Rock Around The World • July 1977   25


the influence • •

by Jerry Zaslow

Jazz today is a great picture of several generations of American music that emotes in a most sincere way. We have a myriad of saxophone players who vocalize the state of the art through their horns. The drug scene of the fifties that was commonly associated with jazzmen cast an onerous if not

tell-tail shadow over this area in music. It was a harmful time for the blossoming careers of many of the day’s most forceful artists.

Dexter Gordon has been there and back. At 53, Gordon’s notoriety is enjoying somewhat of a rennaisance among his American audience. Dexter has been abroad for some fifteen years. He has made his home in Copenhagen for the last decade or


Gordon’s home turf was Los Angeles. He was the son of a doctor who had some musicians as patients; among them were Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. As well as Dr. Gordon’s medical association with these men, he was also a personal friend. Young Dexter had many opportunities to see and hear these greats as he grew. Dexter’s dad gave him a clarinet at age 13, and; this was the birth of his legend. Dexter grew into alto sax as a member of his school band. As age seventeen approached, so did his first tenor.

At about this time, Lionel Hampton had just split Benny Goodman’s

organization. An alto man named Marshall Royal knew of young Dexter (Marshall was in Hampton’s new band). Royal contacted the seventeen year old rookie and

asked if he wanted to jam with Hampton, himself and a few others. Three days later Gordon was in his first professional traveling band, this was a veritable musical giant step for the fledging tenor. At this point Dexter’s high school education came to an end. The six-foot-five swami of sound was on his way.

In Dexter’s travels with Lionel Hampton he sat in the sax section with a wailer who already had his solos down—namely

Illinois Jacquet. Dexter and Illinois became close throughout their travels together. Dexter met Bird (Charlie Parker) during his engagements at the famous Savoy Ballroom in New York. Dexter is credited with being among ..he first to use Bird’s wild and progressive phrasing in his music. Throughout the forties Gordon’s associations spanned the gamut of the new be-bop players. Dexter became a fixture in the New York scene throughout the forties, in which he attracted a solid following of fans of the day’s new music. At that time, this legendary figure was a charismatic reality.

The earliest recordings of long tall Dexter date back to the early forties. His most accessible recorded dates from this period have been reissued on the Savoy label. The materials contained there were recorded at

the Savoy Ballroom in the mid-forties. Because of personal dilemmas, the late forties and most of the fifties were not a very productive time in Dexter’s recording career. Blue Note records inked Dexter to a multi-disc commitment in 1962. These albums are all knock-outs. Since then Dexter has intermittently returned to the West Coast to fulfill another recording agreement with the folks at Prestige.

Until last year, many moons had passed before we on the East Coast had an opportunity to enjoy this messenger of musical delight. Last fall Bruce Lundvall, president of the CBS record group, tenor afficianado, and long-time friend of Dexter’s was able to convince him to record a double pocket live set from the Village Vanguard. By the way, if today’s Jazz masters are bees, sweet-sounding Dexter is most assuredly the

honey. They all came to the Vanguard to absorb his musical message at that recent Vanguard date. This summer Dexter is slated to come buzzin’ through again. His recordings were most accessible now that the Danish import Steeplechase label has signed a pact for stateside distribution via the Inner City label. All in all, it seems that the legend will become a reality to yet another generation. A


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