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Dexter Keith Gordon was born on February 27, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. Dexter was perhaps destined for greatness from the beginning as his father was one of the first African-American doctors in the city and his mother was the daughter of Captain Edward Baker who was one of five African-Americans to receive a Medal of Honor in the Spanish-American War. Gordon began studying clarinet at thirteen years old, switched to alto saxophone at fifteen and tenor at seventeen. During his senior year of high school Dexter joined Lionel Hampton’s band got to learn on the job from such saxophone greats as Illinois Jacquet and Joe Newman. While touring with Hampton’s band in New York City in 1943 Gordon sat in with Ben Webster and Lester Young at Milton’s Playhouse and it was here he began to make a name for himself.
In 1944 Dexter joined Louis Armstrong’s band before joining with Billy Eckstein the same year. In Eckstein’s band Gordon played alongside Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Fats Navarro, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and many others. It was also during this time he made his first record as a leader with Nat King Cole as his piano player. Gordon continued to develop his sound in the mid 1940s and recorded the album ‘Dexter Rides Again’ which influenced younger tenor players of the time like John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. Also during this time Gordon joined the New York scene and was playing with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker at the Spotlight Club among other gigs. In the 1960s Gordon recorded many albums for Blue Note Records and cites ‘Go!’ as his favorite with Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins on drums. Dexter played at Ronnie Scott’s in London in 1962 and loved working and traveling in Europe and settled in Copenhagen until 1976.
In 1976 Gordon received a huge welcome back upon returning to America and resumed his career here with the album ‘Homecoming: Live at the Village Vanguard’ that year. He signed with Columbia Records and toured with George Cables, Rufus Reid and Eddie Gladden. In 1986 Dexter turned to acting and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Leading Actor for his role in the movie Round Midnight just four years before passing away in 1990. Gordon also won Down Beat magazine’s musician of the year award in 1978 and 1980 and was voted into their Jazz Hall of Fame in 1980 as well. Gordon has also been nominated for four Grammy Awards and leaves a legacy as one of the greatest tenor saxophone player s to have lived and the first to translate bebop to the tenor saxophone.
“When you know the lyrics to a tune, you have some kind of insight as to it’s composition. If you don’t understand what it’s about, you’re depriving yourself of being really able to communicate this poem.”
“Jazz to me is a living music. It’s a music that since its beginning has expressed the feelings, the dreams, hopes, of the people.” – Dexter Gordon
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