Alon Marcus

Dexter Gordon

388 posts in this topic

Because the thread is about Dexter Gordon? See also Paul Chambers thread, Miles Davis Thread, myriad of Coltrane threads, usw. Nonetheless, I wouldn't say he's being "singled out" for it--the thread is about his playing, and folks are arguing (in some cases, somewhat compellingly) that they can hear it in his playing.

Strongly disagree with your sweeping generalization, by the way.

Why is Dex being singled out for his addiction(s)? Other then Cliff Brown, all the greats were junkies.

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Other then Cliff Brown, all the greats were junkies.

With respect to Dex, I have a tenor playing friend, who's playing I like, who HATES Dexter Gordon's tone. Won't even discuss it with me and he and I generally have pretty similar taste. I think that the fact that people tend to come down strongly on one side or the other is attributable to a unique style. Stand out as an individual and be prepared to be loved and hated. But that's art, right?

I don't see how one can absolutely "hate" Dexter's tone inasmuch as it changed throughout his career. His sound during the '40s through the '60s is, to my ears, very different from that he manifested in his late Steeplechase & Columbia recordings of the late' 70s to the early '80s. The earlier sound was more taut and muscular, while the later sound could be quite turgid at times. Needless to say, I reserve the highest rank for the Blue Notes and the sessions he recorded for various labels during the late '60s.

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Other then Cliff Brown, all the greats were junkies.

With respect to Dex, I have a tenor playing friend, who's playing I like, who HATES Dexter Gordon's tone. Won't even discuss it with me and he and I generally have pretty similar taste. I think that the fact that people tend to come down strongly on one side or the other is attributable to a unique style. Stand out as an individual and be prepared to be loved and hated. But that's art, right?

I don't see how one can absolutely "hate" Dexter's tone inasmuch as it changed throughout his career. His sound during the '40s through the '60s is, to my ears, very different from that he manifested in his late Steeplechase & Columbia recordings of the late' 70s to the early '80s. The earlier sound was more taut and muscular, while the later sound could be quite turgid at times. Needless to say, I reserve the highest rank for the Blue Notes and the sessions he recorded for various labels during the late '60s.

Yeah, I'm admittedly only really familiar to the Dex of the 60's. As for my friend, I'm convinced that he doesn't hate Dex's tone, but only thinks he does and as soon as I can organize the proper intervention and indoctrination, I'll get him some edumacation.

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Of all the great recordings he made, my favorite Dexter solo is on, of all things, Herbie Hancock's first Blue Note session, TAKIN' OFF. Specifically, I'm referring to Dexter's extended, cohesive and moving solo on "The Maze". I don't know how any jazz saxophone lover can listen to that solo and 1) not dig it &/or 2) think it's just the work of an "average" saxophonist.

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It's tough for me to listen to Dexter's playing from after about '74 or so, as the physical decline was becoming so apparent.

Before that, he's one of my giants.

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Nothing but love for LTD here.

Which is not to say that he was a "perfect" musician. Far from it. When his inspiration was lagging for whatever reason, he could be somewhat tedious, falling back on his stock phrases and quotes, and sometimes just falling, period. (Although, in his later years, his playing so far behind the beat as to be able to sneak up on it from behind and bite it in the ass is one of the more mind-boggling defiances of the laws of physics of the 20th century...)

But geez, when he was on, what a spirit he had, and what a spirit he projected. And that's what draws me into his world, his spirit. It's a spirit that's all about feeling good (by any means necessary) and letting the good times roll, what with that bigass sound (one of the biggest ever, actually, and equally big all over the horn - any tenor player who is turned off by that might want to check themselves for "feelings of inadequacy", if you get my drift...) and that irresistable rhythmic momentum of his. But this "feel goodness" was never naive - Dex was a very direct player emotionally, not a lot of emotional ambiguity in his playing, to be sure, but his directness was always delivered with a harmonic hipness and general "knowingness" that belied no little personal and musical sophistication. Not for nothing was he such an influence on so many. The cat knew his shit, and his shit was hip.

In fact, to me Dexter is the very embodiment of hipness. Now, in some circles, it's no longer hip to be hip, because hipness requires both the cynicism of recognizing that reality is pretty much fucked and the internal joy & optimism to not let it get in the way of your enjoying life anyway. And that's a pretty tall order these days, it seems, being able to groove in spite of all the bullshit. Cynicism has become the driving force, and the source of the joy itself, not the irritant that produces the joy as a reaction. It's easier to despair, or mock, or both. Or so it too often seems to me. But I'm an old-fashioned guy, I suppose, and the old school notions of hip still work for me. Put me down as somebody for whom it's the only way to make it through the day, and put me down as somebody who is deeply, profoundly, and fundamentally inspired by Dexter at his best. As for Dexter at his not-so-best, oh well. Nobody bats 1.000, and nobody never strikes out.

