Dexter Gordon Live in 63 and 64. DVD Review

Jazz Icons: 2.119002. Naxos
Includes 24 page booklet. Playing time 70 minutes.
RRP £14.99

By the time the 1960s began, tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon was finding work harder and harder to get. He was not alone. Those of us who were professional musicians at that time remember that teenagers were filling the rock halls. Older people were staying at home and watching TV. Desperate musicians, both in Britain and America, took jobs wherever they could be found - in cocktail lounges, radio and television studio orchestras or backing rock n roll performers on records, and in theatre pits and function bands. Some jazz musicians abandoned performing altogether, while several prominent American jazz players came to Europe in search of an audience. In 1962, Dexter Gordon joined that exodus.

To jazz-loving Europeans things didn't look too good either, but clearly they were much worse in the USA. In truth, matters don't seem to have become significantly better in the intervening years for the musicians of either country - we have merely become used to the prevailing conditions. But that's another story.

The America that Dexter Gordon left behind was entering an era unlike any it had ever experienced before, a period of selfless struggle, of shameless self-indulgence, of unprecedented progress in Civil Rights, and of deepening divisions between the races. Jazz would include all of these things, but in the process it would become a tower of Babel, bitterly divided into schools Dixieland, Swing, Bop, Hard Bop, Cool, West Coast, Modal, Free and Avant Garde, all existing simultaneously. Duke Ellington said: "I don't know how such great extremes as now exist can be contained under the one heading of jazz." The question of what was jazz, and what wasn't, raged as never before. The controversy divided audiences, musicians and the different generations. For many, the real question was whether jazz would survive at all.

In February 1964 the Beatles landed in America. The gap between jazz and the general public, already wide, grew still wider. The exception was Louis Armstrong, whose recording of Hello Dolly, from a contemporary Broadway show, became the number one song in America two months after the Beatles' invasion, at a time when the top 40 was completely dominated by the Beatles. Dolly was the last gasp of another age, observed jazz critic Gary Giddins. No surprise, then, that many American jazz saxophonists came to live in Europe.

Dexter Gordon came to appear at Ronnie Scott's in 1962, then moved to Copenhagen. Denmark clearly offered a congenial, central and racially tolerant atmosphere to expatriate American jazz musicians. Soon, those choosing to live there included Stan Getz, Brew Moore, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Oscar Pettiford and Ben Webster, which explains why this DVD of Dexter Gordon was made in Europe. Jazz Icons: Dexter Gordon features three concerts filmed in 1964 in Holland, Switzerland and Belgium, being strictly club sessions that capture the ethos of the time. Filmed live, they offer no spoken commentary.

Later, after his return to America, Gordon starred in the movie Round Midnight. He played Dale Turner, an expatriate jazz saxophonist. Ironically, most people came to hear of him because of that film.

John Robert Brown

This review first appeared in the magazine of the Clarinet and Saxophone Society, Spring 2008. Used by permission.

First published in Classroom Music. Used by kind permission.

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