Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon (February 27, 1923 – April 25, 1990) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. He was among the most influential early bebop musicians, which included other greats such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. Gordon's height was 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm), so he was also known as "Long Tall Dexter" and "Sophisticated Giant". His studio and performance career spanned over 40 years.

Dexter Keith Gordon was born on February 27, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. His father, Dr. Frank Gordon, one of the first African American doctors in Los Angeles, arrived in 1918 after graduating from Howard University Medical School in Washington, D.C. Among his patients were Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Dexter's mother, Gwendolyn Baker, was the daughter of Captain Edward Lee Baker, Jr. one of the five African American Medal of Honor recipients in the Spanish–American War.[4]

Gordon played clarinet from the age of 13, before switching to saxophone (initially alto, then tenor) at 15. While still at school, he played in bands with such contemporaries as Chico Hamilton and Buddy Collette.[5]

Between December 1940 and 1943, Gordon was a member of Lionel Hampton's band, playing in a saxophone section alongside Illinois Jacquet and Marshal Royal. During 1944 he was featured in the Fletcher Henderson band, followed by the Louis Armstrong band, before joining Billy Eckstine. The 1942–44 musicians' strike curtailed the recording of the Hampton, Henderson, and Armstrong bands; however, they were recorded on V-Discs produced by the Army for broadcast and distribution among overseas troops. In 1943 he was featured, alongside Harry "Sweets" Edison, in recordings under Nat Cole for a small label not affected by the strike.

During the 1950s, Gordon's recorded output and live appearances declined as heroin addiction and legal troubles took their toll. Gordon made a concert appearance with Wardell Gray in February 1952 (The Chase, The Steeplechase, Take the A Train, Robbins Nest, Stardust) and appeared as a sideman in a session led by Gray in June 1952 (The Rubiyat, Jungle Jungle Jump, Citizen's Bop, My Kinda Love). After an incarceration at Chino Prison from 1953 to 1955, he recorded the albums Daddy Plays the Horn and Dexter Blows Hot and Cool in 1955 and played as a sideman on the Stan Levey album, This Time the Drum's on Me. The latter part of the decade saw him in and out of prison until his final release from Folsom Prison in 1959. He was one of the initial sax players for the Onzy Matthews big band in 1959, along with Curtis Amy. Gordon continued to champion Matthews' band after he left Los Angeles for New York, but left for Europe before getting a chance to record with that band. He recorded The Resurgence of Dexter Gordon in 1960. His recordings from the mid-1950s onward document a meander into a smooth West Coast style that lacked the impact of his bebop era recordings or his subsequent Blue Note recordings.

Over the next 14 years in Europe, living mainly in Paris and Copenhagen, Gordon played regularly with fellow expatriates or visiting players, such as Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, Kenny Drew, Horace Parlan and Billy Higgins. Blue Note's Francis Wolff supervised Gordon's later sessions for the label on his visits to Europe. The pairing of Gordon with Drew turned out to be one of the classic matchups between a horn player and a pianist, much like Miles Davis with Red Garland or John Coltrane with McCoy Tyner.

From this period come Our Man in Paris, One Flight Up, Gettin' Around, and Clubhouse. Our Man in Paris was a Blue Note session recorded in Paris in 1963 with backup consisting of pianist Powell, drummer Kenny Clarke, and French bassist Pierre Michelot. One Flight Up, recorded in Paris in 1964 with trumpeter Donald Byrd, pianist Kenny Drew, drummer Art Taylor, and Danish bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, features an extended solo by Gordon on the track "Tanya".

Gordon died of kidney failure and cancer of the larynx in Philadelphia, on April 25, 1990, at the age of 67.