Dexter Gordon's tone is unparalleled, and his life and discography spans jazz history, from big bands to the beginnings of bebop to the classic recordings of the 1960s and beyond. Maxine Gordon's biography encompasses the breadth of Dexter's life, weaving in frequently astonishing passages of his own unfinished memoir, and conveying his music to its social circumstances. She writes fascinatingly of the organized musicians strike against recording in the early 1940s, resulting in a documentary lacuna in the development of bebop; and the tragic ways in which the racist war on drugs impacted working musicians in subsequent decades. This is my favorite jazz biography of recent years, best supplemented by an hours-long playlist.— Cam
Sophisticated Giant presents the life and legacy of tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon (1923-1990), one of the major innovators of modern jazz. In a context of biography, history, and memoir, Maxine Gordon has completed the book that her late husband began, weaving his "solo" turns with her voice and a chorus of voices from past and present. Reading like a jazz composition, the blend of research, anecdote, and a selection of Dexter's personal letters reflects his colorful life and legendary times. It is clear why the celebrated trumpet genius Dizzy Gillespie said to Dexter, "Man, you ought to leave your karma to science."
Dexter Gordon the icon is the Dexter beloved and celebrated on albums, on film, and in jazz lore - even in a street named for him in Copenhagen. But this image of the cool jazzman fails to come to terms with the multidimensional man full of humor and wisdom, a figure who struggled to reconcile being both a creative outsider who broke the rules and a comforting insider who was a son, father, husband, and world citizen. This essential book is an attempt to fill in the gaps created by our misperceptions as well as the gaps left by Dexter himself.