Five Things to Listen for in "Our Delight" by Tadd Dameron

Tadd Dameron at the piano
Tadd Dameron

“There is enough ugliness in the world, I’m interested in beauty,” 30-year-old composer, arranger and pianist Tadd Dameron told a magazine interviewer in 1947. An addiction to heroin, time in prison and multiple heart attacks would demonstrate that ugliness over the remaining 18 years of his life, but the beauty of his work was recognized at the time and continues to draw new adherents today.

Born in Cleveland on February 21, 1917, Tadd said he became interested in music at “four years old” and that “everybody in my family played music. My mother played piano, my father played piano and sang, my brother plays alto, my cousins and my aunts, they all play. My mother [taught] me piano, not to read but by heart, by memory.”

During the 1940s and 1950s, after working for several years as an arranger for big bands (including those of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie), Dameron focused his compositional talents on the emerging jazz style called bebop. During this relatively brief period, Dameron wrote music that helped define and expand the genre.

Tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon called him the "romanticist" of bebop, and many of his compositions have become jazz standards including "Good Bait," "Hot House," "If You Could See Me Now" and "Lady Bird."

A 1946 composition, "Our Delight" is considered one of his best. First recorded that year by Dizzy Gillespie, there have been more than 120 covers released since.

2023 American Pianists Awards winner Isaiah J. Thompson offered his own interpretation of the standard in trio format during the competition with Kenny Phelps on drums and Nick Tucker on bass. Here are five things to listen for in that performance:


1) AABA Song Form

“Our Delight” is structured in the AABA song form, defined as having: an eight-bar A section; a second eight-bar A section (which may have slight changes from the first A section); an eight-bar B section, often with contrasting harmony or "feel"; and a final eight-bar A section. The core melody line is retained in each A section, but variations are sometimes added, particularly in the last A section. Improvisations that form the rest of the tune are then based on the chord progressions of the core melody.

After a short intro, listen for each section beginning around:

A section at 0:09
A section at 0:17
B section at 0:25
A section at 0:33

Improvisations follow before returning to the original AABA at 3:15 and finally an outro.


2) Melodic Phrasing

Notice the construction of the main melody or “head.” Dameron's melodies often have a smooth, flowing quality, with a mix of longer, lyrical phrases and shorter, rhythmic motifs. This combination contributes to the song's catchy and engaging character.

Everything Dameron touched had one thing in common, says Paul Combs, author of “Dameronia: The Life and Work of Tadd Dameron.” "A penchant for lyricism," Combs wrote. "Almost everything that he writes has a very lyrical grace to it."

"It's more on a vein of Debussy or Ravel," Dameron told radio station DJ Harry Frost in 1952. "I try to make it flow. Try to make everything go — you know, it's just like reading a book. It's a regular story. You just can't have one idea and jump to another one. I try to make it flow coherently."

Combs says that sense of form made Dameron the most important arranger of the bebop era: "So Tadd brings this larger compositional framework into bop, where a lot of the boppers were just about, 'Let's play the tune and set off some fireworks.'”


3) Improvisation on Piano

After the main theme is presented, Isaiah starts improvising on it around the 41 second mark, following the AABA structure. Listen to how he develops his solo, starting with simpler ideas and building in complexity and intensity while still retaining references to the melody and harmony of the tune.


4) Improvisation on Drums

After Isaiah’s solo, drummer Kenny Phelps takes a solo around the two minute 45 second mark. Listen to how he varies his rhythm and volume while keeping time. Watch how the trio are fully engaged with eachother.


5) Comparisons with Other Versions

Bill Evans’ version of "Our Delight" on his debut release "New Jazz Conceptions" (1956) is known for its introspective mood. Listen to his improvisation beginning around the 47-second mark. Listen to his playing, dynamics and choice of notes and compare with Isaiah’s solo. This is a wonderful way to hear how different musicians bring their own personalities to the tunes they play. What stands out to you?


Isaiah's version:


Bill Evans' version:






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