer, and the superb liner notes are by author and radio host Bob Bernotas, whose books are available here.
JazzWax clip: Here's pianists Billy Taylor and Tommy Flanagan playing Tadd Dameron's Our Delight...