Christmas with Dexter Gordon


One jazz player whose music never gets old–it just gets better–is the late Dexter Gordon. I’ve long thought that his sound, his voice, on tenor saxophone is as thoroughly the jazz life as anyone’s in the history of this great music. You can hear the concentrated realism made beautiful in that big sound and in Dexter Gordon’s timing, his swing, his deliberateness in stating themes and in his improvisations on them. He swings right along right behind the beat.

He is a breathtakingly talented artist, even beyond music. For example, his Oscar-nominated acting performance as the principal character, the tenor saxophonist “Dale Turner,” in Bertrand Tavernier’s jazz movie, ‘Round Midnight, Turner a composite of Lester Young and Bud Powell, is natural and unforgettable. I think ‘Round Midnight is the classic bebop drama. I have to think Gordon was the jazz player to pull off the role of “Dale Turner.”

But there’s not much to say about Gordon over listening to him play. In another of the pieces in my blog–a review of the movie, Crazy Heart–I link readers to the YouTube download of Gordon’s sublime version of “Lady Bird” he recorded in the 1960s. That performance is among his greatest.

Here’s another wonder, Gordon’s 1980 version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” To my ear, just about all you need to hear of the spirit of jazz is here. The wonderful chords on piano are struck by Kirk Lightsey. It’s a blue yule that carries you off, truth and beauty one for a while.