Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dexter Gordon: The Long Tall Legend

Dexter Gordon (sax; b. 1923 - d. 1990)
The Classic Blue Note Recordings

Dexter Gordon was raised in California and learned clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone by age 15. He got two big breaks in 1944 when he performed with the legendary Flectcher Henderson and then Louis Armstrong's band. He would also learn a great deal lyrically from saxophonist Lester Young. Gordon became a sought after musician and the technical grasp and creativity gained from Young made him one of the leading artists in the '40s and early '50s. Standing at over 6ft, Dexter Gordon loomed large on the scene (hence the nickname "Long Tall Dexter"). He would also become a major influence on Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. His recording career was long and spanned a number of famous labels (Savoy, Dial, Prestige, Blue Note and Columbia to name a few).

The first Gordon album I heard was Our Man In Paris (Blue Note, 1963). It featured mostly standards -- as was typical of the era -- but it was the sheer confidence and forceful execution of Gordon's horn playing that captured my attention. The album is also driven by the incomparable Bud Powell on piano along with Pierre Michelot (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums) filling out an exciting rhythm section. This was a sort of comeback album for Gordon as he was slowly rebuilding his career in Paris at the time, though he never truly lost his chops.

Gordon's career with Blue Note was stellar. There is a wealth of albums that are worth owning but I think most people should really gravitate to a great collection, entitled The Classic Blue Note Recordings. This is covers a good chunk of albums recorded between '61- '65 and includes a lot of the best known recordings. Gordon was incredibly prolific during this period. His playing was fully bodied and emotionally in tune with every note. For me its felt no clearer than on the lovely and powerful "I'm A Fool To Want You" and the one of the best versions of "Don't Explain" you'll hear (next to the original from Billie Holiday). I don't think many people could go wrong with this one.

Dexter Gordon would continue recording some very consistant and always amazing records for the next 3 decades. He made stellar comback in the late '70s with true document of jazz Homecoming: Live At The Village Vanguard (Columbia) which would send his career to yet another level of success. He would later go on to star as a jazz musician in the movie 'Round Midnight which also garnered an Academy Award nomination. A musician who has performed and influenced generations of future legends, Dexter Gordon's career is one of beauty and distinction that is almost unpararlleled. The Classic Blue Note Recordings is the perfect place for you to start to hear a legend in his prime.

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