As for the substance use/abuse, hey - it's a fine line between use and abuse, and again, nobody bats 1.000, and nobody never strikes out. If you live through it, you can draw your own conclusions. If you don't live through it, them's the breaks. And if you never go there at all, you haven't a clue one way or the other. "Nuff said.

Nothing but love for LTD here.

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It's tough for me to listen to Dexter's playing from after about '74 or so, as the physical decline was becoming so apparent.

Before that, he's one of my giants.

Listen to "Swiss Nights, Vol. 1" (Steeplechase), recorded live 8/23/75. Listen to him kick off the concert with a "Tenor Madness" BLAM! going 120 miles an hour. Guaranteed to bring bliss.

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Jim: There is no hipper solo than the one Dexter plays on Cheese Cake.

Allen: for a more, let's say, less laid back/"drugged" Dexter, I reccomend his playing on

The Jumpin' Blues

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and The Panther.

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Then there are these burning sets with Jackie McLean:

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There is nobody nodding out on these!

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I will add that Dexter does represent an extremely important school of tenor player - the guy who bridges the swing and bebop eras- one of quite a few significant historical figures - thinking Jacquet, Ammons, my old friend Percy France, Arnett Cobb, and many more, fascinating for their grasp of different approaches and feeling (like adding Hawk+Bird+Pres=Byas). But Dexter is for me the least compelling of all of these, though he was in the first generation. Even on those early Savoys, I listen and keep wondering when he is going to break loose, to show more than just (to paraphrase Jim) a hip grasp of key phraseology and rhythm - because Jim is essentially right and gets at what is, for me, the key to both Dexter's appeal and to his failure - he has the hip surface, and he gets beyond that surface with a deeper understanding than just hipster glibness - but never gets deep enough. And I honestly think the drugs had something to do with it, though I could not prove this in a court of law - after all it is possible that what I see as an essential shallowness and glibness may just have been Dexter. Or maybe not -

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Hmmm, I logged on to repost my impression of a side to side listen through One Flight Up, but Allen's post caught my attention. Hmmm... Well put, but I feel just as strongly that there is massive substance to this man's playing.

I just listened back through Up a Flight and it had the effect on me that it did the first time and the last time I listened to it. It's nothing short of great. It appears to be his modal album or at least parts of it are. I think there is a lot of substance in what he's playing and what the other musicians on the date are playing. Much happier with the rhythm section than I was on Dexter Calling. NHOP is fabulous.

I don't know. I don't know. It's odd that we can listen to the same thing and come away with such strong but opposing feelings. No doubt that he didn't go in for the acrobatics of middle Coltrane or some of the sonic tricks that Joe Henderson did in one period, but I think that he sincerely and convincingly told his story for several decades. You're right that he does have in many ways more to do with Ben Webster than Charile Parker and I think that is what distinguished him from say Sonny Rollins, but he wasn't stuck in the past. He wasn't afraid to play long tones, leave space and had an affection for ballads. I do see the influence of his personality in his playing (in as much as I have gatehred about his personality) and maybe his personality was substance inspired, but I don't see that as a limitation in his playing. I think he played beautifully.

I have noticed that for me, Dex is someone I get deeper into by listening to an album rather than a track. It takes me a bit, I guess to get reconnected to him, but then I'm in. Very suductive playing.

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he has the hip surface, and he gets beyond that surface with a deeper understanding than just hipster glibness - but never gets deep enough.

The depths are usually there in Dexter's playing. But the glimpses of them can be fleeting, sometime just a part of a phrase. But what a phrase!

Remember what Larry Kart wrote about multiple points of perspective in a Rollins solo? I hear some of that in the best Dexter too.

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what is, for me, the key to both Dexter's appeal and to his failure - he has the hip surface, and he gets beyond that surface with a deeper understanding than just hipster glibness - but never gets deep enough.

Well, how deep is "deep enough"? To me, Dexter grasped the essence, perhaps even embodied it, and I don't know that you can get any deeper than that. More elaborate, yes, but deeper? I don't know...

Sometimes we spend our time looking for something that's already there, only we can't see it because it's not where/what/how we think it's going to be. To this end, I don't think that you could ask any more out of Dexter's playing than what you get, because, at his best, he had it all, and he was just so damn direct and natural with it all. No struggle, no sense of "quest", no nothing except just extremely hip tenor playing and enormous charisma, both musically and personally.

