On August 27, 1962, a confident, 6' 6" Dexter Gordon strode into the recording studio of the legendary Rudy Van Gelder in Englewood, New Jersey, to record the album GO.
Born in Los Angeles in 1923, Gordon had had the early advantage of living in a post-war center for jazz at the very time bebop was developing. He got his start playing and growing with jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Buddy Collette and was considered by many to have been the first tenor saxophonist to fully absorb the bebop vocabulary.
Gordon joined the Lionel Hampton Band in 1940, sitting in a saxophone section alongside Illinois Jacquet and Marshall Royal. Beginning in 1943, he made his first recordings as a leader, then going on to play with Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. He left Eckstine after a few years to move to New York, where he performed and recorded regularly with Charlie Parker. Things were going well for Dexter Gordon — until they weren’t. Like Parker himself, Gordon had developed a heroin addiction, and his career foundered. Over the next decade or more, he struggled with his addiction and even served two prison terms for drug-related offenses.
The Dexter Gordon who entered the Van Gelder recording studio in August of 1962, more than 10 years later, was a more purposeful, positive man. The album about to be recorded would be his third for BlueNote Records. His earlier albums for the label — Doin’ Alright and Dexter Calling — had both been received warmly by the critics. Now DownBeat’s co-owner/producer Alfred Lion had put the 40-year-old Gordon together with a rhythm section of youngsters, compared to him. Playing piano was the 31-year-old hard-bopper Sonny Clark. On bass was twenty-something Edward “Butch” Warren, a solid, flexible player. And the drummer was Ornette Coleman alumnus Billy Higgins, also in his twenties. Gordon was already familiar with these young players, having recorded with them on Herbie Hancock’s debut album, Takin’ Off, just three months earlier. He was relaxed and enthusiastic.
Gordon’s feelings appear to have been justified. Writer/critic Ira Gitler, who contributed the album’s liner notes, acknowledging the artificiality that sometimes undermines studio recordings, wrote that the music was “not recorded in a nightclub performance but, in its informal symmetry, it matches the relaxed atmosphere that the best of those made in that manner engender. Everyone was really together, in all the most positive meanings of that word.”
It was a wonderful quartet, to be sure, the star of which was undoubtedly Dexter Gordon, whose big, spacious sound dominated the six-tune set, shining brightly through the varied repertoire.
The playlist includes just one original, “Cheese Cake,” a tune that would become a staple of Gordon’s performances for his entire career. There’s a Billy Eckstine tune, “Second Balcony Jump,” one typical of the ’40s, when Gordon played in the Eckstine band. Two ballads are included — the standards “I Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” and “Where Are You? — providing Gordon with a showcase for his wonderfully warm, expressive way with a ballad. Another standard on the list is Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale,” which is given a familiar Latin-to-swing treatment. And finally there’s “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” a popular Paul Whiteman tune from 1922, which, in anyone else’s hands would be considered pretty corny, but in Dexter Gordon’s—near magical.
Gordon went on to record three more albums for BlueNote, one of which — A Swingin’ Affair — included the same personnel that played with him on GO. And then, later in the ’60s, Dexter Gordon moved to Europe, where he lived for a decade-and-a-half, mostly in Paris and Copenhagen, playing with fellow ex-patriots.
He also had a whole other career: as an accomplished actor, performing in the film ’round Midnight, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination (Best Actor). He appeared in several other films and television shows, including the movie Awakenings, which starred Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.
Gordon returned to the United States in 1976, performing a celebrated homecoming show at the Village Vanguard in New York, then going on to record regularly with Columbia Records. He died at the age of 67 on April 25, 1990, in Philadelphia after suffering from cancer of the larynx.
There were many highlights in Dexter Gordon’s life and career but none that exceeded the 1962 recording GO, universally praised by jazz critics, who pronounced it one of the greatest recordings of Gordon’s career. Indeed, Gordon himself considered GO his favorite recording.
Sources: Wikipedia, Allmusic.com, Udiscover music.com, The New York Times
1. “Cheese Cake” (Dexter Gordon)
2. “I Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” (Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn)
3. “Second Balcony Jump” (Billy Eckstine, Gerald Valentine)
4. “Love for Sale” (Cole Porter)
5. “Where Are You?” (Jimmy McHugh, Harold Adamson)
6. “Three o'Clock in the Morning” (Julián Robledo, Dorothy Terriss)
Note: The original LP of GO was released in 1962. The album was re-released in March 1999 as part of BlueNote's RVG Series, produced by Michael Cuscuna.
Latest Release Date: August 22, 2007
Release Date: March 23, 1999
Label: Blue Note Records
Copyright: ℗© 1999 Blue Note Records
Total Length: 37:38