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Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

R.J. DeLuke By

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Of particular interest is his well-known role in the 1986 film Round Midnight, directed by Bertrand Tavernier, for which Gordon received an Academy Award nomination. For those who saw the film, based in part on the lives of Lester Young and Bud Powell when they lived in Europe, it is enlightening to know the breadth and depth of the saxman's involvement. First, he had to build up his chops just to be strong enough for the paying parts [his live performances had tapered off at that time]. He also got involved in the story and dialog, recommending changes when he thought the script was making character Dale Turner silly, trite or simply not a representation of what a jazz man would really say and do. Dexter was a man to be taken seriously and Tavernier did just that, listening to Gordon and heeding advice. Dexter was into films and was not ill equipped in that venture.

Musicians he gathered for the film were, in many cases, people he had enjoyed playing with over the years who now had a chance to appear on the scene, like drummer Billy Higgins, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and bassist Pierre Michelot. The lead-up and attending the Academy Awards night is touching and at times comical, including drinking in a bar with the other Best Actor nominees. All but Paul Newman were there. They were quaffing because they figured Newman would win, which he did.

The book is a good read and its thoroughness can almost go unnoticed until one might pause to reflect. Dexter's life, as he anticipated, did come to a happy ending, particularly upon his return to the U.S. And the great music he made from that point on, captured on Columbia records. Accolades came, as well. They will continue to. A nice end is an Afterward, written by Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw II, son of Dexter's friend and musical mate Woody Shaw and Maxine Gordon. Naturally, Dexter helped raise him and the tribute is a nice testament to the man with that hot tenor horn.

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