Dexter Gordon, born on February 27, 1923, in Los Angeles, California, and passing away on April 25, 1990, was a prominent American jazz tenor saxophonist and one of the earliest bebop musicians. Known for his large sound, distinctive style, and expressive phrasing, Gordon left an indelible mark on the jazz world over his five-decade career.
Born into a musical family, his father, a doctor, was friends with prominent jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Gordon began playing the clarinet at age 13 before switching to the tenor saxophone. His career took off in the early 1940s, as he played with leading big bands, including those led by Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Billy Eckstine.
As bebop emerged in the mid-1940s, Gordon became one of its leading proponents, playing alongside legends like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. He was known for his large tone, which was influenced by the swing era, combined with the harmonic and rhythmic innovations of bebop. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he released several notable recordings, including “Daddy Plays the Horn” (1955), “A Swingin’ Affair” (1962), and “Our Man in Paris” (1963).
In the 1960s and 1970s, Gordon moved to Europe, primarily residing in Copenhagen, Denmark. He continued to perform and record while overseas, establishing himself as a leading figure in the European jazz scene. His time in Europe was punctuated by collaborations with local musicians and a series of critically acclaimed albums.
Gordon returned to the United States in 1976, revitalizing his career with a series of well-received recordings and performances. His acting turn in the 1986 film “Round Midnight,” directed by Bertrand Tavernier, earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, further cementing his status as a jazz icon.
Dexter Gordon received numerous accolades during his life, including a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Soloist, for “The Other Side of Round Midnight” in 1987. In 2015, he was posthumously awarded the prestigious NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship.
Dexter Gordon’s impact on the jazz world is undeniable. His distinctive sound and approach to the tenor saxophone influenced generations of musicians, and his contributions to the development of bebop have left a lasting legacy.
Page last updated 3/19/2023.