August 31, 2009

Mod-A-Day: Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon was born in Los Angeles on February 27, 1923 and took up the clarinet at the age of 13. In 1940 he joined Lionel Hampton's band on tenor saxophone and after leaving Hampton in 1943 he made his first lengthy solo recordings. Later Gordon moved to New York and joined a pioneering orchestra that included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro and many other innovators of the new bebop music.

Throughout the 1950s Gordon performed and recorded very little due to his personal struggle with drugs and alcohol. In 1961 he burst back onto the scene with his Blue Note recordings. In May of 1961 Dexter recorded for Blue Note, Doin' Allright and Dexter Calling.

A little over a year later Dexter went back into the studio to record two quartet albums with the same rhythm section, Go! and A Swingin' Affair. Both records featured Gordon with Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.

Go! is not only Dexter's personal favorite but also one of the greatest jazz albums ever made. Dexter's blowing on Go! is nothing short of pure genious. Included in the six songs are two tremendous gems, his take on "Love For Sale" and his original "Cheesecake".

Dexter moved to Copenhagen shortly after this and his next album, Our Man in Paris, is considered one of his greatest and was recorded in Paris 1963. Our Man In Paris is unique because it features all bebop covers, including Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From The Apple" and Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night In Tunisia". It was during these years as an ex-pat that Gordon recorded the song here, "Le Coiffeur" featuring Bobby Hutcherson on vibraphone, it appeared on his 1965 record Gettin' Around, and has been underrated ever since. The song is superb, with its late night vibe, though much more loungy than most of Gordon's catalog. Listening to it is like sipping an ice cold martini. The chill quickly warms you in all the right places.

Gordon spent most of the 60s and 70s in Europe and didn't return to the states until the late 70s. He gained more recognition in the mid 80s when he starred in the feature film Round Midnight (1986) for which he received an Academy Award nomination. He died of cancer shortly after making the film.

Dexter Gordon -- Le Coiffeur