Four – Is There More To It?

I am in the process of building up a quintet book for my band consisting of originals and arrangements of my favorite standards. One of the tunes I have arranged is pianist/composer Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Me Now.” The ballad became a signature piece in vocalist Sarah Vaughan’s repertoire.

Sarah Vaughan sings “If You Could See Me Now” with the Count Basie Orchestra

I first came across “If You Could See Me Now” on Tadd Dameron’s album The Magic Touch while I was searching for one of Dameron’s few extended works entitled “Fontainbleu” (also worth checking out). “If You Could See Me Now” was simply a gem I stumbled upon.

Barbara Winfield sings “If You Could See Me Now” on my favorite Dameron album, The Magic Touch

I always enjoy learning more about the history of jazz in my hometown of Cleveland and bringing more visibility to Tadd Dameron. That is why I arranged two of his tunes for my senior performance recital, including “If You Could See Me Now.”

My arrangement of “If You Could See Me Now” as performed in my senior undergraduate recital, May 2019

I have performed this arrangement with a few different groups and, after each time, at least one person in the ensemble told me that the ending of “If You Could See Me Now” reminded them of the ending of Miles Davis’s tune “Four.” They are undeniably nearly the same in terms of both melodic content and harmonization.

K.J. McElrath from validated this unmistakeable resemblance.

The progression in mm. 5-8 of section “A” is noteworthy in its use of the embellishing F#m7 -B7 cadence in m. 5. A simple I -V7(+5)/IV ( Eb -Eb7(+5) in the original) would have worked just as well. The changes Dameron chooses at this point are also heard in the final measures of a later Miles Davis tune, “Four.

– K.J. McElrath,

However, this synopsis did not help me prove that Dameron’s tune had a direct influence on Davis’s later composition.

In search of more answers, I tried to find more information about collaborations between Davis and Dameron. While I knew that both artists were active on the 52nd Street bebop scene at the same time, I was unaware of any evidence of direct collaboration. In writing this post, I came across a live album from 1949 entitled Miles Davis/Tadd Dameron Quintet that was recorded during a jazz festival in Paris. They played several of Dameron’s originals, unfortunately not including “If You Could See Me Now,” as well as standards. Davis blasted blazing bop lines throughout, a stark contrast from his iconic spacious modal playing. I was also thrilled to find one of my favorite (and under-discussed) saxophonists, James Moody fronting the band with Davis.

Miles Davis and Tadd Dameron sharing the bandstand in 1949

As I continued digging, the plot thickened. There have been allegations that Miles Davis did not pen “Four,” but rather it was tenor saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. While this 1988 review in the Los Angeles Times suggests that Vinson was well-versed in Dameron’s songbook, I have not been able to find evidence of any collaborations between Vinson and Dameron. This predicament has halted my investigation for now.

As Pablo Picasso said, “good artists copy; great artists steal.” However, even this quote’s origins are disputed. Incorporating quotes of other works into the improvisational and compositional processes have been a foundational element of jazz since the beginning, so a scenario such as this one is no surprise, yet it still sparks my curiosity. If Dameron, Davis, and Vinson “could see me now” writing these speculations, I wonder how they would respond.

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