Jazz giant in both the figurative and literal sense, Dexter Keith Gordon Is born In Los Angels, California. He Is the only son of a Dry. Frank Alexander Gordon and Secondly Gordon. Through his father’s cultural upbringing, and his informal education in the Lionel Hampton, and Billy Stickiness Orchestras, Gordon leaves his mark on the jazz world and it’s history at a young age. Being a legacy of Lester Young in youth to an adaptation of Charlie Parser’s bebop and harmonic awareness, Dexter Gordon weaved himself into the tenor legacy.
Even more table then his sophisticated and humorous language lies his distinctive large wall- to-wall sound and tone. Along with all these artistic qualities, Cordon’s huge six feet six Inch frame, and charismatic approach of cool compliment his friendly humor and behind the beat rhythm. Living and prospering in an era of racial and artist-hostile society, being discovered, lost, and rediscovered, and establishing himself as one of the most influential saxophonists of the bop era, Long Tall Dexter Gordon lived an fascinating musical life, both recognized and honored. Since his days in medical school, Dry.
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Frank Alexander Gordon loved and admired Jazz and It’s musicians. He even taught himself how to play the clarinet, and surround himself in the Jazz world, having Duke Longtime, Lionel Hampton, and Marshall Royal as patients. It is no doubt that Dexter Gordon responded very eagerly and spontaneously to his father’s music since Dry. Frank Gordon was one of a few respected African American doctors during the twenties and thirties. Observing his son’s liking to music, Dry. Gordon Immediately placed him at age seven under the supervision of a young clarinet player named John Stuyvesant.
For the next five to eight years Dexter Gordon studies the clarinet, personally meets established musicians through his father’s practice, and is taken to jazz performances including backstage access occasionally. Dexter Gordon claimed that this was his cultural upbringing before his father’s dramatic death at the tender age of twelve, which he never would fully recover from. Dexter Gordon didn’t play the saxophone until the age of fifteen where his mother, Secondly Gordon, bought him a icon alto with a hard reed and a rubber mouth piece. Dexter began to study the saxophone under the supervision of Lloyd Reese.
HIS first exposure to a performance setting was In a instrumental group called the “Harlem Collegians” which mostly performed in neighborhood amateur shows; the instrumentation included: kazoo, washtub, pie pans, snare drums, and a Jug. Gordon also played in the Jefferson High School band, which included Buddy Collette, Ernie Royal, Jackie Keels, Chic Hamilton, and James Nelson with friendly visits by Charles Musings. By the age of seventeen, Cordon grew to his full height of SIX feet SIX Inches and unofficially attended late night jam sessions and performances in the club and bar scene in L. A.
The Joe Louis look-alike, Gordon, found himself invited by Marshall Royal to play in the Lionel Hampton Big Band, along with Ernie Royal and Lee Young. This is an imperative time in Dexter Cordon’s development, specifically in his musicianship and technical facility. The Lionel Hampton Orchestra was Cordon’s musical education, where Marshall Royal and Illinois Jacket were Like his mentor/professors. Which is one of the three qualities in his artistry. Like Lester Young, Gordon had a behind the beat rhythmic quality in his playing, but, as Illinois Jacket claimed, he did not understand how to play the saxophone properly.
His tone and sound were underdeveloped, his posture with his instrument was off, and his language was still immature, but he did have a innate ability to connect with his audience. “All of a sudden the break came. This guy – Dexter Gordon, of course – a giant even from the seat up – he started to rise as he played the break… And the break was Lester Young break from ‘Miss Thing’… And the people screamed. (peg. 41, Bruit)” While Dexter played in the Lionel Hampton Band, he quickly determined there needed to be a change with his instrument, thus he spent three to four-hundred dollars on a new
Icon tenor saxophone, with Illinois Jacket’s metal mouthpiece. This change plays a huge role in Cordon’s legacy as being one of the tenor greats with the distinguishable huge sound. His sound is an important quality in his personal identity as a Jazz soloist, in which followers like Sonny Rollins aspire from. Large tone and wall-to-wall sound is the second of three artistic Dexter Gordon qualities, last is his bebop and hard pop language, which is also introduced in his Hampton Orchestra years.
In a performance at the Savoy ballroom in New York, Gordon witnessed a undeveloped but innovative alto player in the Jay McMahon band named, Charlie Parker. The Jay McMahon and Lionel Hampton band played right across from each other in the Savoy ball room that night. Not until 1945 does Charlie Parker truly establish the bebop language, but this moment was Tester’s first real exposure to these new harmonic and melodic ideas. In 1943, Dexter Gordon left the Lionel Hampton Orchestra to take a break from the non-stop touring for the past two and a half years.
During this short period, Gordon plays local L. A. Gigs with Jesse Price, Lee Young, Fletcher Henderson, Nat King Cole, and Charles Musings. This is a significant point in Cordon’s career, because he was able to record the first album under his own name, “Nat King Cole Meets the Master Saxes”, partly due to Nat King Coles popularity. This recording session had only been Cordon’s second time in any studio. Shortly after in 1944 during a gig with Jesse Price, Gordon accepted an invitation to play in the Louis Armstrong Band.
