Monday, July 4, 2022

Dexter Gordon "GO!" - The Blue Note Years - Part 4

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Listening to Gordon talk was not unlike hearing him play. His voice, like his sound on the saxophone, was warm, self-assured, deep, and resonant. He also had a way about him, a certain magnetism. One might call it charisma, although these days charisma is often manufactured, and Dexter's brand was natural and genuine. Perhaps one should simply say that he was a charmer. In any event, as he was talking the Vanguard's telephone rang, and since nobody on the club's staff was about, he answered it. "Village Vanguard. No, it's the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band tonight. On Tuesday, Dexter Gordon. Who's this? This is Dexter." There was a long stretch during which the party on the other end talked and Dexter listened, his grin growing wider and sunnier by the second. "Why thank you sweetheart," he finally said, as suavely as a king acknowledging the adoration of his minions. "Yes, we'll be here through Sunday."

On the bandstand, Gordon's royal savoir faire was even more evident. He was a striking-looking man, tall and handsome with a smile bright enough to light a room. He announced tunes in a mellow, liquid baritone, often quoting at length from the lyrics to a standard he was about to play. When he finished a solo, he acknowledged applause by holding his tenor saxophone out in front of his abdomen, parallel to the floor, as if he was sharing the adulation with it. But of course

Gordon's playing was the most aristocratic thing about him. His sound was huge and encompassing, from his booming lower register all the way up to a rich falsetto range. He was a master of harmonic subtleties and a master of timing. He was a prankster who enjoyed inserting little musical jokes-quotes from "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" or "Here Comes The Bride" into the most passionate improvisations. Above all, he was an architect of sound. His choruses have an ineluctable solidity to them. They are balanced and logical, classical, really, in the best sense of the word. The individual phrases are handsomely blocked out and warmly inflected, but ultimately the stories told by choruses and entire solos are even more impressive.

Gordon's music is rooted in the creative ferment of the mid-!940s, when modern jazz erupted onto the scene and brought the swing era to an end. … As early as 1945, when he began making records under his own name, he had his own style together. It was really the first saxophone style to synthesize the towering influences of Young and Parker, and as a style in its own right it influenced just about every musician who subsequently took up the tenor saxophone, not to mention players on other instruments. Among the saxophonists most heavily indebted to Gordon's breakthroughs were Sonny Rollins and, especially, John Coltrane.”

- Robert Palmer, insert notes Dexter Gordon: Homecoming - Live at The Village Vanguard [Columbia C2k 46824]

“In May 1961, Dexter Gordon visited New York for the first time in over twelve years. During the week he was here, he recorded two albums for Blue Note, Doin' Allright and Dexter Calling. These LPs, the main purpose of his visit, were warmly received by all segments of the jazz fraternity.

A year later, he again journeyed from California to New York, this time as a more permanent resident. I use the term "more permanent" because Gordon has not remained in New York constantly. It became a base of operations for playing excursions to Boston, Cape Cod and Rochester, and, at the end of August, his port of embarkation for England and continental Europe.

During the summer, Dexter did play a number of gigs in New York: a weekend at the Coronet; a Monday night at Birdland; an afternoon at the Jazz Gallery; a concert at Town Hall; and various one-nighters and one-afternooners. Everywhere he met with the same reaction — unbridled enthusiasm. He drew the kind of response that you know is not mere hand service. At the Jazz Gallery, I observed this in an audience that included many younger fans — kids who were not applauding him because he was the fabled Dexter Gordon of the past whom they were supposed to automatically revere. He reached them directly with the expansive emotion in his playing.

Love, warmth and sheer joy are all present in Gordon's sound and attack. It can be heard and felt in the tremendous drive of his uptempo work, the width and depth of his ballads, or anywhere in between. All these affirmative qualities are reiterated in this album. There is also evidence of change, harmonically, in the playing of a man who was known for his harmonic awareness back in the mid-Forties. This is the kind of record that has you starting again from side one, track one, immediately after you have played both sides in their entirety.

Dexter's astute choice of a fine rhythm section was not accidental. These three players worked with him several times during the summer of 1962.

Sonny Clark is a real pro. His accompaniment is alive but never intruding; his solos are articulated with a consistent clarity and contain personal, melodic ideas.

Butch Warren is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best young bassists on the New York scene. His lines swing along with no doubt as to the definition of the notes.

