“Jazz to me is a living music. It’s a music that since its beginning has expressed the feelings, the dreams, hopes, of the people.” Those are the words of tenor saxophone great Dexter Gordon, born in Los Angeles on Feb. 27, 1923. Gordon performed with Lionel Hampton’s and Louis Armstrong’s bands in the 1940s, and soon distinguished himself as a key figure in the emergence of be-bop. Late 1940s recordings with fellow tenorman Wardell Gray, such as “The Chase” and “The Hunt,” served notice that a major new jazz stylist had emerged. Gordon’s tenor saxophone innovations influenced numerous musicians, including John Coltrane.
Gordon’s career spanned many decades and took unexpected turns. Not only did Gordon have an audience with President Jimmy Carter (a 1978 event that also featured trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie, and the then-President singing along to a chorus of “Salt peanuts”), but he left his mark on celluloid as well. The 1987 film ‘Round Midnight, directed by Bertrand Tavernier, paid tribute to the black musicians who lived and performed in Paris in the late 1950s, and starred Dexter Gordon in an Oscar-nominated role as saxophonist Dale Turner, a fictional character inspired by tenor saxophonist Lester Young and pianist Bud Powell. Set at the Blue Note club in Saint-Germain-des-Pres and the Louisiane Hotel, the film features screen appearances and performances by Gordon as well as jazz luminaries Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Hutcherson, John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter.
‘Round Midnight screens at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, April 19 in the Mary Pickford Theater as part of the Music Division’s Jazz in the Spring film series, curated by Larry Appelbaum. Special guest Maxine Gordon will be on hand to say a few words. Admission is free, but seating is limited, and will be on a first-come, first-served basis.
That’s not the only way the Library is remembering Dexter Gordon this month. On Friday, April 16, the Library of Congress will celebrate the acquisition of additional materials to its Dexter Gordon Collection, comprising sound recordings, interviews, and items from Gordon’s film and television appearances. The event will take place in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are needed.
The featured speaker will be Maxine Gordon, whose academic career as an archivist and historian was shaped by her husband’s request to preserve his works. “It was Dexter Gordon’s wish to have his collection housed at the Library of Congress,” she said. We want people to know what the Library is doing in support of jazz.” Maxine Gordon, who is working on her doctorate in history at New York University, is the senior interviewer and jazz researcher at the Bronx African American History Project at Fordham University. She has written on various aspects of jazz and is currently writing a biography about her husband and his legacy.
Items from the collection will be on display at the event. Among them will be a short video of Dexter Gordon in Europe, which features his last public performance. In addition, unreleased gems of the iconic saxophonist’s work will be showcased.