Happy Birthday to the “Sophisticated Giant”

At 6’6″ in height, tenor sax player Dexter Gordon cast a long shadow, both physically and figuratively.

The Los Angeles native was born on this date in 1923 and grew up around the music business.  His father was a physician who counted Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington among his patients. Dexter’s love of jazz music led him to take up the clarinet at the age of 13. At age 15 he took up the alto saxophone, and later the tenor sax, and joined Lionel Hampton’s band in 1940.

Over the course of the next half decade the “Sophisticated Giant”, as he came to be called, played and recorded with such jazz luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong and Herbie Hancock.

His playing style was largely influenced by Lester Young and John Coltrane and he is widely recognized as one of the formative forces behind the bebop musical language.

In the mid-80′s a whole new audience was introduced to his music and acting talent through his portrayal of a self-destructive expatriate jazz musician in the film “Round Midnight.”  He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for the role, and received a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance – Soloist for his work on “The Other Side of Round Midnight” which was produced by Herbie Hancock.

Once asked to describe his sound, Gordon responded, “What I’m doing, I prefer to call that jazz, because it is a beautiful word – I love it.”

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