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‘Dameronia’: A New Bio Sheds Light on a Sadly Forgotten Figure

The legacy of pianist/composer Tadd Dameron is finally recognized

Tadd Dameron
Charlie Rouse, Ernie Henry, Tadd Dameron, Fats Navarro

Paul Combs dedicates his new biography, Dameronia: The Life and Music of Tadd Dameron (Univ. of Michigan Press), to four jazz greats who “made [him] promise that [he] would see this project through.” Combs’ challenge was formidable, and he admits that he “had no idea what [he] was in for” when he undertook the task of writing about Dameron, but there’s apparently extra incentive when it’s Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Rouse, Art Blakey and Harold Vick who’ve urged you on. Now it’s complete, and what’s been a labor of love for 25 years stands as a comprehensive look at one of jazz’s foremost composers and least documented figures. The undertaking was especially challenging, for notwithstanding the extensive acknowledgments that Combs makes to dozens of sources, Dameron himself was a very private man and there was little in the way of correspondence and other memorabilia with which to put flesh on the bones of his life.

Combs writes, “While some readers might criticize my efforts to come to an understanding of Dameron’s state of mind at various times in his life, educated guesses are unfortunately our only recourse.” In this and other regards, Combs proves to be a sensitive and perceptive observer of the man, and his analysis of scores of Dameron’s compositions and/or recordings makes Dameronia an admirably complete work.

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