I was talking to a friend just now - Benny Green, the incredible pianist and musician and deep thinker... a pianist and poet really - who loved and respected Dexter Gordon every bit as much as I do.
Remember the movie Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro? About the hospital ward full of catatonic folks?
And the doctor discovers L-Dopa and he wakes up everybody (some had been in a vegetative state for 20 years)... remember the tall thin cat that walks around the ward, not saying a word, making graceful hand-gestures in the air, playing pretty chords at the piano?
That was Dexter. And that movie Round Midnight. Tony Williams and Ron Carter and Cedar Walton and Billy Higgins, they were all in that movie, with Dexter as the star.
Dexter also had the secret to seeming larger than life. A character. The secret? Being himself. All the time. Never acting or being phony or having a stage persona.
He was Dexter before the gig, during the gig, and after the gig. I think that's good advice for any musician, aspiring or otherwise. Don't try to be hip. Keith Jarrett said a few years ago, 'I'm too tired to be hip.'
It's too much trouble. Being yourself is the hippest thing you can be.
I met Dexter at the Keystone Korner in SF. His band came through several times a year. I hung around and got the chance to play a few times with him.
It wasn't the best of times for either of us. I don't remember much, just a lot of laughs and some beautiful ballad playing.
After hours, Todd (Barkan) would lock the doors; Tootie Bouchard would keep the drinks coming (we drank a lot back then!).
John Wiitala (the great SF bassist) was there too.
I got to play with Dexter, late at night, in that empty club full of ghosts.
Those ballads we played!
Later, after his passing, I would move to Denmark and stay for months with his ex-wife, Fenja, and her brother Michael. Living in the same 'pad' that Dexter had lived in, feeding the same fish in the same aquarium, sitting in the same courtyard, using the same shower, sleeping in the same bed!
There were pictures of him everywhere, and his Music was always playing.
Dexter had touched us and changed us all.
Dexter, as strong as he played, was very gentle in many ways, and never relied on his ego. Listen to Dexter Gordon. Get Dexter Calling on BlueNote. That's ego-less playing.
Some critics still say Dexter played too many cliches and that his time was bad.
I was there, critics. Dexter made us ALL swoon.
He filled our hearts with that sound, and every note was as real as the ground we walk on. And you could set your watch to his sense of time.
I hear his sound in my head all the time when I play. I can't ever get him out of my heart, nor do I want to. I was on the fringes of his life, never close to him; yet in some ways, he influenced me more than my own father, more than musicians I knew a hundred times better.
There've been lots of times when I wish I could have played with him more. But the few times I did are enough now, as I'm starting to remember little snippets of my past that were previously inaccessible to me.
I'll write more someday, maybe even a book if I have time and am so inclined. Dex will be in it, and he will be a very important part of it.
Sometimes our teachers just come in and change our lives in a matter of minutes, and it takes us a lifetime to try to understand, to sort it all out.
I was blessed; now I'm remembering.
Ira Gitler on Dexter Gordon:
Dexter Gordon -there is a name to conjure with. Veteran listeners will certainly remember him but younger fans probably will not although he was intermittently active during the '50s. To musicians (especially those saxophonists who have been directly or indirectly influenced by him), Dexter Gordon has always been a highly important player.
As the first man to synthesize the Young, Hawkins and Parker strains in translating the bop idiom to the tenor saxophone, he was an important contributor. It is not, however, from a stylistic, historical angle that he has been appreciated. Dexter has always been a direct, exciting communicator of emotions; his big sound and declarative attack are as commanding of attention as his imposing height. (6'5')
Although his presence has not been directly felt on the jazz scene as a whole in a long time, Dexter has been with us, in part, through the work of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, two of the most important instrumentalists to develop in the '50s. Both owe a debt to Gordon for helping them to form their now highly personal styles. It is interesting to hear how Gordon, in turn, has now picked up on developments brought about by the men he originally influenced. Make no mistake, however, about Dexter.
He is still very much his own man.
His great inner power stands out in these recordings. He breathes maturity in every phrase he plays, his gigantic sound living up to the kind of musical voice one would expect from a person of his godlike dimensions. -IRA GITLER, from the liner notes, Doin' Allright, Blue Note
Dexter Gordon, Tenor Saxophone, February 27, 1923 - April 26, 1990
A selected discography of Dexter Gordon albums:
- Long Tall Dexter, 1945-46, Savoy
- The Chase, 1947, Dial
- Doin' Allright, 1961, Blue Note
- Go!, 1962, Blue Note
- Our Man In Paris, 1963, Blue Note
- Gettin' Around, 1965, Blue Note
- Body And Soul, 1967, Black Lion
- The Apartment, 1974, SteepleChase
- Gotham City, 1980, Columbia
- Round Midnight, 1985, Columbia