Call it seed money, but a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is partly responsible for Dameronia, one of several repertory bands featured at today's Kool Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center. Drummer Philly Jo Jones, who had played with Tadd Dameron before his death in 1965, says the NEA grant enabled him to form the nine-man Dameronia and "to do Dameron's music, to take it all over the country and the world. I wanted people to hear that music. Tadd Dameron was one of the greatest arrangers and composers to ever come down the line and he never got the credit he deserved while he was here."
Dameron was one of the first to incorporate bop into mainstream jazz and his compositions and arrangements were extremely influential. But he was never a compelling performer on the piano. "Playing solos wasn't his forte," Jones admits. "He was one of the finest accompanists you could get to play with you in a section, but his forte was composition."
The NEA grant allowed Jones and trumpeter Don Sickler to transcribe the music from recordings (the original scores had long since disappeared). Jones, of course, had the advantage of having played on many of those original sessions. "I can hear the voicings and compare them. I know exactly what's happening."
Dameronia works mostly in New York and at various jazz festivals. But it's revived the name of Tadd Dameron, reinstituted the respect that's always been there from musicians. And that's what it's all about for Philly Jo Jones.