A Big Man With a Big Sound
There have been many great tenor saxophone players throughout the history of jazz, but one of my favorites is Dexter Gordon. Perhaps what I like best about Dexter Gordon is his big, beautiful sound. He stood 6' 6'' tall, and he had a saxophone tone to match his stature with a warmth and body to it that was unmistakably his own.
Gordon was born in L.A. In 1923. His father's name was Frank Gordon, and he had the distinction of being one of the first African American doctors practicing medicine in Los Angeles. As luck would have it two of his patients were jazz greats Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Dexter began playing clarinet when he turned 13. He soon switched to saxophone, and by his senior year in high school this amazing talent was offered a job in the Lionel Hampton big band. Never hurts to have an in.
Paris Without Regret
After the Hampton band Dexter did stints with Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. In 1960 Gordon started to record for the famous jazz label, Blue Note Records. During this period he recorded many acclaimed jazz albums including one of his favorites, GO.
In 1962 Dexter moved to Europe to work and live and resided mainly in Paris. Many notable jazz musicians of this era did the same because they were appreciated and respected more by the Europeans and experienced much less discrimination. He remained in Europe for the next 15 years until returning to the U.S. In 1976.
Round About Midnight
Upon his return to the States Dexter made a much heralded appearance at the Village Vanguard in New York City and finally achieved the recognition as one of the great jazz tenor players that he had deserved for years.
In 1986 Gordon was nominated for an Academy Award for his starring role in the jazz film, Round Midnight. The role was tailor made for Dexter as the movie was about an expatriate jazz musician living in Europe.
Musician of the Year
After coming back to the U.S. Dexter signed a deal with Columbia Records who promoted him heavily along with other jazz artists. His new found notoriety and his high level of jazz saxophone playing led to his being named Downbeat Magazine's Musician of the Year in 1978 and 1980.
Dexter Gordon died in 1990 at the age of 67 from kidney failure after a lifetime of producing some jazz's greatest tenor saxophone music.