Philly Joe Jones Dameronia - Look, Stop and Listen
Featuring Johnny Griffin - Uptown UPCD 27.59
Sometime in the mid-1930s, a reluctant premed student at Oberlin College reached a life-changing decision. "There's enough ugliness in the world," he announced, abandoning his studies. "I'm interested in beauty." But more than changing his life, that decision also changed the course of jazz, because this sensitive and introspective young man was Tadley Ewing Dameron.
Born on February 21, 1917, in Cleveland, Ohio, Tadd Dameron grew up in a music-loving household, but was not encouraged to be a musician. Although Tadd's parents bought his older brother, Caesar, a saxophone, they wanted Tadd to be a doctor. So whenever his mother would leave the house, he'd head for the family piano and teach himself music. Meanwhile, Caesar introduced him to the recordings of Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington. A natural musician if there ever was one, Tadd failed his high school theory and harmony classes not from lack of aptitude, but out of sheer boredom. "Everything they were teaching me, I knew already," he recounted years later.
By the time he was sixteen Dameron was playing piano in a band formed by a high school friend, the legendary and short-lived Freddie Webster, who, in the words of Dizzy Gillespie, had "the most beautiful sound I ever heard on the trumpet." Other playing gigs followed, but by the early 1940s Dameron, who never considered himself much of a pianist - although he did play on most of his recordings - found his true niche as an arranger and composer. Throughout the decade his original charts graced the books of such bands as Harlan Leonard's Rockets, Jimmie Lunceford, Benny Carter, Teddy Hill, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie.
Looking back on the late 1940s, the heyday of bebop, jazz historians often credit Dameron as the arranger who translated bop - largely a small band music - into a big band format. And that claim is true enough, but only as far as it goes, for while Dameron may have been in bebop, but never was completely of bebop. Yes, he composed such typically boppish lines as "Hot House" and "Good Bait," and wrote for some of the most modern big bands. But bop was an angular, abstract, some might even say, aggressive music. Even Dameron's earliest dates as a leader - for Savoy in 1947, Blue Note in 1947-48, and Capitol in 1949 - reveal a lyrical, impressionistic core that was not endemic to bebop, at least not until he put it there. Tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon said it best: "I think Tadd really is the romanticist of the whole period - he's a poet."
The essential beauty of Dameron's music flowered during the next decade in a series of treasured recordings - A Study in Dameronia (1953), Fontainebleau, and Mating Call (both from 1956) - although none of these albums satisfied this severely self-critical perfectionist. "Turkeys, all of them," he declared in 1962. "I've never been well represented on records." But as anyone who had heard these gems will testify, that is an unduly harsh judgment, unsupported by the facts. In any event, Dameron's music reached full bloom in 1962's The Magic Touch, generally regarded as his finest effort as a leader, and the one album that actually made him happy. That also was, sadly, his final effort as a leader. On March, 8, 1965, Tadd Dameron died of cancer at the age of forty-eight.
Enter Philly Joe Jones. Best known, perhaps, as the drummer in Miles Davis' seminal quintet and sextet of 1955-58, Philly Joe's association with Dameron started in 1951, when they worked together in the band of R&B saxophonist-singer Bull Moose Jackson. He later roomed with Dameron for nine years and performed on three of his friend's four albums. "Tadd was a genius," Philly Joe told the New York Times' Robert Palmer in 1982. "Whenever he got an idea in his mind, he would just sit down and start writing. He could write out a whole composition just lying on the floor. Once in a while, he would get up and walk over to the piano to check what he had written, and it was always right."
But, Philly Joe lamented, "Tadd has never been given credit for all the beautiful music he left us. These days when people play his music they usually play just one or two of his compositions." And so, wanting to do justice to the man and his music, Philly Joe decided to found the band known as Dameronia, and enlisted trumpeter Don Sickler to serve as the group's musical director.
