February 24, 2020. Late in 2018, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli released his latest record, If You Could See Me Now. Curious title—might Magnarelli have been slyly foreshadowing his forthcoming appearance on WRTI’s NPR Live Sessions series? Anything’s possible. Though it’s much more plausible that the album takes its name from the iconic tune Tadd Dameron composed for Sarah Vaughan in 1946.
Still, intentionally or not, Joe Magnerelli has successfully ticked both boxes: NPR Live Sessions debut? Check. Homage to Dameron? Bing again!
Last April, Mr. Mags joined Byron Landham, the drummer and member of Temple University's jazz studies faculty, on campus for a live performance at the Rite of Swing Café. Coming soon, you’ll be able to see—and hear—music from that evening, as part of WRTI’s series on NPR Live Sessions, public radio’s music video platform.
And, yes, the title track on Magnarelli’s new album is the Tadd Dameron tune made famous by Sassy. In fact, all the tracks from If You Could See Me Now are Tadd Dameron compositions. For the love of Philly Joe Jones, it’s a veritable Dameronia!
Magnarelli opens the retrospective with, perhaps, the most performed of Dameron’s compositions, “Lady Bird.” So many over the years have had a “Lady Bird” in their arsenal; Magnarelli’s most resembles that played by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ on “Live at Café Bohemia” in 1955. George Fludas, the Magnarelli Quintet’s drummer, is the catalyst, playing with that aggressive swing style pioneered by hard-bop masters like Blakey and Roach, while Magnarelli and Ralph Moore (tenor sax) each deliver solos that more than do justice to their historical counterparts.
The next cut is another standard from the Dameron canon, “On a Misty Night,” where Magnarelli takes the head of the tune that was once reserved for John Coltrane. Tenor-man Ralph Moore does speak his piece, but he speaks more softly than Trane in the Dameron original—reasonable since the interplay between the two horn players here creates a dynamic that the original Dameron quartet just didn’t have.
If you’re looking for a more verbose offerings on tenor from Moore, try “The Tadd Walk” and “Super Jet”—both are up-tempo bop tunes that swing hard and allow the horn players to showcase their athleticism.