Gordon was becoming somewhat of a local hero, which seems to be a common trend for him considering his later years. At this point with his association with Cole and with Armstrong, he indirectly received a lot of media attention. Gordon claimed that playing with Armstrong’s band wasn’t artistically satisfying, but Armstrong was all about “love, love, love… (peg. 50, Bruit)” and this golden opportunity swayed any disappointment. During the Armstrong months, Gordon had already developed a comprehensive sound, an aspired Lester Young sound, despite the lack of solo’s in comparison to the Hampton Orchestra.
After the six month period, Gordon returned to Central Avenue in L. A. To play local gigs, which proved to be short-lived after an invitation to the Billy Stickiness Orchestra. Gordon was to replace an Eli “Lucky’ Thompson who was invited into the Count Basis Orchestra at the time. Turns out “Lucky” Thompson isn’t so lucky considering the saxophone section of this Stickiness line up eventually is considered one of the best section’s ever. Sonny Sit, John Jackson, Leo Parker, and Dexter Gordon are labeled as the “Unholy Four” during this “Blowing Away The Blues”.
Gordon was projecting with authority and confidence, taking each solo with a combination of humor and full sound. Stickiness would be the final growing process to a mature and identifiable sound. The second half of the Forties in New York is the highest point in Cordon’s career before his disappearance in the Fifties, where he would find himself in golden company like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Bud Powell. In 1945 Gordon leaves the Billy Sistine Orchestra to arrive in irresistible 52nd Street and the New York Jazz scene.
He plays for a short while with the All Star Charlie Parker Sextet: Parker, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Curler Russell, Stan Levee or Mac Roach. At this point, Bebop was already being coined, which proves extremely important for Tester’s identity since he had the opportunity to observe it first hand as a sideman for several months every night. The period September 1945 to January 1946 proved to be one of Cordon’s most important career-wise opportunities, we’re he made a series of recordings with the Savoy record label under his own name.
He also made an outstanding recording “The Hunt” with his fellow sax-men Warders Grey, which can be concluded as his most important recorded sax battle. Along with his big band development, his adoption of Charlie Parser’s awareness proved to be apart of Cordon’s makeup, in which he would keep in touch with his roots through out the rest of his career. The Fifties were a difficult period for Gordon, where he recorded his definite rowers only in the first few years before his arrest in the end of 1952 for possession of heroin.
Between 1952-1955, Gordon was held in a low security prison in Chino, California, where he would only play his horn with bands in Jail on the warden’s discretion. With the West Coast Jazz scene’s emergence and his absence, Gordon was to become a somewhat of a forgotten figure. 1955 proved to be extremely difficult with both Charlie Parker and close friend Warders Greyer death, where Warders met a sad ending being dumped in the desert by Jazzmen, Teddy Hate, after overdosing on Heroine before a Joe Louis Gig in Alas Vegas.
The sax-men who more or less replaced Cordon’s spotlight are Stan Get, in the first half of the Fifties, John Coloration and Sonny Rollins, in the second half. Despite Cordon’s prolonged absence from the scene, his work in the Forties had already reaped historical results in the fifties, with both Chlorate’s language and Rollins tone and sound influenced by Gordon. The Forties and Sixties are possibly Cordon’s pinnacle points in the Jazz scene.
With some luck Gordon makes two recordings with an at the time young recording label, Bethlehem, and one with the Denton label upon his release in 1955. 959-1960 was a very strange and odd period for Gordon since his work was irregular and out of the norm. This is mostly due to his inability to retrieve a cabaret card in New York, due to his criminal record, which effected many other musicians. The cabaret card didn’t allow musicians to be regularly employed by places which served alcohol, which in Cordon’s case was almost everywhere his services would be required.
In 1961, he does sign with Blue Note Record Label and records “Tester’s Calling” in two different session, which possibly is the beginning of the turning point of his career. The cabaret card, including several other factors, would become the catalyst of a very significant change in Cordon’s career. He had many incentives to leave the Unities States, which is unrealized until his departure for a month gig at the Ronnie would lead to his first divorce, and he could not find regular work, along with racial hostility still being fairly prevalent in the Sixties.
With a artist and racial-hostile society and a family situation being extremely unstable, Gordon did not have any reason to stay. The month spent at the Ronnie Scott Club lead to another month at he Blue Note in Paris, and eventually at the Jazz’s in Copenhagen, Denmark. Gordon found himself in social ecstasy where he was treated with extreme civility, none racial prejudice, and extreme praise; he found the “love, love, love… (peg. 50, Bruit)” again. Between 1962-1964 Gordon travels back and forth between France and Denmark, basing himself in Copenhagen.
