Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Dexter Gordon "One Flight Up" - The Blue Note Years Part 7

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

“Whether or not he was given credit, Dexter Gordon is the man who wove an important piece into the great tapestry of the modern tenor saxophone style. Time, which has given proof of his importance, happily has not robbed him of his talents. His most recent work only enhances his position as a jazz master.”

- Ira Gitler, Jazz Masters of the 40s

Recorded on June 2, 1964 at the CBS Studios in Paris and released the following year, One Flight Up is the last of the recordings released by Blue Note during the five year association with Dexter which began in 1961.

As with its European predecessor Our Man in Paris, this one also finds Francis Wolff. Alfred Lion’s partner at Blue Note, stepping out from his usual role behind the scenes to assume the duties of producer.

At the time of its release, Dexter had settled into his ex-patriate status in Europe with Copenhagen as his base and an almost artist-in-residence status at the city’s primary Jazz club - The Montmartre

Dexter elaborates further about the importance of both Denmark and the club, which featured Jazz from 1959-1976, in the following insert notes to One Flight Up by the distinguished Jazz author and critic, Leonard Feather.

As is the case here, often with Leonard the reader gets treated to an explanation of how the music is constructed in terms of keys, time signatures, chord progressions, modulations and the like, all of which serves to enhance the listener’s awareness and pleasure. 

“In July 1964 an informal and mutually stimulating discussion by Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew and two other expatriate jazzmen was published in Down Beat. The subject was "American in Europe." Perhaps the most significant remark in the entire round-table talk was made by Dexter. "Since I've been over here," he said, "I felt that I could breathe, and just be more or less a human being, without being white or black...I think the Scandinavian audiences are very discerning. In fact, my biggest experience in communicating with audiences has been here in Copenhagen.. .The audience here is very 'inside.' This is their capacity."

The intelligent interest shown by their listeners, and the almost total lack of racial prejudice, are not the only factors that have lured so many American musicians to the Continent and kept them there in recent years. An equally vital attraction is the opportunity to work steadily in a single job without having to shift around constantly from club to club or city to city every other week.

"I have played for months on end at the Montmartre in Copenhagen," said Dexter recently. "That's been more or less my headquarters ever since I moved over here in 1962. Now I've never in my life played three or four months continuously at a place in the U.S. The opportunity to work regularly in the same spot gives you the kind of feeling you need to stretch out, relax, and at the same time develop musically without having those job-to-job worries hanging over your head."

Kenny Drew had some similar observations to make along these lines, in the Down Beat report. Asked what he had gotten out of living and playing in Europe, he replied, "In a way, I've found myself, because I've had to be more responsible to myself and for myself … I'm my own man. I've been taking care of business myself — something I never did in the States … Musically, I've found myself by working so long and so much. I can

think more, act more, be more, I guess. My mind is functioning properly now."

Obviously, conditions and reactions like these must be reflected in the music. Dexter's first overseas album, Our Man in Paris (Blue Note 4146), made it apparent that his residence abroad would stimulate him to a consistently high performance level, and that there would be no danger of his stagnating in the new milieu.

Though Copenhagen has been Dex's home for the past couple of years, the other European capitals are of course within easy reach and he has made several field trips, including a couple to Paris. It was here that Francis Wolff of Blue Note arranged for him to assemble an all-star group for the present sides.

Kenny Drew left his native land for Paris in June of 1960 to play with The Connection. Though only set for six weeks work with the play, he says: "I actually knew I wasn't going back under any circumstances." He has lived and worked in Paris since then.

Donald Byrd and Art Taylor spent the last half of 1958 touring the Continent with the late Bobby Jaspar. Byrd returned to Paris in 1963 to study with Nadia Boulanger, but came home in the summer of 1964 to teach at Ken Morris' Summer Jazz Clinics. Taylor, after working around New York with various groups, left for Paris, Rome and other points East in the early fall of 1963.

This leaves one member of the present group unaccounted for: the gentleman with the double-barreled name, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen.

"This is a remarkable example," says Dexter, "of the kind of talent that's coming up now on the Continent. He's only 18 years old, but I believe he's the very best bass player in all of Europe. Kenny and I worked with him in Copenhagen, and of course I just had to bring him to Paris to make this session with us."

Orsted (he is usually known by this name) was only 17 when Count Basie heard him and promptly offered him a job. Because of problems that arose concerning his tender age, the young Dane never came to the U.S., but the fact that men like Dex and Basie have flipped over him would seem to indicate that if and when he does decide to make the hop, there will be limitless opportunities for him. As these sides show, he has everything required of a bass player nowadays — a great sound, suppleness, ideas and a firm beat.

Given this unusual concentration of talent, it is not surprising that the five musicians were compatible and eloquent enough to stretch out extensively, so that the Donald Byrd composition Tanya runs to 18 minutes and occupies the entire first side [of the LP].

What is remarkable about this track is not its length, but rather the consistency of performance that is maintained throughout; it is evident that each soloist felt free to blow until he had completed his thoughts, or sustained the mood for what he felt was just the right duration.

There are two simple thematic patterns. The first is based on a hauntingly declamatory E Flat Minor7 figure:

This figure is retained, with variations, as Kenny Drew uses it for introduction, interludes and backgrounds, off and on throughout the side.

Dexter's solo, while displaying all his expected warmth and strength, is most notable for its conservative yet imaginative use of spare melodic lines, sometimes even of single notes bent downward in a spellbinding lament. A less mature artist might have used this time to build up to endless flurries of sixteenth notes; yet at the end of his performance the feeling is the same — rhythmically, melodically and technically — as when he began, which gives the solo an extraordinary consistency. Donald maintains the same spirit in his own work; then Kenny, in a harmonically rich contribution, shows the extent to which he has absorbed the new modal feeling that has been invading so much of the modern jazz scene.

Coppin' The Haven, a Kenny Drew line, is a 32-bar minor theme played in unison by the two horns. Though somewhat shorter and taken at a slightly faster tempo, it has some of the same qualities as Tanya in terms of mood-building. Kenny's touch and sound, both in the comping and during his admirable solo, indicate that he has indeed developed impressively under conditions nourished by steady work in happy company. The entire rhythm section, in fact, distinguishes itself on this track, and the great clarity and separation enables one to hear exactly what each member is doing to instill a maximum of variety into the performance.

Darn That Dream is a quartet track; in other words, a ballad solo by Dexter. The 25-year-old song, its pretty changes untarnished by time, makes as suitable a vehicle for his slow, rhapsodic style as did You've Changed, a highlight of an earlier album (Doin' Allright, Blue Note 4077). Kenny's half-chorus offers a simply beautiful example of how to keep a solo moving without ever losing the lyrical essence of the theme.

I don't know whether there was any special significance in the title of this album, other than whatever can be deduced from the cover photo (could it be that that's Tanya's pad up there?). Anyhow, it could aptly be interpreted as meaning that the participants have moved one flight up in creativity, that their flights of fancy are freer than ever under Paris skies. Here are four men who have spent a substantial proportion of their time lately learning the ins and outs of French, Danish and other languages; with them is a teen-aged musical prodigy who has spoken Danish all his life. Together, the five offer a splendid demonstration of how to speak the international language of jazz.”


Kong Neptune, which is included in the boxed set and the CD reissue, an eleven minute original composition by Dexter does not appear on the LP configuration and is therefore not referenced in Leonard’s notes.

Dan Morgenstern Sessions Notes from the Boxed Set Booklet -

(I) JUNE 2,1964

Back in Paris, a year or so later, and with some new faces in the cast. Trumpeter Donald Byrd, born in Detroit in 1932, had thorough musical training at Cass Tech High, Wayne University, and the Manhattan School of Music, and did considerable gigging from his teens on, also playing in Army bands. In 1955, he broke through in George Wellington's group at New York's Cafe Bohemia, and later that year he replaced Kenny Dorham in Art Blakey's Messengers; he also worked with Max Roach and co-led the Jazz Lab group with Gigi Gryce, aside from an astonishing amount of recording activity and frequent European touring. In 1963, he studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris.

Bassist Niels-Henning 0rsted Pedersen had just turned 18 the week before this session, but already had a few years in the major jazz leagues under his belt. In his native Denmark, he played piano as a child and picked up bass in his early teens; by 1962, he was in the house band at the Montmartre, Copenhagen's leading jazz club, where he backed visiting greats, including Dexter. He'd regretfully turned down an offer from Count Basie, and had played with both Kenny Drew and Arthur Taylor. The drummer, born in New York in 1929, had been a resident of Europe since 1958, living in France and Belgium He'd grown up with Sonny Rollins and Jackie McLean and Drew, made his debut with Howard McGhee in 1950, and worked with a who's who of jazz, including Coleman Hawkins, Buddy DeFranco, George Wellington and the Byrd-Gryce Jazz Lab. A.T., as he was known to friends, returned to New York in 1984 and died in 1995. His book of interviews, Notes And Tones, first published in 1979, has become a classic.

COPPIN' THE HAVEN, by Kenny Drew, is a 32-bar minor theme presented by the horns in unison, with a 1960's Blue Note sound. (After having presented Dexter in a classic be-bop quartet setting, the label undoubtedly wanted to show him in a more "contemporary" context, and this is a modish as well as modal session.) Dexter solos against a shifting rhythmic backdrop, with his customary direct and TANYA, a Byrd original, has an interesting structure, rooted in a repeated minor figure that creates a kind of hypnotic effect, relieved by passages in 4/4. After the long ensemble opening, Dexter starts mournfully, creating interest by varying his phrase-lengths and managing to sustain tension, backed by Taylor's sharp accents and NH0P's big-toned solidity. Byrd, on open horn, solos well at first, but seems to run out of steam. Drew makes intriguing use of the "vamp" pattern, well supported by the bass, which surfaces in the ensemble ending. At more than eighteen minutes, this performance is the longest in Dexter's Blue Note output, but he returned to "Tanya" some twelve years later and it became a staple in his post-homecoming repertory; one Village Vanguard performance captured on tape runs nine minutes longer.

KONG NEPTUNE (the title is most often given as "King Neptune," but Dexter insisted to Michael Cuscuna that he meant it to be "Kong") picks up the tempo quite a bit; it's a 32-bar Dexter original and Byrd lays out. Dexter digs in, serving up a string of choruses with unflagging energy and drive — he was a master at this kind of groove. Drew and Pedersen solo, then Taylor trades eights and fours with Dexter before the neat arranged ending.

DARN THAT DREAM, a Jimmy Van Heusen tune introduced by Louis Armstrong and Maxine Sullivan in the ill-fated musical "Swinging The Dream" (it ran for just 13 performances at Radio City Music Hall in 1939, despite a cast that also included the Benny Goodman sextet and other luminaries, and Satchmo never played or sang the song again) is given royal treatment by Dexter. He starts gently in the middle register, his pensive and soulful phrasing close to the melody, but with telling touches, and moves up in range for the second chorus, bit by bit, with that beautiful sound. An apt quote (from "Polka Dots And Moonbeams," another Van Heusen tune) opens the bridge, and Dex goes way up high before handing off to Drew, who's choice of double-timing makes sense here, the piano not having the sonic weight of Dexter's tenor. Pedersen's fat sound and well-chosen notes again stand out behind him. Dexter's concluding 16 bars and cadenza are yet another example of his balladic mastery and maturity.”


  1. Every time I listen to One Flight Up I think "Man, this still sounds so fresh, so many years later." It's a confident, relaxed, inventive set, a first-class effort for every musician involved. Highly recommended.

  2. Listening today on the centennial of Dexter's birth. The recording is fresh as ever. What a wonderful album with a fabulous collection of artists.


Please leave your comments here. Thank you.