Biography for Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon was considered one of the greatest jazz saxophonists ever, During his heyday, namely `45-`80, he played tenor sax with many of the all-time jazz greats, including Lionel
Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Billy Eckstine and many others. In the 60s, he left his vices behind and created some wonderful music. He played in Europe extensively where he was very popular
and lived there for the most part during the 60s and the early to mid 70s. Around 1977, he returned to America and made some well-received records. Round Midnight was his only
feature role, playing a character not unlike himself, for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He has influenced subsequent generations of musicians with his artful approach to jazz. His feel and
subtle nuances are sorely missed in the world of jazz.
Jazz saxophonist. Died of kidney failure in Philadelphia at age 67.
Not long after 'Round Midnight (1986), Coca-Cola approached Dexter Gordon about
appearing in some television commercials. They changed their mind however, as they felt his skin color was "too white" and not dark enough.
Dexter Gordon When ever and wherever Dexter Gordon
appeared it was an event, a celebration of life by the music that coursed through his tenor saxophone which sometimes looked (but never sounded) like a toy in the hands of the
handsome, 6'5" man whose frame were symbolic of his stature as an artist.
Acknowledged as the musician who, in the 1940's, synthesized the influence of Lester Young,
the Colman Hawkins School (via Herschel Evans) and Charlie Parker in translating Parker's message from alto sax to the tenor, Dexter became the idol of a host of tenor players. Allen
Eager's first Savoy recordings showed a Gordonian stamp and even Stan Getz was persuaded for a while. In Philadelphia it seemed as if Gordon was the model as witness Bill Barron, Jimmy
Heath and John Coltrane. In New York Jackie McLean, although an altoist, was taken with Dex before even hearing Parker. And another Manhattanite, Sonny Rollins, learned important early lessons listening to Gordon.
Through tenor titans such as Coltrane and rollins, Gordon exerted an indirect influence on the music of the next generation. In the mid-1950's, after having gone unrecorded for several years,
Gordon taped some sessions that revealed he had been listening to Rollins; in 1960 an album entitled "The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon" showed an awareness of Coltrane. I later remarked
that it was like receiving interest on something he had banked a long time before. In neither case had he changed his basic aproach but he had kept his ears open. In 1961, when he began a
series of classic recordings for the Blue Note label, he reiterated his mastery with that combination of awareness and strong allegiance to his personal muse.
To be sure there is tender strength, sophisticated subtlety, puckish punning and tidal drive blended with the engaging, disarming off-horn personality that gave Dex the marvelous capability
of making people feel good. He was born Dexter Keith Gordon in Los Angeles, California on february 27, 1923. His father was a doctor who counted Duke Ellington and Lionel hampton
among his patients. Young Dexter took up the clarinet at age 13, along with the study of harmony and theory under the much respected teacher, Lloyd Reese. At 15 he switched to alto
sax and two years later, in 1940, he made the move to tenor, left school and began gigging around with a local band called the Harlem Collegians. In December he was asked to join Lionel
Hampton's orchestra and went on the road with the vibist, visiting New York in 1941 where he heard Charlie Parker in the Jay McShann band.
After leaving Hampton in 1943, Gordon returned to Los Angeles where he worked with Lee Young (Lester's drumming brother) and Jesse Price. Then, in 1944, he was a member of Louis
Armstrong's big band for six months. it wasn't, however, until he joined the fabled Billy eckstine band later in the year that he began to become a factor with both the jazz public and his fellow
musicians. During his 18 months with the pioneering powerhouse of bop, sitting alongside (at various times) Gene Ammons, Sonny Sitt, Leo Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro, he
was featured prominently on record in "Blowin' The Blues Away" (a tenor duet with Ammons) and "Lonesome Lover Blues".
In 1945 Gordon located in New York and became a fixture along 52nd Street whose numerous clubs were alive with the music of Charlie "Yardbird" Parker and Gillespie. He played there with
"Bird" and with his own combos, recorded separately with Diz and Bird as well as cutting a series of 78s for Savoy as a leader. In the summer of 1946 he returned to California and before
he came back to New York in late 1947 he played two months in Honolulu with Cee Pee Johnson. "The Chase", a Los Angeles tenor battle with Wardell Gray made a lively dent in the
jazz record market. After working and recording with Tadd Dameron's band in New York he once again went home to California in 1949 where he and Gray often teamed for club and concert jam session-type performances.
The 1950's were not an easy time for Gordon as first he wrestled with personal demons and secondly was confronted by the advent of "cool" jazz -- then vogue in L.A.-- which left his
gutsy, hard-driving brand of playing in short demand. By 1960, however, he began to gather momentum again, surfacing in the West Coast company of Jack Gelber's "The Connection" as
composer, small group leader and actor. Cannonball Adderly produced the "Resurgence" Lp and after his first Blue Note albums, he moved to New York in 1962, playing there and also
using it as a base of operations for club appearances in the East.
