Great Encounters #55: When Dexter Gordon played in Louis Armstrong’s band

April 2nd, 2019

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 “Great Encounters” are book excerpts that chronicle famous encounters among twentieth-century cultural icons. In this edition, Dexter Gordon tells the story of joining Louis Armstrong’s band in 1944, and how they enjoyed their intermission time.  This story comes from Maxine Gordon’s biography of her late husband, Sophisticated Giant:  The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon.

 

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photo by Al Smith

The Louis Armstrong Orchestra performing at the Seattle Civic Auditorium, July 17, 1944.  Dexter Gordon is at the far left.

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Excerpted from .Sophisticated Giant:  The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

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Maxine Gordon

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…..He was a born ambassador and he really was a beautiful, warm human being, just the way you hear him and see him on stage and on film. That was Louis. He was always the same, always a beautiful man.

…..I was working at the Club Alabam, which was a nightclub on Central Avenue with Lee Young (Lester’s younger brother) who was the leader of the band. Art Pepper was in the band. We had about six, seven men…Mingus was in the band too. This was a gig that was from eight to midnight. This is when they started having a curfew and everything closed at midnight. The after-hours joints would open up after the clubs closed. They were something like speakeasies. I was working out at a joint called Honey Murphy’s which was in deep Watts. We had Jesse Price, drummer out of Kansas City, with us. We had come up with Basie and the piano player was called Jack LaRue because he looked like the big movie star with the same name.

…..One night Louis’ manager came out and he heard me and then the next night Louis came out. I didn’t know he was there. After the set someone came over to me and said, “Son, say son, I really liked that sound you get.” I looked up and it was Louis. “Thank you, thank you very much.” It was a great honor. So that was the first night and then the next night, the manager came out and asked me if I’d like to join the band. By this time I felt that I had built on my foundation and I wanted to get back to New York so I joined the band and we did a couple of flicks in Hollywood. Atlantic City and Pillow to Post with Dorothy Dandridge and Ida Lupino. In those movies, they shot the scenes with Louis and the band and then when they showed the movies in the South, they would cut those scenes out.

…..Oh, that was a thrill. Every night. He had such a big, beautiful, fat, blaring sound, just ran right through you. And that was really the reason I joined the band, to play with him. To play with him every night. The band was a mediocre type band. He was playing the swing type arrangements from the ‘30’s…especially “Ain’t Misbehavin” and “I’m Confessin’.” The arrangements were just a showcase for him. But, he liked me and he always gave me a chance to blow. He featured me a lot.

…..All the memories and feeling – he was gorgeous, he really was. I knew he liked reefer and I brought several cans of some real Mexican moto down, tastes like the good earth, and took three drags, you, that’s all you need. So we left Hollywood, and went up the Coast to visit Frisco and Portland – we were doing theaters and we hadn’t got into the one-nighters, but this is on the West Coast so it’s a little different, but anyway whether it was the club date or the ballroom on every night, intermissions, I’d come out with my Mexican moto and he had a big paper bag full of, what do you call it, New Orleans Golden Leaf…So we’d trade off rounds of smoke and then after about a week or so I noticed that he didn’t bring out the Golden Leaf anymore. Another week or so goes by, so one night I said, “Pops, whatever happened to all that New Orleans Golden Leaf?” He said, “Shit, son, that’s like bringing a hamburger to a banquet.” So I mean, it was a great time in my life, with him.

…..Working with Louis was love, love, love…That was what it was all about. All love. He was just beautiful – always beautiful. It was just a gas being with him. He let me play all the time. He really dug me.

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Excerpted from Sophisticated Giant:  The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, by Maxine Gordon

 

Used with permission of the Regents of the University of California, copyright 2018

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Louis Armstrong sings “Ain’t Misbehavin'” from the movie Atlantic City.  Dexter Gordon is also in the film, and can be seen in the front row of the saxophone section (to the viewer’s left)

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In This Issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 22 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Chris Potter, Sons of Kemet, Stephan Crump, Brittany Anjou, Julian Lage, Joey DeFrancesco and Antonio Sanchez

Poetry

Seventeen poets contribute 21 poems in this month’s edition…

The Joys of Jazz

In new podcasts, Bob Hecht tells three stories; one about Miles Davis’ use of space in his music, one on the mutual admiration society of Sinatra, Lady Day, and Lester Young, and the other about the train in jazz and blues music.

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Ida B. Wells” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #126

In 1964, along with the orchestra of arranger Lalo Schifrin (pictured), this flutist/alto sax player recorded one of the first “Jazz Masses,” and soon after studied transcendental meditation in India. He would eventually become well known as a composer of music for meditation. Who is he?

Great Encounters

Dexter Gordon tells the story of joining Louis Armstrong’s band in 1944, and how they enjoyed their intermission time.

Art

In this edition of Veryl Oakland’s “Jazz in Available Light,” photographs of Red Garland, Dizzy Gillespie and Rahsaan Roland Kirk are featured.

Short Fiction

"Strings of Solace," a short story by Kimberly Parish Davis

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Short Fiction

"And so we went to Paris," a short story by Sophie Jonas-Hill

Coming Soon

National Book Award winning author for non-fiction Jeffrey Stewart is interviewed about his book The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke

In the previous issue

The question “What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?” was posed via email to a small number of prominent and diverse people, and the responses of Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who participated...Also, the publication of the winning story in our 50th Short Fiction contest; an interview with Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell; a collection of jazz poetry; two new podcasts by Bob Hecht; the March edition of "On the Turntable," and lots more...Click here to be taken to the issue.

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