Duke Jordan died on Tuesday in Copenhagen. The news summons thoughts of the beauty of his piano playing and the gentleness of his personality. Jordan’s touch, harmonic sensitivity and gift for the creation of melodic lines made him a favorite colleague of Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Gene Ammons and Chet Baker, to name a few who benefited from his artistry. He had worked earlier with Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins and the Savoy Sultans, but his playing on Parker’s 1947 recordings on the Dial label, when he was twenty-five, brought him his first wide recognition. His introductions to ballads were often little masterpieces. The four bars leading into Parker’s “Embraceable You” constitute one of the most exquisite moments in all of recorded jazz, and one of the most imitated.
In the days of three-minute records, Jordan rarely had more than sixteen bars of solo time in Parker’s quintet or sextet sessions, but he invariably constructed short stories with beginnings, middles and endings, never filling the time with random improvisation. An example of his cogency is in the middle of “Quasimodo,” which happens to also be “Embraceable You” under the guise of an original Parker melody line. Both of those pieces are on this CD.
A prodigious composer, Jordan’s most famous piece is “Jordu,” a staple of the modern jazz repertoire. “No Problem” may be a close second. He wrote it for the sound track of Roger Vadim’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He was also the co-composer, as Jacques Marray, of the soundtrack for that 1959 film, with contributions by Thelonious Monk. After he moved to Copenhagen in 1978, Jordan recorded copiously as a leader and with Chet Baker, Doug Raney, Clifford Jordan and others.
The times I was privileged to be around him, Jordan was quiet, easy in his skin and earnest. He was the pianist for Sam Most’s 1976 album Mostly Flute, which had Tal Farlow on guitar, bassist Sam Jones and drummer Billy Higgins. In the liner notes, I recounted a recording session incident that typified Duke’s attitude.
“The More I See You” is taken at a bright medium-up tempo. Duke’s introduction recalls some of the gems he recorded with Parker, and he has one of the best solos of the date. In the control room, heads were shaking in admiration during this one, and afterward when Jordan walked in asking, “Was that all right?” everyone broke up.
Duke Jordan, dead at eighty-four.
Don Frese says
Thanks for the tribute to this wonderful musician.
I once heard a story that when he was with Stan Getz, Getz and Jimmy
Raney would break out laughing and shake their heads after one of
Jordan’s 4 or 8 bar intros; they figured they could play a dozen
choruses apiece and not come up with a melodic idea as good as what
Jordan had just played.
For an extension of his Embraceable You intro, I have always liked this
trio version, a solo that seems almost inevitable.
Another favorite: Deacon Joe, a magnificent blues with crystalline
opening and closing solos by Jordan, and Dizzy Reece’s finest recorded
solo from this: