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Dexter Gordon: A Musical Biography

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Dexter Gordon: A Musical Biography by Stan Britt
Da Capo Press (New York, 1989)

Although there's plenty of fascinating material in this show-biz biography of the great master of bebop tenor saxophone, it's so permeated with gush and hyperbole that it requires some tolerance to sift through it for Gordon's story. The details are there, though, from his upbringing in Los Angeles as the son of a physician who died when Gordon was 12, his mingling with other young or established musicians in the Central Avenue scene, work in the bands of Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, and various smaller groups in Los Angeles and then on 52nd Street in New York, addiction and incarceration, years in Copenhagen and a triumphant return to the US, illness and convalescence, and his extraordinary acting in the movie "Round Midnight." An analysis of Gordon's playing style, another of his recordings, and a lengthy discography complete the book.

Britt quotes Gordon and many other musicians throughout the book, enough to bring a strong sense of authenticity to the story. Is the breathless excitement of this treatment of Gordon's life an inevitable part of the biography of a jazz musician? Here's a sample, as Gordon returns to Los Angeles in 1946 after a year in New York: "Then, back to California, to recuperate as well as to forge the partnership with Wardell Gray. And more journeys up and down Central Avenue. Time, too, to reflect on the host of memories of the past year or so. So many magic moments to recall with pleasure. Perhaps none more exhilarating than the time spent in the company of a genius named Charlie Parker. Over thirty years after that unforgettable experience, Dexter Gordon was to offer his own summation of Bird and his profound contributions to jazz: 'Music! All music. The fluidity and the freedom of expression, musicially and emotionally, are still unbelievable. So, what's new?'" Perhaps this writing style, rooted in popular journalism, will appeal to others more than to this reviewer.

Includes bibliography, discography, index and photographs.

This review copyright (c) 1998 by Larry Koenigsberg.


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