Extroverted Gordon integrates acting in his interests in 1964, besides his brief musical participation in a few films with Armstrong band, as the leading role in the “Connection”, a reflection of the “Hollywood Connection”. His return to the States in 1964 to visit his daughters and the Jazz scene is the final step to Cordon’s decision to stay in Europe and become a local musical figure in Copenhagen. He claimed that in Paris he had received civility, good-manners, and friendliness, but Copenhagen, Denmark had all these things along with it’s beauty and elegant architecture.
Somewhat paralleled to his growing popularity in the second half of the Forties, the Long Tall adopted American in part of early and mostly later Sixties records a plethora of Blue Note, Steeplechase, and Prestige recordings. Starting with “Doing’ Alright” and “Tester’s Calling” to recordings like “GO”, “One Flight Up” and “Wee Dot” then finishing off the decade with “Tower of Power”, rejuvenated Gordon parallels his Forties forceful tone with sound experience and a more polished artistic approach to his Bebop, and now Hard bop language and harmonic awareness.
As fruitful as his time spent in social and artistic blissfulness in Europe was, Dexter Gordon did get into a bit of trouble in 1966 where he found himself arrested in Paris on drug related charges. He spent a few months in Jail while urine his stay is banned from re-entering by the Danish home office, where friends and fans rallied in the Copenhagen Town Hall Square, thus retrieving his citizenship. With appearances at European Jazz festivals, recordings, radio programs, television shows, and visits by friends such as Kenny Clarke, Bud Powell, and Art Taylor, what was there not to love?
Gordon did feel that the standard Jazz players in Europe were less up to par then their American counter parts, and his addiction to heroine was still a prevalent continuing battle. Some of the local Jazz musicians claimed that Gordon did have several off nights which were complimented by erratic behavior. Gordon did return to the United States in 1965, 1969, 1970, and 1972 to perform statewide and visit his daughters. From 1969-1972, Gordon made 6 Albums with the Prestige label, where he made 3 other recordings such as “The Chase” with his fellow sax-man Gene Ammo’s, a reflection of the Warders Grey Sax battle recordings. 972 is the force which drives Gordon back home in 76′ where he thoroughly enjoys a two month stay in New York while recording with the Prestige label. During Cordon’s life n Europe he does find a Danish wife, Fence, and has a son named, Bennie, but leaves them behind in Denmark which eventually leads to a divorce in 1982, go figure. The legacy of the Dexter Gordon that is so often referenced to occurred mostly in the Forties and Sixties, whereas the Seventies rounded off his musical career. Years. Being on another level, as a performer, a musician.
Consequently, there has been more exposure and attention. Et cetera, et cetera. (peg. 106, Bruit)” Upon his return to New York in 1976, he signs with Columbia Records in which he produces a live recording called “Homecoming”, a two disc CD set. He is received extremely well at the Sterile club and the Vanguard, and begins touring with Woody Shaw, Ronnie Mathews, Stafford James, and Louis Hayes. Gordon Establishes a successful Quartet in 1977, with Rufus Reid, George Labels, and Victor Lewis or Eddie Gladdens.
Between 1976-1980, Gordon records five albums under his name with the Columbia label, where in 1977 came “Sophisticate Giant” which had a ten piece set. In 1978, Gordon is reluctant to be invited by President Carter to play at the “Jazz at the White House Lawn” event, once again in golden company with Dizzy Gillespie, George Benson, Herbs Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. In 1980, Gordon played at the Risers Island Penitentiary in New York for some of its inmates, where he served time in during the Fifties previously.
Cordon’s health begins to deteriorate in 1980 from the drug abuse through out his lifetime, where his stamina begins to disappear and playing becomes a prevalent battle. In the film, “Round Midnight” Cordon’s playing is a fine example of his inability to produce the same humorous spark and fine technical display which is prevalent through most of his career. “We felt – we could see – it coming on. We could tell it by the way he was playing; like, the amount of time he gave us. He was not moving about as well. He would make little comments like, ‘ I’m getting too old for this sit. ‘(peg. 13, Bruit)” In 1984, Gordon collapses and is sent to the hospital where he is diagnosed with emphysema, diabetes, and some liver and kidney complications. At this point it is clear that Dexter Cordon’s career as a musician is near to an end, but is not finalized until he is castes for the leading role of Dale Turner in the film, “Round Midnight”, which I previously mentioned. Directed by Bertrand Tavern and reduced by Irwin Winker, the film proved to be a success with Long Tall Dexter Gordon being nominated for Best Actor in the 59th Academy Awards, where Herbs Hancock won Best Original Score.
Upon Tavern and Cordon’s first meeting, Tavern’s thoughts on Cordon’s health was of shock and concern, but he seemed to suit the role perfectly. “l saw him walking. And I saw his hands. And what I liked in him, I saw something that no actor will give me. Everything in him is musical. Even when he doesn’t play music. (peg. 1 16, Bruit)” The Blue Note was entirely remade, where the musical scenes were shot in a two day period, with rhythm section insisting of Herbs Hancock, and two local French musicians.