Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


GORDON, Dexter

(b 27 Feb. '23, LA CA; d 25 April '90, Philadelphia PA) Tenor sax. Father was a doctor. Studied clarinet and music theory at 13, then alto; quit school and took up tenor '40. With Lionel Hampton late '40 through '43, Louis Armstrong '44, Billy Eckstine '45; played with Charlie Parker NYC; recorded for Dial in LA '47: 'The Chase' (with Wardell Gray) and 'The Duel' (with Teddy Edwards) among the most exciting records of the era and among Dial's best sellers. Freelanced and led own various combos through '50s, i.e. with sextet backing Helen Humes on Discovery label '50, with Red Callender, pianist Ernie Freeman: timeless R&B and jazz, in fact beyond category. Acting/playing role in prod. of The Connection '60. First overseas gig at Ronnie Scott's in London; moved to Copenhagen '62 and did not return to USA until '65. Infl. by Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Parker, one of the first to play bop tenor, developing beautiful modern ballad style with subtle experiments in tonality. A profound infl. on Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane etc but remained relatively unsung until resurgence began in '60s, continued in '70s: active overseas, visiting USA '69, '72 to record; also appeared at Newport Jazz Festival NYC '72, finally returned '76 to deserved attention in USA studios due partly to the work of fans like Michael Cuscuna, who prod. three Columbia LPs '77--8. At Carnegie Hall '78, Blues Alley in Wash. DC '80, etc.

His own records began '43 on Mercury/Clef with Harry Edison, Nat Cole, etc; '47 sessions with Callender, Jimmy Rowles, others reissued on Xanadu, Storyville; Dial stuff on Spotlite, other stuff on Savoy incl. Long Tall Dexter and live The Hunt (with Gray, from a '47 concert). Sessions '52 with Gray on Fontana, Swingtime, Trio; then small-group sets, always superbly backed: Daddy Plays The Horn on Bethlehem, Dexter Plays Hot And Cool on Dootone/Savoy, both '55; Pulsation '60 on Jazzland (later as The Resurgence Of Dexter Gordon); then series of Blue Note albums: Doin' Alright, Dexter Calling '61; Landslide, Go! and A Swinging Affair all '62; Our Man In Paris '63, with rhythm section of Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and Pierre Michelot, and One Flight Up '64 recorded in France; Clubhouse and Gettin' Around '65 made in three sessions in New Jersey and Paris. (Blue Note finally issued The Complete Blue Note Sixties Sessions on six CDs '96.) Storyville's Cry Me A River '64 preceded gigs at Montmartre and Copenhagen same year with quartet (Tete Montoliu, piano; usually Niels-Henning ]asO[rsted Pedersen on bass and Alex Riel, drums); too many live gigs recorded in Copenhagen, Paris, Montreux, Zurich and Amsterdam in the '60s--70s to list here, every one of them richly beautiful, a superb and unique musician in his prime; albums issued variously on Steeplechase, Black Lion, Affinity, MPS, Pausa, Dexterity, Futura, Prestige. US recordings on Prestige incl. The Tower Of Power and More Power '69 with James Moody; The Panther with Tommy Flanagan, The Chase with Gene Ammons, The Jumpin' Blues with Wynton Kelly all '70; quintets Tangerine, Ca' Purange' and Generation all '72. Then Columbia LPs with four- to eleven-piece combos: Home Coming '76 (live at Village Vanguard), Sophisticated Giant '77, Manhattan Symphonie '78, Great Encounter '78 (live at Carnegie Hall), Gotham City '81 (with George Benson and Art Blakey). Superb Dexter Gordon Featuring Joe Newman on Monad was made live in Chicago '76 with locals Jodie Christian, Eddie DeHaas and Wilbur Campbell. Jive Fernando '81 with George Duke was on Chiaroscuro; American Classic '82 on Elektra. Rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for acting in excellent Bertrand Tavernier film 'Round Midnight '86; the character based on Powell/Lester Young, but he played himself, as Gary Cooper and John Wayne did. Soundtrack album on Blue Note prod. by Herbie Hancock (on whose first album as leader Gordon played), with Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, others incl. guest vocalists Chet Baker, Bobby McFerrin, Lonette McKee; also outtakes in The Other Side of 'Round Midnight. It was Gordon who insisted that Michelot play in some scenes, because that is the way it was, and who rejected one of Hancock's arrangements as too complicated: the music in the film is timeless, like the rest of Gordon's work. Actress/singer McKee also appeared in film Cotton Club, on TV's The Enforcer, on stage in Lady Day At Emerson's Bar And Grill in NYC '87.