Vanessa Rubin Makes Jazz Composer Tadd Dameron Sing
by Dan Polletta, WCPN

Tadd Dameron was one of the most important composer/arrangers of modern jazz, but outside of “If You Could See Me Now,” and a few other songs, the Cleveland native’s works really haven’t been performed by vocalists.

Vanessa Rubin decided to change that with “The Dream Is You: Vanessa Rubin Sings Tadd Dameron.”

“Because he is an untold story,” Rubin said.

Rubin, herself a native Clevelander, was inspired to undertake the project by a 1988 album by Carmen McRae.  On that session, McRae sang a collection of pieces by another composer who didn’t really write with singers in mind.

Carmen McRae put out the first vocal cd of (Thelonious) Monk’s music (“Carmen Sings Monk”), which opened up his music to a whole different audience.  Now singers could sing it. I said, ‘I’d like to discover more Dameron vocal tunes, put them together and do a Tadd Dameron vocal tribute.’ This is why this is so different than any other Dameron CD that has ever been done because they are mostly all-instrumental.  I don’t think most people knew beyond the most obvious numbers that there were other songs that Tadd had composed, so that’s where the idea came from,” Rubin said.

Dameron’s career lasted from the late 1930s until 1965, when he died at 48. He wrote and arranged for a number of big bands before leading his own groups starting in the late 1940s.  Dameron was later known for writing a number of pieces that became jazz standards, including “Hot House,” “Our Delight,” “Lady Bird” and “On A Misty Night.”

[photo: Vanessa Rubin]

Much of  Dameron’s career took place during the modern jazz or bebop era, which was characterized by works played at breakneck tempos filled with complex chord changes. The music sometimes sounded dissonant or asymmetrical. While Dameron did write pieces in that style, most of his works were characterized by a lyrical beauty and harmonic sophistication that brought comparisons to Ravel and Debussy. It was that side of Dameron’s work that captured Rubin’s attention.

“When people write about Tadd, I read these quotes by Tadd: ‘The world has enough ugliness in it, I’m interested in beauty,’ and ‘sure, music has got to swing, but it must be beautiful.’ I’m about that, so obviously I would be attracted to somebody who loves those two things about music,” she said.

[photo: Vanessa Rubin]

For “The Dream Is You,” it was important to Rubin to use arrangements by musicians who worked with Dameron or knew him personally, including Benny GolsonJimmy HeathFrank Foster and the late Cleveland saxophonist Willie Smith.

“I picked those arrangers because they’re not third-person. They’re people who knew Tadd and were close to him. They studied the things he was writing when he was writing it. A lot of Tadd’s influence is in their writing,” Rubin said.

Rubin spent hours at the Library of Congress pouring through Dameron’s works for “The Dream Is You.”  While she found a number of lesser-known pieces of his to sing, her exploration of his work is just beginning, as are her efforts to make his works better known.

“I have only scratched the surface, but discovering the new things is what I really liked.  If this just starts other people to snowball the idea, then I’ve done my job,” Rubin said.

Vanessa Rubin and ideastream’s Dan Polletta [ideastream]


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