Long Tall Dexter

Described by Leonard Feather as “one of the most influential saxophonists of the bop era,” Dexter Gordon has been a recognized master for over four decades. This new biography traces his career from his early stints with Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong, through his time with the bop big band of Billy Eckstine and his sparring partnership with fellow tenor-player Wardell Gray in Los Angeles, to his self-exile in Denmark, and his triumphant return to New York in 1976, an event that decisively shaped the still strong bebop revival. Stan Britt devotes chapters to Gordon’s acclaimed performance in the movie ‘Round Midnight, for which he received an Academy Award nomination, along with extended discussions of his recording legacy and an analysis of his unmistakable tenor sound and style. With a notated discography and a keen appreciation of Dexter’s warm, ironic personality, this biography adds another dimension to our understanding of one of the coolest, and tallest, figures of jazz.

Long Tall Dexter by Stan Britt, Quartet Books, London, 1989

The quote above is taken from the inside cover to the book Long Tall Dexter by Stan Britt. I am currently part way way through its twelve chapters and have to say that I am enjoying it. I have been an admirer of Dexter’s playing for some time and enjoyed seeing him in the film Round Midnight (Directed by Bertrand Tavernier, 1986).

The book has an easy going, light but factual style about it. As one would expect there are references to numerous jazz players who had an impact on Dexter’s playing: Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong. Two players who were to have a significant impact in Dexter’s early days were Wardell Gray and Illinois Jacquet.

Illinois Jacquet I am familiar with but not so Wardell Gray and one of the real joys of this book for me so far is the introduction of players like these whom I now want to investigate further through their music. The chapter on Billy Eckstine has also encouraged me to re-evaluate him as a band leader rather than a crooner. Considering that I am only part way through the book I may end up having a list of a lot of music to listen to and people to read about further by time I get to the end.

This book is available online in paperback though I was fortunate enough to pick up a hardback copy in my local Oxfam Books & Music shop. What will be interesting at some stage is to compare this biography of Dexter Gordon to the recently released Sophisticated Giant By Maxine Gordon.