© - Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Gordon, another sideman on the [Clifford] Brown sessions for Pacific Jazz, also might have made a major impact
on West Coast jazz under different circumstances. A driving and creative
baritone saxophonist, Gordon had created a distinctive style that stood out
from the then predominant influence of Gerry Mulligan. Indeed, Gordon drew
mostly on influences outside the baritone tradition. When he was asked by
Leonard Feather, as part of the latter's research for his Encyclopedia of Jazz,
to cite his favorite musicians on his instrument, he mentioned session mates
Zoot Sims and Jack Montrose.
Louis June 11, 1928,
Gordon came to
in 1948 to study at the Los Angeles
of Music. In the early 19505 he participated in a series of successful
recordings as a sideman for various West Coast jazz luminaries, including Chet
Baker, Shelly Manne, Shorty Westlake College Rogers,
Red Norvo, Pete Rugolo, Bill Holman, and Maynard Ferguson. In May 1954, only a
few weeks before the sessions with Clifford Brown, Gordon recorded as a leader
for Pacific Jazz.
The resulting album, Meet Mr. Gordon, showed that the young baritonist was on the brink of emerging as a major voice in the
California jazz scene. A short while later Downbeat
awarded him its New Star Award on baritone sax. On August 28, 1955,
Gordon was killed in a car accident while driving to to appear in a concert with Pete Rugolo's
Ted Gioia, West Coast Jazz: Modern Jazz in , 1945-1960 California
“The accidental death of
Gordon, August 29, 1955, … left a huge void [on the
West Coast Jazz scene]. Gordon had from to study at St.
in Westlake College .
He started on alto sax because his first influence had been Charlie Parker. Hollywood
But after listening to Miles Davis Capitol [aka Birth of the Cool] sessions with Gerry Mulligan these led to his discovery of the baritone, sax.
In adopting the baritone he had the wisdom not to disavow what he loved: ‘I can still find new things in the old records of Parker. Zoot Sims is also very important to me.’
- Alain Tercinet, West Coast Jazz [translation from the French is mine]
Gordon was an inspiration to every jazz musician
or aspirant who ever heard him play or was, perhaps, fortunate enough to share
the bandstand with him; fortunate enough to partake of the fire that roared and
the sparks that flew and the proclamations of the gods that sounded when he put
his big horn to his lips and made the world abound with life and zest and
unbounded love. For the world was a better place to live in when he played and
perhaps this singular ability to make it so was in itself his greatest gift.
… The union of
Gordon and the baritone saxophone must have been
decreed in Heaven for never have I viewed such rapport between the natural
tendencies of a musical instrument and the mind of the man using it. I cannot
imagine Bob Gordon
using any other instrument-I mean any other instrument as a vehicle for
expressing himself. He was a true baritone player not a converted alto or tenor
or clarinet or what have you player: but a man who found that the low pitched,
earthy, funky sound inherent in the horn suited him.
For Bob too, was earthy and funky and natural and honest.
Gordon was more than just an inspiration—he was
my other half and together we formed a musical whole. Our partnership has not
ended, however, for his part is indelibly stamped upon my soul and the task is
mine to carry on. For we understood one another and agreed completely. I am
fortunate to have loved and been loved in return by one such as Bob
Gordon. I also realize that the companionship and
artistic rapport which we enjoyed were of such a nature as is not commonly
experienced. I am fortunate and a better man for having known and loved Bob
—Jack Montrose, tenor saxophonist , composer, and arranger
(original liner notes Pacific Jazz 10” LP #12)
Lately, the editorial staff has had the pleasure of working with
Gordon Jack who is the author of – Fifties Jazz Talk: An Oral Retrospective [ : Scarecrow Press, 2004]. Lanham, MD
It is a book which grows in importance as a primary reference for West Coast Jazz with each passing decade along with
Bob Gordon’s Jazz West Coast and the books on the subject by Ted Gioia and Alain Tercinet cited in the opening
Gordon writes regularly for Jazz Journal and he granted the editorial staff at JazzProfiles copyright permission to use the following essay on baritone saxophonist
Bob Gordon which first appeared in that publication.
These comments will also shed some light on why I subtitled this piece about Bob – “Baritone Blues.”
Order information regarding Jazz Journal is available at www.jazzjournal.co.uk/
Journal, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
ONES BOB GORDON By Gordon Jack.
Many baritone players gravitate to the instrument via the alto saxophone possibly because the transposition - one and half tones below concert pitch - is the same.
He was born in St .Louis,
on June 11th. 1928 and moved to Missouri 20 years later where he graduated from the
Westlake College of Music. After hearing Gerry Mulligan with the Miles Davis
nonet he bought a Los Angeles baritone and started sitting-in at clubs around town like the
Showtime on Conn Ventura Boulevard where trombonist Herbie Harper held court.
For the next three years he worked in and Los Angeles with Alvino Rey’s band which for a time
included Harper, Jerry Dodgion, Paul Desmond, Dick Collins and Herb Barman.
(Dodgion who played lead alto remembered Gordon as an “Excellent jazz baritone
player who also sang.”) San Francisco
For a few months early in1952 he and Jack Montrose were members of John Kirby’s final group, a sextet playing for dancers at the Five-Four Ballroom on 54th. and Broadway. Mulligan’s girl-friend Gail Madden worked as a photographer there and he used to sit-in with them every night when he came to pick her up. Montrose once told me, “Gerry had a great sound but Bob’s was even better.”
In the early part of 1953 Montrose was leading an experimental seven piece group which included Gordon, Herb Geller, Bill Perkins, Stu Williamson and a somewhat forgotten tenor player
Dave Madden who had worked with Woody Herman
and Harry James. (He and Gail Madden had previously been an ‘item’ although
they never married. Gail also had a long-term relationship with arranger Bob
Graettinger). They occasionally worked opposite Mulligan’s quartet at the Haig
and in December 1953 Dick Bock recorded Chet Baker with Jack’s group for
Pacific Jazz. The album has subsequently been reissued with five alternate
takes including additional Gordon solos on Bockhanal and A Dandy Line (Pacific
Jazz 7243 5 79972). 1953 was also the year he made a very brief appearance in
the film ‘The Glass Wall’ which had music by Leith Stevens and Shorty Rogers.
George Redman was the drummer with the Harry Zimmerman orchestra on the Dinah Shore TV show. He also had a very popular small group that played six nights a week in dance halls like The Summit and The Madelon on Sunset Strip. It was usually one horn plus rhythm and
Bob Gordon alternated with Bill Perkins or Bud Shank as the soloist. A fine
example of Redman’s work can be found on a 1954 album where he fronts a group
featuring Harper, Gordon, Maurey Dell and Don Prell (LHJ 10126). Pianist Maurey Dell will be unfamiliar to
many in a jazz context because he worked almost exclusively with singers and
comedians like George Burns. Bassist Don Prell eventually joined the symphony but Redman who was also a well
known pool shark mysteriously disappeared from the San Francisco Hollywood scene in the mid fifties.
In February 1954 Bob was part of an all-star group including Bud Shank, Bob Cooper and Maynard Ferguson that recorded two titles for the Emarcy label. It is an extrovert blowing session with Bob’s longest solos on record – Night Letter and Somebody Loves Me (
FSR CD 383). In an interview for Jazz Journal Shank told me that Bob Gordon was his closest personal friend and
whenever Bud recorded on baritone which was quite often in the fifties, his
sound and approach seemed to reflect Gordon’s. I find Shank’s baritone playing
more expressive and satisfying than his alto work at that time probably because
of Gordon’s influence.
Three months later he recorded the only album under his own name for Pacific Jazz – Meet Mr. Gordon (Pacific Jazz 7243 4 93161 2 6). Montrose arranged all the material and the rhythm section featured Joe Mondragon, Paul Moer and Bob’s friend from
, Billy Schneider on drums. The latter is an obscure figure
now but he had studied and worked with Lennie Tristano in St. Louis . One of many highlights here is Bob’s
tender statement on For Sue, a moving
ballad dedicated to his wife. New York
In July 1954 he was selected with Zoot Sims, Stu Williamson, Russ Freeman and Mondragon to record with the brilliant young trumpeter Clifford Brown (Pacific Jazz 5 32142 2 CD). Once again all the charts were written by Montrose who by this time was almost Dick Bock’s house arranger. Max Roach had been booked but he got into a money dispute with Bock, so master percussionist Shelly Manne took his place although this would not have gone down too well with Gordon. Apparently he did not care for Manne’s playing which sometimes led to arguments on record dates. Bob was a powerful and aggressive player and he preferred powerful and aggressive drummers like Philly Joe Jones and Art Mardigan. Someone else he did not get along with was Art Pepper who was unpopular with others too. Pepper and Joe Maini nearly came to blows once at an after-hours club on
Hollywood Boulevard where Bill Holman had the resident group.
By 1955 he was established as the first-call baritone player in
, benefiting from all the recording
activity created by the popularity of the new L.A. . Gerard J. Hoogeveen’s excellent 1987
discography lists 23 record dates for the year in what was a busy and
productive time as he performed with Pete Rugolo, Zoot Sims, Lennie Niehaus,
Duane Tatro, school of West Coast Jazz , Maynard Ferguson, Jack Millman, Don Fagerquist, June Christy, Tal
Farlow and Jack Montrose. It was also the year DownBeat recognised his immense talent when the magazine voted him
the ‘New Star’ on baritone. Dave Pell
He thrived whatever the context - extrovert blowing sessions with George Redman, Herbie Harper and Maynard Ferguson, dance albums with
’s octet and Dave Pell
especially in the interpretation of Jack Montrose’s complex charts with their academic but swinging explorations of fugues and canons. Given the opportunity his huge, ebullient and at all times soulful sound would have been particularly effective in the give-and-take of a Mingus ensemble.
On Sunday August 28th. 1955
killed in a traffic accident while on his way from to Hollywood for a Gene Norman concert featuring Pete
Rugolo’s orchestra, Nat King Cole and June Christy. At the funeral Jack
Montrose was told by Bob’s parents that his surname was actually Resnick
although jazz reference books make no mention of this and it is unclear why he
changed it. His widow wanted a band for the occasion so Jack Sheldon, Joe
Maini, Bob Enevoldsen and Montrose performed Jack’s arrangement of Gordon
Jenkins’s Good-Bye. Enevoldsen told
me that under the circumstances this was almost impossible to perform. Montrose
confirmed that he never missed anyone as much as he missed San Diego Bob Gordon.
The following year Leonard Feather commissioned a poll of leading musicians who were asked to nominate their favourite instrumentalists. The following voted for Bob in the ‘Baritone’ category - Georgie Auld, Al Cohn, Tal Farlow, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Bill Holman, Howard Roberts, Frank Rosolino, Pete Rugolo, Bill Russo, Bud Shank and Cal Tjader.
Another example of how highly
thought of by his fellow professionals can be found on the late Danny Bank’s
website. Bank was probably the most recorded baritone player in history with
over 400 sessions on Lord’s discography during a 53 year career. Danny included
him along with Harry Carney and Jack Washington in a long list of personal
favourites on the instrument.