He was indeed a "natural", if we can use that word w/o having it imply that there was no work done offstage to master the craft. I've transcribed enough of his stuff to know that the inner workings of it are quite sophisticated w/o being "complex", and to me, that signifies refinement, not glibness. Again, a grasping, perhaps intuitive, of the essence.

Now, of course, Dexter was nothing if not slick (hipness, true hipness, reqquires one to be slick, otherwise,what's the point?), but never do I get the impression that this guy was fronting. No, if anything, I'm always left with the impression that he knew more than he told, and that he found a way to signify this deeper knowledge by implication, not through ostentation. A very "non-verbal" form of communication, if you will, a way to be at once totally direct yet layered with nuance that is intuitively felt more that intellectually "known".

Personally, I think that's pretty damn cool. And deep. But I understand that mileages may vary on this. All I can say is that one marginalizes the depth of Dexter Gordon at the risk of missing the point of his whole trip. Whether or not that trip is one that one finds personally appealing or not is one thing, but denying it altogether is something else. Proceed with caution!

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Let me hasten to add that yes, I do find much of Dex's playing to be "glib", although I'd not extrapolate that into "superficiality". Part of Dexter's trip was indeed being a party-er, and there were definitely times when it seems that he felt that creating the party was enough.

And frankly, when you're that damn hip, I'm not so sure that sometimes it isn't.

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Ya' know, I always get the impression that Dexter was one of those guys who could instantly surmise any given situation in terms of what it was, what it could or could not become with who all was involved and BAM - figure out how he could make it work to his advantage. Most folks would go along and try to figure it out along the way, getting it right sometimes and wrong others, but Dexter seemed like he knew in advance what the outcome of any given scenario could be if he worked it right, so why waste time, why not just cut to the chase and let the good times roll? My guess that this is the POV that informed both his music and his personal life, and maybe that's what some hear as "glib"? Could be, but, again, it seems to me that it's an intuitive grasp of the essence, and a welcoming embrace of that intuitiveness. Hipness.

Except for when he guessed wrong in California and spent all that time in the pen. That was not very hip...

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Any MF who can weave "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" into a solo so that it makes PERFECT sense is allright with me.

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Thanks a lot for the various opinions expressed in the thread. Personally, I like LTD very much and have been listening to his stuff lately.

1. His contribution as the man who put bebop on tenor was not mentioned. Maybe Allen could bring names of lesser known tenorists, who contributed not less than him, but still, his role in the bebop revolution can't be underestimated.

2. What about his influence on Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and the backward influence they had on him?

3. His early recordings, from the 40s. I think that he played quite differently. You can almost mistake him with Lester Young. What about his collaborations with Wardell Grey, and his many other tenor battles. The early years with Lionel Hampton and Earl Hines?

4. I can't understand the thing about "hearing the drugs in his playing". How can you tell he was using drugs before each and every session? Why it doesn't bother you with Charlie Parker, Chet Baker or Miles?

5. I like his Blue Note records most of all. Also have warm feelings to "Homecoming" with Woody Shaw.

6. He is playing a lot behind the beat. This is one of the most amazing things in his playing and I believe that's what creates his swing and gives people pleasure in listening to him. As Barak (White Lightening) told me once, his tendency to play behind the beat grew and became more sophisticated as the years passed.

7. For some reason I prefer hearing him in a quintet with a trumpet player.

8. I like his sound and think he was great with sound dynamics while singing his phrases. His sound thickened with the years.

9. He quotes often, bit I like it. Maybe he could quote less "Mona Lisa" in his 70s and 80s recordings.

10. Maybe I could agree with Allen about his "behind the beat playing" as coming from technical limitations or even drug use. But I don't think it's bad. Usually if one can make his weakness a source of power he is a good jazz player, or a woman.

Edited by Alon Marcus

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Nothing on records with Dex compares to Dex live in "Jazzhus Montmartre", where I've heard him

at least 200 times, with either Kenny Drew or Tete Monteliu on piano, always NHOP on bass, and

either Alex Riel, Art Taylor or Tootie Heath on drums. Sometimes there also were jamsessions with visiting

guys on tour, I remember one especially with Dex, Don Byas and Paul Gonsalves, the room was on

"fire". Jazzhus Montmartre was not a big place, when the house was packed it could seat maybe

75 people. When Dex really was going, for maybe 15 choruses, he bend down in his knees

and moving his legs :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes: from side to side, complety absorbed into the music. He was also a very

witty announcer of the tunes and bandmembers. I got to know him well, and we became friends,

not close friends though. He was a guest at my first wedding in 1963, and we have been together

at many private parties, where he usually got pretty drunk or high on other substances than alcohol,

but always nice. I could tell many stories about Dex or "Ben Gordonsen from Valby" as he sometimes

announced himself as (Valby is a suburb in Copenhagen, where he had a little house).

