Greg Curtis, author, former editor of Texas Monthly, former TIME magazine special correspondent, knowledgeable jazz listener and occasional Rifftides reader, writes about meeting Dexter Gordon. He encountered Gordon at a used record store in San Francisco in the late 1970s.
I was aware that there was some discussion going on in small groups here and there around the store when I saw a very tall, elegant black man in an immaculate trench coat and a blue beret riffling through the records in a corner of the store. I recognized that it was Dexter Gordon. No one else was approaching him.
I went up, and being sure to give him plenty of room to duck away from me, introduced myself and said I had heard him a few days ago in Austin. He had played at the Armadillo World Headquarters there about a month before. We saw many jazz acts there—Count Basie, Sam Rivers, Sun Ra, Anthony Braxton, Stephane Grappelli, Sonny Rollins, and probably more. Extraordinary, looking back, that so many of the greats performed there. He was very gracious and quite willing to talk. Did the concert go all right? Yes. The crowd was so young. Did they like it? Yes. Then he asked me if I knew about the Texas tenor Budd Johnson. Thank God, I did. And then, I’ll never forget, because Dexter had a beautiful, deep voice, he said, “Very great. Very great.” Just those words in his voice were very moving. I then said good-bye and left him. An indelible memory.
It’s a lovely story. Veteran Rifftides readers will suspect that publishing it is a reason (no excuse is needed) to present Gordon’s music. That is only partly correct. It is also an occasion to present Budd Johnson’s music. First, here’s Gordon in the period when Greg met him. Dexter lived in Copenhagen for a time, and his musical headquarters was the Club Montmartre. More often than not, his colleagues were Kenny Drew, piano; Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen, bass; and Alex Riel, drums. The more or less bilingual Dexter introduces the tune.
Budd Johnson (1910-1984 is one of the great under-recognized figures in jazz. From his earliest days in Dallas as a teenaged professional, he became influential as a composer, arranger, leader and tenor saxophonist. In the soprano saxophone’s renaissance in the 1960s he was one of its most striking individualists. Open to new ideas, Johnson welcomed the innovations of bebop and wrote for Boyd Raeburn, Billy Eckstine, Dizzy Gillespie and Woody Herman when they leading their big bands out of the swing era.
In this 1979 performance, you may detect qualities that inspired Dexter Gordon’s admiration. Hank Jones is the pianist, Gene Ramey the bassist, Gus Johnson the drummer.
The tenor saxophonist providing obbligato toward the end was Arnett Cobb. For a superb exposition of Johnson’s playing and writing, hear his Budd Johnson and the Four Brass Giants, with Nat Adderley, Harry Edison, Ray Nance and Clark Terry.