Maxine Gordon remembering Dexter
In Cascais, near Lisbon, the First International Jazz Festival of Cascais took place on November 20th 1971. Dexter Gordon performed with a quartet, which included 3 portuguese jazz musicians. At this festival - the beginning of Jazz in Portugal - Charlie Haden, a musician from the Ornette Coleman quartet, dedicated his composition, called "Song for Che", to the Black Liberation movements of Mozambique, Angola and Guiné - African countries involved in a colonial war against Portugal. This dedication got a standing ovation of 12.000 people. Later at the hotel Dexter was like all happy with Haden’s courage. He was arrested by portuguese political police PIDE and next day he flew to London but was forbidden to come back to Portugal until 25th April 1974 the Liberty Day by a peaceful revolution
José Duarte - Dexter Gordon would show his appreciation for John Coltrane in his own sound and improvised solos, which were long solos but always comfortable and ready for more... is that true?
Maxine Gordon – Dexter loved John Coltrane’s playing and when he heard Trane’s version of Body and Soul, he changed the way he played the classic composition from the Coleman Hawkins style to the Trane style. Ben Webster did not like the way Dexter played Body and Soul and once stopped talking to him for six weeks because of it. Dexter called John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and Joe Henderson his “children.”
JD - I saw Dexter perform many times not only in Portugal but also abroad. I remember one night at a jazz club in Paris at the end of Dexter's show, everyone had left except for me and the bartender. Coltrane was playing softly in the background. Dexter suddenly appears, walking slowly, and as he walks by me, he stops and says: "Trane". That is all he said. He knew we were both understanding John Coltrane's solo. What was Dexter like with his audiences?
MG –I think you know the answer to this question. Dexter was very warm and engaging with his audiences and he always recited the lyrics to ballads before he played. This he learned from Lester Young who said that if you don’t know the lyrics, you can’t play the tune. He said that he wanted the audience to go away with a lasting feeling and love for the music and from his many fans all over the world, I believe he achieved that goal.
JD - Why did Dexter live in Europe for more than a decade? Better living conditions for a Jazz musician? Better audiences? Hidden racism?
MG – Dexter left the U.S. for a gig at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London in 1962 and staying in Europe, mostly Copenhagen, for 14 years. He wanted to leave the country because he had been hounded by the police and the criminal injustice system for most of the 1950s. He got his first passport and went to London. What he said was that when he looked up, it had been 14 years. He stayed because he was treated as an artist and could work continually in Europe. He loved the life there and he was able to relax and practice and improve his playing and have time to think and live a life that suited him. After 14 years, he wanted to try to return and see if he could play his music in the U.S. and that worked out very well, as you know.
JD - Did Dexter like “white” jazz? Al Haig is an example... but no recordings with Stan Getz Why?
MG –Dexter never referred to jazz by color. This question does not really work when it comes to him.
JD - Dexter started to write his own bio but it was never finished Why? How and when did you decide to write "Sophisticated Giant"?
MG –When we were living in Cuernavaca, Mexico after the Academy Award nomination in 1987, Dexter began to write his autobiography. He worked on it writing on yellow legal pads. In the book, you will see his words in italics. One day he said, “If I don’t finish the book, promise me you will finish it.” It took me quite some time to finish the book because i had to go back to school to learn historical research methods but, in the end, I did finish the book that he began.
JD - Bruce Lundvall was in Lisbon and we met when Jacinta a Portuguese jazz singer was signed to Blue Note. Bruce was responsible for Blue Note's success, not only for the album covers' design but also for the quality of jazz artists he would choose… can you talk a bit about Dexter's Blue Note records. which one did Dexter like the most?
MG –Dexter and Bruce Lundvall became very good friends from the beginning of Dexter’s return from Europe when he signed to Columbia Records when Bruce was President. For Blue Note, Dexter’s favorite album was GO with Sonny Clark, Butch Warren, and Billy Higgins. He said that the four of them played as one and they could communicate easily without words. He loved that album and it remains his most popular one.
JD - Maxine is a graduate and expert in African art studies, as an exemple, your work about Chano Ponzo. Can you talk a bit about the influence of afro-cuban percussion in jazz and if that influence is directly related to religion as well?
MG –I would hardly call me an expert on this subject but I have studied Chano Pozo and his influence on Dizzy Gillespie and Bebop. In 1947, Dizzy Gillespie and Chano Pozo composed Manteca and Afro-Cuban Suite. These compositions include Abakua cerimonial music and chants. Abakua is a secret society which originated in the southeastern Nigerian and southwestern Cameron Cross River region of Africa. It became organized in Cuba in the 19th century. In Afro-Cuban Suite, Chano Pozo chants “Iyi bariba benkama,” a ritual phrase paying homage to the celestial bodies. The scholar Ivan Miller has written extensively on this subject. Dizzy continued to use the chants and they were referred to as “nonsense syllables” which is far from the fact.
JD - You have been the President of the Dexter Gordon Society since 2013 - can you tell us about this society?
MG - The Dexter Gordon Society is a nonprofit organization formed to further the legacy of Dexter Gordon and his music and to archive his work and make it available to scholars and musicians. Our mission is to further Dexter Gordon’s vision for Jazz.
JD - How did you prepare for these and other activities with regards to Afro-North-American culture?
MG – I began as a teenager jazz fan, became a road manager for bands in the U.S. and Europe, opened a business with Michael Cuscuna to help manage musicians’ careers and find grants for musicians, became manager and executive producer for Dexter Gordon and other artists. I prepared by working and learning from experts in the field.
JD - Were any of your thoughts on Dexter's bio influenced by what Stan Bitt published in 1989?
MG - Not really. Though he wrote a very nice book.
JD - Why did you choose to live in Mexico with your son whose father was Woody Shaw? another jazz genius
MG -We choose Cuernavaca because we had friends there and there was an artist community including the great Elizabeth Catlett. It is called the land of Eternal Spring and is a very beautiful place to live.
JD - Dexter was not a sentimental person…is this true?
MG –I think it is true. Not sure what the question means.
JD - Dexter certainly appreciated Gene Ammons, with whom he even recorded in 1970. And with Coltrane he felt surpassed just like it happened to Rollins?
MG –Dexter loved Gene Ammons and Bem Webster and Don Byas and Lester Young. He certainly did not feel surpassed by John Coltrane. He admired him and influenced him and then was influenced by him but not surpassed.
JD - You were present when "Round Midnight" was filmed, directed by Bertrand Tavernier in France 1986, in which Dexter was nominated for an Oscar...the GREAT Dexter was not an actor but he spoke, walked and played exactly the way he was, effortlessly...nice n' easy.... do you agree?
MG - I don’t agree. Dexter was an actor. He was acting the part of Dale Turner who was older than he was and who suffered in a way that Dexter knew but did not have the same situation. He considered it strange when people thought he was not acting. After all, it’s a movie, not the story of his life. Did you see him in the film Awakenings? Making the film was very hard work. It is not effortless though he did bring that quality to the performance.
JD - Why did Dexter never try to play soprano sax like - after Coltrane - all the other tenors did?
MG –Dexter did play soprano saxophone. Here is a very good article about that subject.
JD – thank you very much my dear friend Maxine and see you soon better asap
MG - Thank you for inviting me to answer these questions. Hope to see you soon in Portugal. Perhaps we can find a publisher for Sophisticated Giant there. All the best, Maxine