artist profile: Dexter Gordon

© Herman Leonard
Birth: Los Angeles, February 27, 1923
Professional Career: Lionel Hampton's Band (1940-1943), Dexter Gordon Quintet with Nat King Cole (1943), Fletcher Henderson Orchestra (1944), Billy Eckstine's Orchestra (1944), Cee Pee Johnson Band (1946), Dexter Gordon with Tadd Dameron (1949), Dexter Gordon with Wardell Gray (1947-1952), Dexter Gordon as leader (1962-1987)
Selected Recordings: As leader: Long Tall Dexter (1946), Go (1962), A Swingin' Affair (1962), Take The 'A' Train (1967).

Dexter Blows Hot And Cool

Dexter Gordon's stature as a pivotal jazz musician more than mirrored his 6 foot 5 inch frame. He was in the forefront of the 1940s swing era and was the first to play the new sounds of Bebop on the tenor saxophone. Gordon had an extraordinary way of combining simple melodic ideas into a complex, coherent whole and was especially known for his behind-the-beat phrasing and full tone. Gordon absorbed the swing concepts presented by Lester Young and Illinois Jacquet, mastered the language of bebop, and influenced many young lions of the time including John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.

Beginnings of a Giant

Dexter Gordon began playing the clarinet at the age of 13 in a rehearsal band with Charles Mingus and Buddy Collete headed by Lloyd Reese. In 1940, he joined Lionel Hampton's touring band and took part in a recording session in 1942. After this engagement, he made his first recording as a leader in a quintet including Nat King Cole. He played with Lee Young and Jesse Price in Los Angeles as well as the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra for a brief time in April and May of 1944. After a short engagement with Louis Armstrong, he moved to New York to appear with Billy Eckstine's orchestra. In 1946, Gordon played with Cee Pee Johnson in Honolulu, appeared with Tadd Dameron in New York throughout 1949, and performed with Wardell Gray in a series of saxophone duels between 1947 and 1952. He also worked as a composer, musician, and actor in the play The Connection in 1960. Dexter then performed in London and toured Europe, which was so successful that he remained in Europe for the following 15 years. He returned to the states the following year after visiting New York in 1976. He entered the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1980 and was named musician of the year by readers of Down Beat magazine in 1978 and 1980. He also starred in the movie Round Midnight (1986) in which he received a nomination for an Academy Award.

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