Today is the birthday of a multi-talented actor/musician. But before revealing his/her name, let’s do a little more exploration. What do the following names and terms have in common with this person: Dale Turner, Bertrand Tavernier, Oscar, Grammy, Rolando, Awakenings, and “The Sophisticated Giant?” For those of you who know a lot about jazz, and who are also movie buffs, the answer is simple. But for all others the answer might not be so obvious, so let’s piece it together.
Dale Turner was one of the characters in the 1986 film Round Midnight, a movie about a famous saxophone player in Paris in the 1950s who was befriended by a struggling designer who idolized him and tried to help him defeat alcoholism. Turner’s character was based on a composite of real-life jazz legends Lester Young and Bud Powell. The film was directed by Bertrand Tavernier. The actor/musician who portrayed Turner was nominated for an Academy Award (also known as the Oscars) for Best Actor in a leading role.
He won a Grammy Award for composing the film’s soundtrack entitled ‘The Other Side of Round Midnight” in the category for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Soloist. The artist also played a character named Rolando in the movie Awakenings, as a patient in a hospital seeking help from an affliction that left him in a catatonic state. And finally, “The Sophisticated Giant” is one of the nicknames of this performer.
No more clues: time for the answer. The common thread that binds the names and terms used to describe this artisan is Dexter Gordon, who celebrates his birthday today.
Gordon, who was born and grew up in Los Angeles, learned to play the saxophone at an early age. He paid his dues as an instrumentalist by playing with musicians such as Nat Cole, Harry “Sweets” Edison, as well as in bands and orchestras managed by Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson and Billy Eckstine. For a number of years Blue Note Records prominently featured him on their label where he played with musicians such as Sonny Clark, Freddie Hubbard, Billy Higgins and Horace Parlan. Gordon eventually moved to Europe where over the next 15 years he played regularly with other ex-patriots.
There’s a lot more that can be said about this great musician which we will explore later, but its fair to say that Gordon’s experience in Europe especially Paris, helped prepare him for his role in Round Midnight. Let’s make the soundtracks from the movie “The Jazz Album(s) of the Day.”