"I was playing with Joe in his septet," Sickler recalls, "but then he started talking about Tadd Dameron. Eloise, his lady, had applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he really wanted to do this tribute to Tadd. I knew "Good Bait" and "Lady Bird" and "Hot House." But Joe was always saying, 'Yeah, but you gotta get into all of this other stuff, man. It's not just those tunes.' And he was talking about the beauty of the music. Joe was right on the money all the time about musicians. Not just a drummer, he was a strong, great musician who really understood harmony and melody, and he appreciated the melodic and harmonic statements of people like Dameron. Joe's desire was to take Tadd's music and do it up right."
Philly Joe got the grant, but that was the easy part. Since there were no original Tadd Dameron scores to work from, Sickler had to get down to some serious transcribing. "I had to take them off the records," he explains. "And when I heard things like "Dial B for Beauty," after Tadd played the piano solo and the band comes in, I said, 'Oh my god, how many horns are there?' He could take three saxes and three brass and make it sound like a big band. So I had to figure out how he combined and spread those horns to make it sound like a full big band." Creating so much music of out so few elements - that defines "the magic touch" of Tadd Dameron.
Sickler continues. "I had John Oddo as another set of ears to help me with these particular things. He's a very good pianist, and at that time I was not really a strong pianist, so it was hard for me to hear the succession of notes to see if they're right. You're playing it on the piano but you're listening to horns, and Tadd was a great orchestrator. He really knew which horn to put in which place.
"Now Joe came to me and he said, 'OK, we've got the grant. You're putting the music together. Who shall we get to play this stuff?' And I said, 'We need a lead alto, and somebody who could also play tenor would be absolutely ideal.' At the time I was doing subs on Broadway in a show called Sugar Babies with Mickey Rooney, and Frank Wess was plying in the pit. And I thought, 'Frank Wess would be absolutely perfect.' He is 'Mr. Magic.'"
Charles Davis, who was a member of Philly Joes's quartet, stayed on to play tenor saxophone in Dameronia, and the esteemed baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, who had recorded with Dameron in 1949 and 1956, added depth to the ensemble. "Cecil was so important to Tadd," Sickler notes. "You could hear that in those baritone parts. He had to be thinking of Cecil, because Cecil had this way of sliding from note to note and having it all make total sense. The guy who holds it all together is, a lot of times, the baritone player, the guy who puts the bottom on the band. Cecil never got the credit that he should have. That's what guys like Dizzy would say. And Philly Joe said the same thing. 'We gotta have Cecil. If Cecil's not available for the gig, we can't work with Dameronia.' So he was always there."
Two respected brass players, trumpeter Johnny Coles and trombonist Britt Woodman, filled out the horn section. Pianist Walter Davis, Jr., and bassist Larry Ridley, who, with Charles Davis, had been in Philly Joe's previous group, remained in the rhythm section. Dameronia debuted in Philadelphia and then was booked into Lush Life, a long gone jazz club in New York's Greenwich Village, in April of 1982.
"The club got nervous," says Sickler, "because we were getting ready to do this gig and Philly Joe really wasn't known as a leader in New York. So they talked the New York Times into doing a feature on Tadd Dameron and Philly Joe before we hit the gig at Lush Life. This was in April, a time when it supposedly wasn't going to snow. And all of a sudden, the day before we opened there was this surprise snowstorm and we thought for sure the whole thing was going to completely fold. But thanks to the power of the press it became the place to go. The first night there was a very good crowd and by the end of the week there was a line around the block to get into the place."
Robert Palmer's Times story not only led to good crowds, it also led to Dameronia's first recording for the Uptown label. Featuring the personnel from the Lush Life gig, To Tadd with Love, recorded in June of 1982, presented six classic, yet seldom played, Dameron works: "Philly J.J.," "Soultrane," "Sid's Delight," "On a Misty Night," " Fontainebleau," and "The Scene is Clean."
Just over a year later Dameronia returned to the studio to record its second Uptown album - the one you are listening to - Look, Stop and Listen. Benny Powell, who had been playing with the band for a time, was on trombone, and Virgil Jones came in on trumpet. "Virgil only joined Dameronia at this recording session," Sickler remembers. "Joe wanted me to go over the book with a couple of other really great trumpet players who he thought would work well in the band, and they really weren't able to cut this book. It's a hard book and it demands a lot. But Virgil is a great player and had lots of reading ability and experience, so he was the perfect guy for this band."
This time Uptown wanted to add a guest soloist on a couple of tracks. Dexter Gordon was approached, but it didn't pan out. Then Philly Joe's manager at the time, the formidable Helen Keane, arranged to get tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin for the date. Griffin, it turned out, was a doubly appropriate choice. He had played on Dameron's The Magic Touch album in 1962, shortly before he emigrated to Europe, and he was an old friend of Philly Joe, who clearly was excited about the reunion.
"We had a rehearsal the day before this session," Sickler recounts, "and Joe said, 'Now don't forget, guys, tomorrow the Little Giant shows up so it's all business. We've been working on this music, but he's gonna come in here and just eat this stuff alive. So be prepared.' He was really close with Philly Joe, and we knew he was the cat who could come in here and take us to another level. And Joe feeds off of the energy from a guy like Griffin.
"Johnny was such a magnetic person, always up and always with a smile on his face. He was so positive. And he really was a little giant. He just walked into the room and the whole tempo went up. It's indescribable, really. The second he'd play a note everybody went to a different level."
Griffin and Philly Joe are spotlighted on the title track, Look, Stop and Listen, one of many pieces composed by Dameron between April 1958 and June 1961, when he was incarcerated on a drug conviction at the Federal Narcotics Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. (While there he also arranged a gorgeous and graceful album for trumpeter Blue Mitchell with brass and strings, Smooth as the Wind.) Next, Griff takes center stage on Dameron's immortal ballad, If You Could See Me Now. His first chorus offers a master class in paraphrase and variation, his second in melodic embellishment.
There is an, as yet, untold story behind this track. "When I listened to Tadd's orchestration and I wrote the arrangement," Don Sickler explains, "it needed another low voice. I thought I could get by playing the trumpet or the flugelhorn in the low register. And then at the first rehearsal I realized it wasn't going to work.
"In Spokane, where I grew up, they suddenly didn't like the sound of trumpets in clubs. You couldn't get a gig as a trumpet player. They liked the soft sounds of a saxophone. I had to either give up playing the trumpet in clubs or learn a different instrument. So I picked up the tenor. I played the tenor like a trumpet player, but I could always get a good sound.
"So anyway, I redid the orchestration and I put myself in playing tenor. I arrived at Rudy Van Gelder's studio and when it came to do this tune I told Rudy I was going to be playing tenor saxophone on it, so he put me next to Frank Wess. I took out my tenor and I remember Frank looking over at me, and the words out of his mouth were, 'And what are you gonna do with that?' I played tenor on the track, but on the original record jacket there's no mention of that at all. So now we've got to rectify that." Consider it rectified.
As originally planned, Johnny Griffin was supposed to play on only those first two tunes. Although he said didn't want to hog the solo space, the other musicians urged him to stick around for a while, so he did, blowing on Benny Golson's Killer Joe - Philly Joe's theme song and the only non-Dameron piece that Dameronia ever recorded - and Slide Hampton's arrangement of Our Delight. The remainder of the album comprises Focus, originally recorded by Dameron in 1949, and three tracks from his 1953 date that helped introduce the gifted twenty-two-year-old trumpeter, Clifford Brown, to the jazz world: Choose Now, Dial B for Beauty, and Theme of No Repeat.
In addition to offering previously unreleased first takes of Look, Stop and Listen and If You Could See Me Now, this reissue is "new and improved" in an ever larger sense, thanks to the engineering genius of Rudy Van Gelder, as Don Sickler makes clear. "Rudy wanted Joe to be in the drum booth, where he really could get Joe's sound together. But Joe insisted on being out in the room with everybody else. I thought Rudy was going to cancel the date! I mean, he knew Joe could play very loud at certain times, and the drums were going to leak into everybody else. Rudy was, I know, never happy with the mix of the original recording because he had to watch out for Joe all the time." And it's true - Philly Joe's drums do tend to dominate the LP mix.
Of course, that all happened twenty-five years ago. Using the technological advances of the past quarter-century, Van Gelder was able to digitize the original analog multi-track master tape and create a new mix that now satisfies everyone, including his meticulous self. "I think the CD is on a whole different level," Sickler adds. "That's the magic of Rudy Van Gelder. You can hear every note everybody plays, and so, you hear all of the magic of Tadd Dameron."
Dameronia was a working band and it worked as much as possible, both in the US and Europe, until the death of its leader in August of 1985. "When Joe passed away," Sickler notes, "the guys in the band - Benny Powell was one of the fountainheads - said, 'Man, we gotta keep Tadd's music alive. And now we gotta keep it alive for Tadd and for Philly Joe.'" So Dameronia continued with a young Kenny Washington in the drum chair.
"I had played with Kenny since he was about sixteen," Sickler recalls, "and when we started rehearsing with Dameronia, Joe invited Kenny over to rehearsals. Kenny would be standing right over the hi-hat watching everything that Joe was doing. Kenny really knew all of that music, so he was the logical one." In May 1989 Dameronia - now with Clifford Jordan (who had taken over the tenor chair in 1984), Washington on drums, and the remainder of the Look, Stop and Listen personnel - made its third and final recording, a live performance at the Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt in Paris, released on the Soul Note label.
Sickler is rightly proud of the time he spent as musical director of Dameronia. "The guys in this band were all about the music and all about making the music live," he asserts. "With these guys, every note meant something. We would rehearse these tunes and we would play them several times just for the beauty of the music. Joe, from the drummer's chair, would help bring this music alive on an unbelievable level. And then we got the Little Giant to record with us."
When asked to evaluate Tadd Dameron's contribution to the evolution of jazz, Sickler does not hesitate. "Tadd's real story is melody and harmony. His use of sharp fives and flat nines to create the sounds that he did, this is a very important musical vocabulary. It was new to jazz. It wasn't new to music. The French classical composers came up with most of these sounds, and I'm sure Tadd spent a lot of time listening to Debussy and Ravel. But Tadd put it into the conventional jazz instruments - trumpet, saxophone, trombone - and created a palette of sounds utilizing the harmonic elements in a different way. And then there's his melody writing. I can instantly recognize a Tadd Dameron melody. They just sing."
Tadd Dameron was an essential link in the evolution of jazz writing, building on the intellectual impressionism of Billy Strayhorn to create a new language for the next generation of jazz composer-arrangers. You can find his influence in the elegant lyricism of Benny Golson and Gigi Gryce, in the rich orchestrations of Jimmy Heath and Quincy Jones, in the bold orchestrations of Slide Hampton and Thad Jones, and most of all, in their common dedication to crafting beautiful music.
"When I write something it's with beauty in mind," Dameron announced emphatically in 1953. "It has to swing, sure, but it has to be beautiful." It was the inherent and essential beauty of Dameron's music that inspired his friend, Philly Joe Jones, to create Dameronia, and that beauty radiates from every bar of every track of Look, Stop and Listen.
|Complete CD Liner Notes Credits|
|Eric Alexander||Full Range||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Helio Alves||Portrait In Black and White||Reservoir Music|
|Anush Apoyan||A Dedication to Horace Silver||Black & Blue|
|Robert Bachner & Helmar Hill||Ein feiner Zug||ATS|
|Thomas Barber's Janus Bloc||Snow Road||D Clef|
|Carl Bartlett, Jr.||Hopeful|
|Count Basie||Chairman of the Board||Roulette Jazz|
|Roni Ben-Hur||Signature||Reservoir Music|
|Walter Blanding||The Olive Tree||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Don Braden||After Dark||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Bunnett||Cuban Odyssey||EMI Music Canada|
|Sharel Cassity||Relentless||Jazz Legacy Productions|
|Al Clausen||Swing Can Really Hang You Up the Most||Sunny NoDak|
|Steve Davis||Vibe Up!||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Dena DeRose||Introducing Dena DeRose||Sharp Nine|
|Dena DeRose||United||High Note|
|Orrin Evans||Grown Folk Bizness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||No Nonsense||Reservoir Music|
|John Fedchock New York Big Band||Up & Running||Reservoir Music|
|Carl Fontana||The Fifties||Uptown|
|Sayuri Goto||Flashback||Fever Pitch|
|Sayuri Goto||Prayer||Fever Pitch|
|Jimmy Greene||Introducing Jimmy Greene||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Coleman Hawkins||The Best of Coleman Hawkins [Prestige Profiles: Coleman Hawkins]||Prestige|
|David Hazeltine||A World for Her||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Conrad Herwig||Heart of Darkness||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jane Jarvis||Sagmo's Song||Faith|
|Jane Jarvis & Benny Powell||Two of a Kind||Faith|
|Ingrid Jensen||Here on Earth||Enja|
|Philly Joe Jones Dameronia||Look, Stop and Listen Featuring Johnny Griffin||Uptown|
|David Kikoski||Almost Twilight||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Yuko Kimora||A Beautiful Friendship|
|Ryan Kisor||The Dream||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Marilyn Lerner||Birds Are Returning||Jazz Focus|
|Achilles Liarmakopolous||Trombone Atrivedo ||Opening Day|
|Gene Ludwig||The Groove ORGANization||Blues Leaf|
|Joe Magnarelli||Mr. Mags||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Virgina Mayhew||Nini Green||Chiaroscuro|
|Virginia Mayhew||No Walls||Foxhaven|
|Virginia Mayhew||Sandan Shuffle||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew||A Simple Thank You||Renma|
|Virginia Mayhew|| Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years||Renma|
|Dave Panichi||Blues for McCoy||Spirit Song|
|Roberta Piket||Solo||Thirteenth Note|
|Roberta Piket||One for Marian||Thirteenth Note|
|Valery Ponomarev||Beyond the Obvious||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||The Messenger||Reservoir Music|
|Valery Ponomarev||Our Father Who Art Blakey||Zoho|
|Benny Powell||Coast 2 Coast||Faith|
|Benny Powell||The Gift of Love||Faith|
|Melvin Rhyne||Kojo||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Claudio Roditi||Double Standards||Reservoir Music|
|Claudio Roditi||Free Wheelin'||Reservoir Music|
|Adonis Rose||The Unity||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Jim Rotundi||Reverence||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Harvie S & Sheryl Bailey||Plucky Strum||Whaling City Sound|
|Horace Silver||Paris Blues||Pablo|
|Gary Smulyan||High Noon: The Jazz Soul of Frankie Laine||Reservoir Music|
|Doug Talley||Night and Day||Serpentine|
|Uptown Five||Uptown Swing||Harlem|
|Various Artists: Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins & John Coltrane||The Prestige Legacy, Volume 1: The High Priests||Prestige|
|Ceder Walton, Ron Carter & Billy Higgins: Sweet Basil Trio||St. Thomas||Evidence Music|
|Walt Weiskopf||Anytown||Criss Cross Jazz|
|Steve Weist||Out of the New||Arabesque|
|Deborah Weisz||Breaking Up, Breaking Out||Vah Wa|
|Rich Willey||Gone with the Piggies||Consolidated Artists Productions|