Vic

I remember the nights at Jazzhus Montmartre in the late sixties/early seventies. We used to travel from Oslo to Copenhagen in the summers to listen to jazz, first at Montmartre, after that the La Fontaine, before retiring to a hotel after a hearty Danish breakfast complete with aquavita. Montmartre was also the first place I had Chinese springrolls (forårsruller). I remember Bent Jädig, a heap of others, and Dex, Dex, Dex. His swinging legs were sort of a trademark. His tenor battles with Sonny Stitt at the Molde Jazz Festival in the mid sixties are legendary. Unfortunately I was a little too young to go there and experience it. My favorite Dexter period is the Blue Note years. Go and a Swingin' Affair will remain my favorites, and the seven or eight CD box Dexter in Radioland on Steeple Chase, which I believe was a Japanese project. This is really Dexter at hius peak. With Tete Montoliu they are some killer CDs. And there are heaps of Dexter shows floating arounbd that is well worth listening to.

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Alon - you're missing my point vis a ve drugs and performance - I don't care who uses what before or after what or when; I was only pointing out that, in Dexter's case, it feels to me as though his drug use impacted his playing in a very specific way, and that the resulting impairment may have caused him to work toward a certain level of concentration. This level, for me, is not enough. Clearly other people here hear different things than I hear in his music. That's fine with me. I do, however, differ with Jim about Dexter's hipness quotient. True Hipster he may have been, but his limitations were also those of the hipster - glibness, a lot of shiny surface, hints (but only hints) of profundity and, ultimately, a wall of cliche - that, at least, is what I hear. And though I do understand why and how others may appreciate his playing, I just do not. And I have tried for about 30 years -

Edited by AllenLowe

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I will add that Dexter does represent an extremely important school of tenor player - the guy who bridges the swing and bebop eras- one of quite a few significant historical figures - thinking Jacquet, Ammons, my old friend Percy France, Arnett Cobb, and many more, fascinating for their grasp of different approaches and feeling (like adding Hawk+Bird+Pres=Byas). But Dexter is for me the least compelling of all of these, though he was in the first generation. Even on those early Savoys, I listen and keep wondering when he is going to break loose, to show more than just (to paraphrase Jim) a hip grasp of key phraseology and rhythm - because Jim is essentially right and gets at what is, for me, the key to both Dexter's appeal and to his failure - he has the hip surface, and he gets beyond that surface with a deeper understanding than just hipster glibness - but never gets deep enough. And I honestly think the drugs had something to do with it, though I could not prove this in a court of law - after all it is possible that what I see as an essential shallowness and glibness may just have been Dexter. Or maybe not -

There are some people I just don't understand. I knew Dexter, stayed with him occasionally while in Copenhagen, and he was no surface hipster, he was the real thing.

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"he was no surface hipster" -

this I see as something of a contradiction - as I believe the hipster to be, ultimately, lacking in depth -

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I will add that Dexter does represent an extremely important school of tenor player - the guy who bridges the swing and bebop eras- one of quite a few significant historical figures - thinking Jacquet, Ammons, my old friend Percy France, Arnett Cobb, and many more, fascinating for their grasp of different approaches and feeling (like adding Hawk+Bird+Pres=Byas). But Dexter is for me the least compelling of all of these, though he was in the first generation. Even on those early Savoys, I listen and keep wondering when he is going to break loose, to show more than just (to paraphrase Jim) a hip grasp of key phraseology and rhythm - because Jim is essentially right and gets at what is, for me, the key to both Dexter's appeal and to his failure - he has the hip surface, and he gets beyond that surface with a deeper understanding than just hipster glibness - but never gets deep enough. And I honestly think the drugs had something to do with it, though I could not prove this in a court of law - after all it is possible that what I see as an essential shallowness and glibness may just have been Dexter. Or maybe not -

Is it common for you too ask others for recordings you want to release and then keeping them when you decide against it? I am thinking of the Norwegian Bud Powell broadcast I sent you as a DAT tape years ago.

Carl-Bernhard

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yes Carl, I have bootlegged it and sold it in every schoolyard in town -

Edited by AllenLowe

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"he was no surface hipster" -

this I see as something of a contradiction - as I believe the hipster to be, ultimately, lacking in depth -

I believe you mean redundancy.

