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Tadd Dameron, Lady Bird. 16 measures for playing jazz

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[Monday Note No. 84] Lady Bird is one of the most famous pieces composed by Tadd Dameron, one of the most important pianists and arrangers for the rise of bebop. Lady Bird is an extremely simple and compact piece, consisting of only 16 measures in which, however, a lot happens.

The piece opens on the tonic chord, at measures 3-4 we see a 'missed' modulation; in fact, the piece seems to move towards the key of E♭ through the cadence Fm7 B♭7 but actually returns to C for two more measures. The sequence Fm7 B♭7 Cmaj7 can be considered a typical jazz variation of the plagal cadence and is also known as the Backdoor cadence.

After the missed modulation to E♭, i.e. a third above C, in measures 7-10 the piece modulates instead in the opposite direction: a third below, to the key of A♭. Measures 11-14 are used for returning to the original key, while the final two measures are occupied by a very bold turnaround typical of Tadd Dameron's music: C E♭7 A♭7 D♭7.

Here is a summary of what happens in these 16 measures:

  • 1-2 Statement of initial tonality C
  • 3-4 Missed modulation to E♭
  • 5-6 Confirmation of initial key C
  • 7-10 Modulation to A♭
  • 11-16 Return to the original key, C

Lady Bird, the theme

Tadd Dameron Lady Bird - tema

Lady Bird is simple enough to learn by heart, not least because of its brevity, yet it contains all the ingredients dear to bebop musicians. In particular out of 16 measures as many as half are occupied by II V movements (Fm7 B♭7, B♭m7 E♭7, Am7 D7, Dm7 G7).

If Tadd Dameron was an extraordinary composer and arranger, Fats Navarro was one of the greatest trumpet players to have worked with him. Fats Navarro performs two solo choruses (minute 0'33'') in which he moves with agility from the high to the low register and vice versa, creating perfect and well-proportioned lines, full of the chromaticism typical of bebop but nevertheless singable and proportionate.

The improvisation by Fats Navarro on Lady Bird

Fats Navarro assolo su Lady Bird

The harmonic progression of Lady Bird was also much appreciated by Miles Davis, who wrote Half Nelson using Tadd Dameron's chords. Lady Bird has become a bebop classic, a piece with which virtually every jazz musician has grappled, a pleasure and a challenge at the same time.

Until next Monday!

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This song is part of the list How to learn 100 jazz standards and of the improvisation video course

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