Tadd Dameron Biography

Tadley Ewing Peake Dameron, 21 February 1917, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, d. 8 March 1965, New York City, New York, USA. Dameron’s early career found him working in several territory bands including those of Freddie Webster, Zack Whyte and Blanche Calloway, for whom he played piano and wrote arrangements. His first major impact on jazz came in 1939 when he joined Harlan Leonard’s Kansas City-based band, the Rockets. One of the best of the lesser-known KC bands, the Rockets achieved considerable success in the Midwest and Dameron’s charts for his own tunes ‘A La Bridges’ and ‘Dameron Stomp’ were outstanding, the first featuring Henry Bridges with both numbers giving solo space to the magnificent trombonist Fred Beckett. Dameron’s arrangements subtly combined the loping swing which characterized KC bands, and the new ideas entering jazz from the bebop movement.

During the early 40s, Dameron often sat in on New York after hours sessions with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker but simultaneously worked on arrangements for some of the big swing bands, including those of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie, and more appropriately, the forward-thinking bands led by Georgie Auld and Billy Eckstine. In the late 40s Dameron wrote for Gillespie’s big band and his composition ‘Good Bait’ became a bop standard. He also formed his own small (rising to 10-piece) groups which featured Fats Navarro and, later, Miles Davis. At the end of the 40s he spent some time in Europe working with Kenny Clarke and writing for the Ted Heath band. In the early 50s Dameron worked briefly with Clifford Brown but the mid-50s found him wrestling with drug addiction problems. He wrote for such diverse musicians as Artie Shaw and Carmen McRae, but his addiction led to periods of inactivity in music and eventually a spell in prison commencing in 1958. Released in 1960, he wrote for artists including Sonny Stitt and Milt Jackson and also recorded again. Dameron succumbed to cancer in March 1965.

Throughout his troubled career, Dameron wrote with skill and finesse, displaying a marked appreciation of the more melodic aspects of bebop, which he integrated into medium and big band formats with more success than most of his contemporaries or successors were able to achieve. In the early 80s, Philly Joe Jones, who had played in a 1953 Dameron band, formed a group, Dameronia, which recreated his music.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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