The Magic Touch

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2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the most important jazz musicians to come from Cleveland- Tadd Dameron. The East Central Jazz Educators All-Star Big Band co-led by Youngstown State University’s Kent Englehardt and Cuyahoga Community College’s Steve Enos are celebrating the event by performing music from “The Magic Touch,” an album that’s considered to be one of Dameron’s finest recordings.

Although he had written for large ensembles in the past, Dameron is best known as the composer and arranger who in the 1940s and 50s helped give form to small group modern jazz with pieces like “Hot House,” “Good Bait” and “Lady Bird.” During that period, Dameron worked with many of great jazz musicians, including Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughn, John Coltrane and Fats Navarro.

However, in 1958, Dameron was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment on federal drug charges. Englehardt said that the sentence proved to be a blessing in disguise for the composer. “He served his time in Lexington (Kentucky) where a lot of people who were drug addicts were sent to this new hospital where they were treating drug addicts, they weren’t incarcerating them.”

Englehardt explained the hospital administrator and his wife took a liking to Dameron. Under the guise of having him come to their home to do house and yardwork, they instead on allowing Dameron to spend his time playing the piano and composing. Dameron took full advantage of the opportunity by working on the music that he would eventually record on “The Magic Touch.”

After his release in 1961, Dameron returned to New York. The following year, joined by an large ensemble of jazz greats, Dameron recorded “The Magic Touch,” which Englehardt felt gave the composer a chance to realize his musical vision.

“This is really what Tadd was hearing. This was the instrumentation that he chose to do this project. You hear horns, you hear flutes. There are colors that that aren’t necessarily in the other music that he wrote. The tonal palette really fascinates me. The way he combines instruments and gets interesting sounds that in some ways are ahead of their time,” he said.

Enos believes “The Magic Touch” places an emphasis on something that Dameron truly valued. “Even though it was coming out of the Bebop era [the emphasis] was on melody and beauty. It comes so forward in his arrangements. The musicians have the opportunity to express that side of them, not necessarily the masculinity aspect, but instead being vulnerable and expressing that warmth and the beauty of melody.”

The East Central Jazz Educators All Star Big Band pay “Tribute to Tadd Dameron” on Thursday at the Bop Stop at the Music Settlement at 8 p.m. The group will also perform at Blu Jazz in Akron Sunday at 6 p.m.

To find out more about the performance, be listening for Dan Polletta’s report Monday at 12:33 pm on 90.3’s Here and Now featuring The Sound of Applause.

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