But neverthenonetheless...

This "depth" you keep refering to, what is it? Is it a journey to find what is already, for some, intuitively known? If it is, then I say more power to the hip! We waste too much time looking for stuff that's already there. And when we find it, what do we do with it? Hold it up like it's some kind of trophy? "Hey, look what I found!" Well, good, you looked at the ground long and hard and finally discovered your feet! Now is it time to begin walking and running? Better get busy, some poor fools have been doing that w/o ever having made that discovery. Better find them and shame them for not knowing what they do!

Of course, I oversimplify. And yes, I loathe the faux-hip. But hipness, true hipness, is definitely real, and hipness is beautiful. Lester Young was hip. Louis Armstrong was hip. And Dexter Gordon was hip. The "depth" comes not from their "intellectualality", it comes from their spirit, from how they found the beauty in life, in all of life, even the dark stuff. That is definitely deep afaic.

Now sure, Dexter was often highly medicated, and sure, sometimes, often even, his level of medication left him running on autopilot. There's more than a few recorded examples of that. Dexter Blows Hot And Cool is one of the most depressing sides I've ever heard (and the cover photo ain't no bouquet of roses either...), and the Newport 72 Jam Session ranks a close second (seldom have I heard such empty rambling at such great length from such a major talent). Dexter was not someone to let not being particularly frisky keep him from running the marathon, if you know what I mean.

But oh well. You got the Dial sides, you got Go, you got Our Man In Paris, you got The Chase, you got the Black Lion sides, you got the Steeplechase studio sides, you got a legacy of beautiful, beautiful ballads from all eras. At some point you gotta ask yourself, was this a cat who was at root a blowhard who occasionally got lucky, or was this a cat who really had it going on and too often partied too hard for his own good? Based on the evidence, and the comparing the strength of the good/great stuff to the emptiness of the bad, I gotta with the latter. When it's good, it's too damn good to be a fluke, and when it's bad, it's not because it's at root bad, it's just because it ain't firing on all cylinders (no doubt due to over-loadedness). We should all have such a problem.

Of course, mileages can and do vary on that, and ok. I'm just at the point in life, though, that hearing joy, heavy joy, not simple "fun, but deep, from the bowels of the soul joy being dismissed as shallow or some such raises a red flag or two for me. There ain't enough of it to be had these days, and I don't see that as progress, much less as a positive.

At its best, life is a dance. At it's worst, life tries to take your dance away from you. Dexter was always dancing. Even when he wobbled and stumbled, it was because he was too high to dance, not because he didn't have the dance in him anymore. He always had the dance in him.

I gotta love that.

Edited by JSngry

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Jim, I have to agree with your point of view here. There are those who play at being hip, and there are those who just are hip. Dexter was certainly among the latter. But the issue of hipness is irrelevant. For me, Dexter is one of the great individual voices in jazz, one of the first major jazz musicians I was lucky to see in person when I was 19, and a musician who I have loved and admired for over 40 years. Whenever Steeplechase comes out with yet another live recording or broadcast, I'm there, I so love Dexter. If Allen doesn't hear it, and I've had many conversations with Allen about a wide variety of music over the years, and I respect his opinion, so be it. Nothing he says is gonna convince me of anything - Dexter has been my "friend" for a long long time!

Jim accurately points out a handful of lesser performances in the Dexter discography, but man, these are so few among hundreds of masterpieces that Dexter has given us. I love his musical demeanor - laid back, laconic, playful, but underneath he conveys tremendous passion to me. How can anybody not be moved by a performance like "I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out To Dry" (from Go)?

A problem I have with these kinds of discussions is that sometimes too much is said - I just sit back bemused that people feel a need to debate what many of us consider to be the truth, and while I follow these discussions, I rarely feel the need to join in. I hadda chime in here - Dexter is "my main man"!

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This is what I love about this place. What could've just been everybody listing their fav Dex, 'not that there's anything wrong with that', has turned into something way more interesting. In principle I agree with Allen, I'm in general highly suspicious of 'hipness' as an attitude/culture/whatever. But in practice I agree with Jim 'cause I just love Dexter's playing, at least when he's on, although I am willing to admit that he wasn't always on and one of the reasons was probably substance use (including alcohol, something I gots my own issues with) and the attitudes surrounding said use. In particular Our Man in Paris seems swaggeringly in control but "Day in the Life of My Tool" sounds just not quite together to me.

Edited by danasgoodstuff

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