Billy Higgins doesn't beat the drums; he plays them like the musical instrument they collectively are, when in the right hands. His cymbal sound is exhilarating; his ear forever alert.

As a unit, Clark, Warren and Higgins have also been heard to advantage in Clark's Leapin' and Lopin' (BN 4091) and Jackie McLean's A Fickle Sonance (BN 4089).

Go' gets going with a piece of Cheese Cake, a minor-key pattern reminiscent of Topsy. Dexter soars like a condor over the Andes, with grandeur and great staying power. [It’s based on Tickle Toe, for many years the Lester Young feature with Count Basie’s Band.]

His strength is present on I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry, a seldom-done ballad he wisely revived, but it is strength with tenderness, carried by a beautiful, masculine sound that is neither Hawkins nor Young, but Gordon.

Jerry Valentine's Second Balcony Jump was in the libraries of both the Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine bands. Gordon was in the Eckstine band that played it, but it was Gene Ammons (not Gordon, as indicated in the liner notes on an EmArcy LP reissue) who took the solo on the original National recording. The construction of Dexter's first solo is marvelous and builds to a climax gradually. There's a semi-quote of Jimmy Heath's C.T.A. cleverly worked in. Then Clark plays a blithe, flowing solo before Dex comes back for a second, shorter, but again climactic summation that leads into part of Valentine's old arrangement and an abrupt ending.

The Latin backing for the melody statement of Love for Sale may not be exactly bossa nova, but the saxophone is certainly "boss" tenor. When the solos commence, the rhythm section shifts into 4/4. Dexter's playing is as broad-shouldered as he is; Sonny's piano is delicate, yet always on solid ground.

Where Are You is another lovely ballad that, fortunately, has not been played into the ground. That huge Gordon sound, once described by Michael James as "cavernous," is again matched by the emotional content of his playing.

The closer, Three O'clock in the Morning, may seem like a strange piece of material for a modern jazzman to play, but Don Byas and Slam Stewart recorded it in the Forties during 52nd Street's heyday. Dexter begins in a loping 2/4 that slides into 4/4. He injects wry humor with quotes from Five O'clock Whistle and Take Me Out to The Ball Game (at Three O'clock in the Morning?) while blowing forcefully all the time in a substantial medium groove.

Gordon is a great advertisement for live jazz. When he really starts "stretchin’ out" on a number, and his long, firmly anchored legs begin vibrating rapidly from side to side, the intense swing of his music has a natural visual counterpart. It's true that you cannot see him in this album but you can feel the impact of his personality as it is poured into his music.

This session was not recorded in a nightclub performance but, in its informal symmetry, it matches the relaxed atmosphere that the best of those made in that manner engender. Everyone was really together, in all the most positive meanings of that word. It was so good that Blue Note put these four men in the studio again, two days later. We'll be hearing that one in the near future.

Meanwhile, proceed directly to Go.! You won't collect $200.00, but you will get a monopoly of Melody Avenue, Swing Street and Inspiration Place.


Dan Morgenstern Sessions Notes from the Boxed Set Booklet -

(F) AUGUST 27,1962

“Dexter had recorded with Butch Warren and Billy Higgins on the May 28 Herbie Hancock session — his only sideman date for Blue Note — and definitely liked what transpired. The two also worked hand-in-glove with Sonny Clark, and the result was some joyous music making. 

Butch (real first name Edward) Warren was born in Washington, D.C. in 1939. By the time he was 14, he was playing in his father's band, and soon with other leaders, including Stuff Smith and the Gene Ammons-Sonny Stitt team. He came to New York in 1958 with Kenny Dorham and quickly became a Blue Note favorite, recording with an array of the label's leaders: Dorham, Jackie McLean, Donald Byrd, Hancock, Joe Henderson, Clark, Grant Green, etc. In 1962, he toured in Europe with Slide Hampton, and in 1963 he joined Thelonious Monk, visiting Europe again and also Japan. But health problems caused him to return to his hometown, where he's been only sporadically active. 

Billy Higgins, born in Los Angeles in 1936 into a musical family, was playing with R&B bands at 12, and a bit later on in a group led by his contemporary, Don Cherry. Before long he'd worked with such players as James Clay, Carl Perkins, Walter Benton, Slim Gaillard and Dexter Gordon. In 1957, he joined Red Mitchell's quartet and not much later, with Cherry, became involved with Ornette Coleman, with whom he recorded and came to New York. By 1962, his credits included Monk, Coltrane, and Sonny Rollins.”

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