state of the art


Bruce Springsteen (Gary "U.S." Bonds), the Replacements (Alex Chilton), Clash (Lee Dorsey), and Chet Williamson (Reggie Walley) have one thing in common. Each has paid his respects to the artists who inspired him by bringing them back into the spotlight. But Paul Combs has a tougher task ahead. He wants the world to know about the huge contribution Tadd Dameron made to the jazz world. The composer died in New York City 35 years ago.

"He's one of the major cats of the '40s, along with Dizzy [Gillespie], Bird [Charlie Parker], Bud [Powell], [Theolonius] Monk, and drummer Kenny Clark," Combs explains on his car phone after a mid-day recording session. "He was as important as those guys, but a lot of people don't know him because he went into exile in the '50s. But he still had a connection with the younger generation, especially Miles [Davis], though Miles wouldn't tip his hat to anyone. Dameron we one of the first to be able to articulate what they [Bird and his contemporaries] were hearing."

Combs has two Dameron projects in the works: a book and an album. He gives a lecture on the band-leader's life and then a concert of his music and the artists he inspired this Saturday at the Center for Arts in Natick. "I'm going to show how important he was to the development of the hard-bop movement. He's credited with being the one who took be-bop harmony into the big-band format."

In July, Combs will travel to Cleveland, where Dameron was born in 1917. He expects to become a familiar face at the Cleveland Public Library. "I hope to have all the fact work done by August and start working on the book seriously - like a day job." Afterward, he'll begin the groundwork for recording and album of Dameron's lesser-known compositions. The Disc will include arrangements for a nine-piece band. " He was the master of the cut-down big band."

Combs, whose tax form lists jazz musician and educator as occupations, teaches privately and gigs endlessly. He recently began in a swing band with Workingman's Jazz Band leader Rick Maida. "We found out there was a lot of interest in swing dancing in Boston but not a lot of bands who can perform the music the way it was intended. No offense to some of the bands, but many of them are rockabilly bands playing swing." He's also putting the finishing touches on a Christmas album that'll include Dameron's "Be Bop Carroll," a then-modern reworking of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

In addition, Combs has just released his third CD. Moon & Sand (BoMuse Transcriptions) includes "What a Difference a Day Makes," "You Stepped Out of a Dream," and Dameron's " If You Could See Me Now." You can't help but hear the affection for the song in Combs's voice as he sings, "I'm trying awfully hard/ To make my tears behave/ But that's quite impossible/ I'm still in love with you."

Which is why he's determined to bring Dameron's music into the 21st century. "He left us a lot of beautiful melodies." You don't hear that too often these days, do you?

Paul Combs presents "The Importance of Tadd Dameron" on June 10 at 4 p.m. at the Center for Art in Natick, 31 Main Street, Natick, where at 8 p.m., he'll perform a program of compositions by Dameron along with works by three of the musicians who followed in his footsteps - Benny Golson, Horace Silver and Gigi Gryce. Tickets for both events are $16. Lecture tickets are $10, concert seats cost $12. Call (508) 647-0097.

Brian Goslow, The Worcester Phoenix, June 9, 2000, section two, p. 3.