Gordon, Dexter (Keith)

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Gordon, Dexter (Keith)

Gordon, Dexter (Keith), jazz saxophonist, whose powerful and charismatic approach made a strong impression on John Coltrane and many other musicians; b. Los Angeles, Feb. 27, 1923; d. Philadelphia, April 25, 1990. His father was a doctor whose patients included Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. He studied clarinet, and took up the alto saxophone at age 15; he then turned to the tenor saxophone, and soon began playing in a local band. He left school to work with Hampton (1940-3) and Louis Armstrong (1944); then moved to N.Y., where he played in Billy Eckstine’s band (1944-46). He entered the army, where he assaulted an officer who insulted a photo of his wife; this led to a year in the stockade at Camp Polk, La., followed by a dishonorable discharge. Returning to Los Angeles, he appeared with Wardell Gray (1947-52), freelanced, and led various combos, covering jazz, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and some uncategorizable styles. His sextet backed Helen Humes in 1950. The next decade saw his career disrupted by heroin use; he even had a role in a production of Jack Gelber’s play about addiction, The Connnection (1960). In 1962 he moved to Copenhagen and continued his career in Europe. He returned to the U.S. to great acclaim (1976) and was elected a member of the Jazz Hall of Fame (1980). He received rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for his performance in Bertrand Tavernier’s film ’Round Mid-night (1986), playing “Dale Turner,” a Lester Young-like figure somewhat based on Bud Powell’s life. He also had a small role in Awakenings.


Dexter Rides Again (1945); Long Tall Dexter (1945); “The Duel” (with T. Edwards; 1947); “The Chase” (with Wardell Gray; 1947); Quintet (1947); Hunt (1947); Daddy Plays the Horn (1955); Dexter Blows Hot and Cool (1955); Resurgence of D. G. (1960); Dexter Calling… (1961); Doin’ Alright (1961); A Swingin’ Affair (1962); Go! (1962); Our Man in Paris (1963); One Flight Up (1964); Gettin’ Around (1965); The Panther! (1970); Jumpin’ Blues (1970); At Montreux (1970); Blues d la Suisse (1973); Apartment (1974); Bouncin’ with Dex (1975); More Than You Know (1975); Swiss Nights, Vol. 1, 2 (1975); Homecoming (1976); Sophisticated Giant (1977); Manhattan Symphonic (1978); Nights at the Keystone, Vols. 1-3 (1978); Gotham City (1981); ’Round Midnight (soundtrack, 1986); Other Side of ’Round Midnight (1986).


S. Britt, Long Tall Dexter: A Critical Musical Biography of D. G. (London). T. Sjøgren, Long Tall Dexter: The Discography ofD. G. (Copenhagen, 1986).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Music Master Jazz and Blues Catalogue/Lewis Porter