"Oh, hell yes, I've got his stuff," says drummer Philly Joe Jones of the scores of Tadd Dameron, a major composer and arranger of the be-bop era. "The music that I'm playing is in Tadd's handwriting. It ain't anybody's arrangements, it's the way he wrote it, voicings and everything. His wife had all of them, and she kept them for me after he died."
Jones, whose 40 years and more of professional activity has put him in the combos of Miles Davis, saxophonist Ben Webster and many others, several years ago organized Dameronia, a group devoted to the late pianist's work. The nine-member, star-studded ensemble, whose latest album was a Grammy nominee this year, will perform Saturday night at the Washington Convention Center in a program titled, "Like Fine Wine: The Music of Tadd Dameron." Among the players will be reed and flute player Frank Wess, saxophonist Cecil Payne, pianist Walter Bishop Jr. and bassist Larry Ridley.
The Howard University jazz repertory orchestra, including saxophonist Buck Hill and trumpeter Wallace Roney, will open the evening, part of the two-day Capital City Jazz Festival -- a benefit for WPFW-FM, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and next year's jazz festival. Friday night's concert is headlined by Miles Davis. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band will also perform. Max Roach's M'Boom and the World Saxophone Quartet are on the bill for Saturday afternoon. An all-day Jazz Marketplace on Saturday will offer records, videos, compact discs, photos, paintings and T-shirts, and is being touted as "a once in a blue-moon opportunity for those in search of virtually anything connected with jazz." All events take place in the Convention Center.
"I met him years ago when I was home in Philly," Jones says of Dameron, who died in 1965. "I went to work with him because Art Blakey didn't make the job. It was in the late '40s, and he was working with Dexter Gordon. I lived next door to the club. I knew Dex and he came and got me to do the gig. Tadd was playing piano. Our association continued and we became good friends and I lived with him about nine or 10 years in New York."
Ranked with Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, George Russell and a few others as among the chief composer-arrangers in jazz, the Cleveland-born Dameron is hardly known to the general public principally because he rarely maintained a working musical unit under his own name and direction. But he scored for Dizzy Gillespie's big band and for Sarah Vaughan and many others, and a number of his originals -- such as "Good Bait" and "Hot House" -- are among the classics of jazz.
"Tadd didn't mess with a whole bunch of cats," Jones recalls. "He was very standoffish. He was messin' around with Dizzy and Sarah Vaughan and all them big wigs, but all those little cats, they didn't know nothin' about Tadd and that's why none of them can really play his music. They weren't even thinking about his music, because none of them could get that close to him. Tadd would use 'em when he had a big band thing and he needed an extra trumpet or something, but they didn't hang out with him because he was using heroin at the time."
Jazz historian James Lincoln Collier has estimated that "50 to 75 percent of the be-bop players had some experience with hard drugs, that a quarter to a third were seriously addicted, and that perhaps as many as 20 percent were killed by it."
"Everybody wants to jump on the Dameron bandwagon now," Jones says. "He was a hell of a writer, the most unrecognized writer in the music. He contributed so much, and that's why I am doing nothing but Tadd's music. His music should have been given the Grammy above all of those other people, because all of those people came from Tadd. All of them picked on him and tried to learn from him how to voice and stuff the way he does it. I wasn't worried about winning it for me -- I wanted it to be won for him."