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 who is now known and beloved and celebrated, on albums and 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 three-dimensional 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, the gaps created by our misperceptions, but also the gaps left by Dexter himself.
Maxine Gordon is an independent scholar with a lifetime career working with jazz musicians. As an oral historian and archivist in the fields of jazz and African American cultural history, her book, Sophisticated Giant, fulfills the promise she made to her late husband, jazz saxophonist and Academy Award nominated actor Dexter Gordon, to complete his biography.
Farah Jasmine Griffin is a professor of English and comparative literature and African American Studies at Columbia University, where she has served as director of the Institute for Research in African American studies. She is the author of “Who Set You Flowin’”: The African-American Migration Narrative and If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday, and has edited several collections of letters and essays. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar, Callaloo, and African American Review, and she is also a frequent commentator on WNPR’s News & Notes.
Fred Moten is Professor of Performance Studies at New York University and the author of Black and Blur and The Universal Machine, both also published by Duke University Press, and In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition.