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Dexter Gordon

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(1923 – 1990)

Dexter Gordon (February 27, 1923 – April 25, 1990) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. He was among the earliest tenor players to adapt the bebop musical language of people such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell to the instrument. His studio and live performance career spanned over 40 years.

Gordon’s height was 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm), so he was also known as “Long Tall Dexter” and “Sophisticated Giant”. He played a Conn 10M Lady Face until 1964. He lost the instrument in a Paris hotel and then switched over to a Selmer Mark VI. His saxophone, seen in various photos, was fitted with an Otto Link metal mouthpiece.

In 1986, Dexter Gordon was named a member and officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters by the Ministry of Culture in France. His performance in Round Midnight (Warner Bros, 1986) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Leading Role and he won a Grammy for Best Soundtrack. On April 25, 1990, Dexter Gordon died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Gordon was born and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father was a doctor who counted Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton among his patients. He played clarinet from the age of 13, before switching to saxophone (initially alto, then tenor) at 15. While still at school, he was playing in bands with such contemporaries as Chico Hamilton and Buddy Collette.

Between 1940 and 1943, Gordon was a member of Lionel Hampton’s band, playing in a saxophone section alongside Illinois Jacquet and Marshall Royal. In 1943 he made his first recordings under his own name, alongside Nat Cole and Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison. During 1943-44 he featured in the Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson bands, before joining Billy Eckstine.

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