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Dexter Gordon called Tadd Dameron the ‘Romanticist’ of bebop. In this biography of the American jazz composer, arranger and pianist, he is presented as a key figure in the formation of modern jazz and a primary architect of bop harmony.

He had a bebop life, too. Jailed for three years in 1958 for drug offences, he died in 1965, too little recognised, at only 48. Dameron wrote such standards as Lady Bird, Good Bait and If You Could See Me Now, as well as the formally complex, through-composed Fontainebleau and Soulphony. He arranged for Lunceford, Basie, Shaw and Gillespie, and performed as a pianist with Parker, Clifford Brown and Coltrane.

As Ira Gitler wrote in Jazz Masters of the ’40s, he ‘disparaged his ability at the piano […] and preferred only to compose’, playing what is referred to as ‘arranger’s piano’ and accompanying with great sensitivity. An early influence was movie musicals: ‘When I heard George Gershwin, then I said, “This is really it.” Gershwin was beautiful. Gershwin and Duke Ellington.’

Combs quotes Dexter Gordon’s remark that in Dameron’s arrangements, even the second tenor sax part was beautifully written. However, Combs strangely neglects the inner voice parts and there’s no full score among plentiful music examples.

But I shouldn’t end on a sour note, for the book is written with love, the result of a life’s work. Like other Michigan publications, it is beautifully produced (I should declare an interest here because they published my Lee Konitz book). There’s supplementary material on the publisher’s website, including a bibliography and discography.

ANDY HAMILTON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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