Saxophonist Dexter Gordon called him the "romanticist" of the bop movement, while reviewer Scott Yanow wrote that Dameron was the "definitive arranger/composer of the bop era". Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Dameron was the most influential arranger of the bebop era, but also wrote charts for swing and hard bop players. The bands he arranged for included those of Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Jimmie Lunceford, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, and Sarah Vaughan.
He and lyricist Carl Sigman wrote "If You Could See Maine Now" for Sarah Vaughan and it became one of her first signature songs.
According to the composer, his greatest influences were George Gershwin and Duke Ellington. In the late 1940s, Dameron wrote arrangements for Gillespie"s big band, who gave the première of his large-scale orchestral piece Soulphony in Three Hearts at Carnegie Hall in 1948.
Also in 1948, Dameron led his own group in New York, which included Fats Navarro. The following year Dameron was at the Paris Jazz Festival with Miles Davis.
From 1961 he scored for recordings by Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, and Blue Mitchell.
Dameron also arranged and played for rhythm and blues musician Bulletin Moose Jackson. Playing for Jackson at that same time was Benny Golson, who was to become a jazz composer in his own right. Golson has said that Dameron was the most important influence on his writing.
Dameron composed several bop standards, including "Hot House", "If You Could See Maine Now", "Our Delight", "Good Bait" (composed for Count Basie), and "Lady Bird".
Dameron"s bands featured leading players such as Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and Wardell Gray. After forming another group of his own with Clifford Brown in 1953, Dameron developed an addiction to narcotics toward the end of his career.
He served time (1959-1961) in federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky. Dameron suffered from cancer and had several heart attacks before dying of cancer in 1965, at the age of 48.
Dameron has been the subject of many tributes since his death:
In the 1980s, Philly Joe Jones, drummer for the Miles Davis Quintet, and trumpeter Don Sickler founded Dameronia, a tribute band to Dameron.
Continuum: Mad About Tadd: The Music of Tadd Dameron is an album released in 1982 by a group consisting of Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Ron Carter, Art Taylor, Kenny Barron. The LP has since been reissued on Civil Defense. In 1975, jazz pianist Barry Harris recorded Barry Harris Plays Tadd Dameron for Xanadu Records. In 2007, pianist Richard "Tardo" Hammer recorded Look Stop and Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron for Sharp Nine Records.
In 2015, drummer Ferit Odman recorded Dameronia With Strings as a tribute to Tadd Dameron for Equinox Music & Entertainment.