In September of that year he journeyed to London to play at Ronnie Scott's club and continued
with engagements on the Continent. Eventually he found a home in Copenhagen where he became the chief attraction at Club Montmartre. He received great respect and appreciation in
the European milieu and made periodic trips back to the United States for club work and recording which helped maintain his international reputation. But it soon became aparent that his
arena was Europe. He played at the major capitals and such festival as Berlin, Molde, Malmo, Ossiach, San Remo, Lugano, Montreux, etc. He appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in
1970; Tangier Jazz Festival, 1972; Newport-New York, 1973; and toured Japan in 1975.
As a teacher Gordon was active with the Worker's Cultural Foundation in Malmo, Sweden and
with the Jazz and Youth Society, Vallekilde, Denmark.
He repeated his roles in "The Connection" in Denmark and also made a Danish film. His
television and radio appearances in Europe are too numerous to list. In the U.S. he did a "Just Jazz" segment for PBS in 1971.
Althought he had played in Chigaco in 1974 and Los Angeles the following year, Gordon's 1976 trip to New York was his first in four years. The media coverage according him was more like
an American jazzman visiting Europe or Japan for the first time: articles in the New York Times; New York Post; Village Voice; and television interviews.
He lectured at the University of Hartford and young musicians were magnetized by him wherever he played. In New York the list of his peers who came to hear him read like a Who's Who:
Stanley Turrentine, Sadik Hakim, Joe Farrell, Charles Mingus, Tootie Heath, Jimmy Heath, Yusef Lateef, Cecil Taylor, Jimmy Owens, Dizzy Reece, Billy Higgins, John McLaughlin,
Horace Silver, Sonny Sitt, Zoots Sims, Al Cohn, Tony Williams, Phoebe Snow, Maurice and Verdine White (of Earth, Wind and Fire) and an assortment of rock stars, to name a few.
Also in attendance was Columbia's president Bruce Lundvall, who was there as a fan as well as an involved executive. So, every night was special, particularly the three on which
"Homecoming" was taped with ample support from trumpeter Woody Shaw, pianist Ronnie Mathews, bassist Stafford James and drummer Louis Hayes.
"There was so much love and elation," said Dexter. "Sometimes it was a little eerie at the Vanguard. After the last set they'd turn on the lights and nobody would move."
The excitement, reverence and warm love feeling engendered by his performances at the Village Vanguard are captured in "Homecoming". The release of his double album was greeted with
open ears by the buying public. In this age of electronics, the presence of an acoustic album on "the charts" were phenomenal, but so was Dexter Gordon.
When Dexter returned to the U.S. in the spring of 1977 he was again met by adoring fans wherever he played. He was heard on the soprano as well as the tenor saxophone. Joy
continued unabated and a new recording, considered a must, was discussed. this time it would be a special studio project. It began as a septet with trumpeter Woody Shaw, a member of
Gordon's American quintet and trombonist Slide Hampton, a frequent European associate, as the chief arranger. The band became an 11-piecer through a natural evolution of ideas involving
many players who had worked with Dexter at one time or another: trumpeter Benny Bailey, American expatriate, imported from Europe; and vibist Bobby Hutcherson, flown in from San Francisco.
In addition, at opposite ends of the sound spectrum, came flutist Frank Wess and tubaist Howard Johnson. Hampton's arranging skill, able to spread out across such an ensemble,
creates a marvelous atmosphere for Gordon and the other soloists. As producer Michael Cuscuna put it: "Dexter is one of those great blowers who is not ihibited by an expanded setting."
The result was "Sophisticated Giant", an album everyone called "a classic." Even Dexter!
Between the time of the recording and its release Gordon won the "down beat" International
Critics Poll for the first time since 1971. He was also honored by the Jazzmobile in a special concert at Grant's Tomb in New York. Then he was off to Montreux to take part in that Swiss
city's prestigious jazz festival with a host of other Columbia and Epic stars including Stan Getz, Woody Shaw, Maynard Ferguson, Bob James and George Duke. All of this can be heard in
"Montreux Summit2. He is featured with Shaw, Duke and Slide Hampton in his own "Fried Bananas" and the rest of the stars in "Andromeda," Benny Golson's "Blues March" and the title
In 1978 Dexter was voted #1 Jazz Musician of the Year, the most prestigious individual "down beat" Reader's Poll Award, and for the third year in a row, was #1 winner in the tenor
saxophone category. He narrowly missed winning the coveted '78 Hall of Fame category and had two albums, "Homecoming" and "Sophisticated Giant" place respectably in the Album of the
Year category. Earlier in the year, Dexter was among the honorees at the White House Jazz Festival, hosted by President Carter.
"Manhattan Symphonie" was on the jazz charts "forever". Dexter Gordon, the romantic, had returned to New York and paid tribute with a release of well-mellowed horn combined with the
fresh elements in harmony, rhythm and tonality. He hasn't just "kept up" but expanded and deeped as Dexter Gordon.
Grace and power, wit and emotion, harmonic acuity and melodic sweep; dexter Gordon was
truly a "Sophisticated Giant".
The piece was written before Dexter´s death, and I have rewritten it in the past tense. - Jesper