Dexter Gordon it seems, was destined to be a jazz musician. Jazz music surrounded him. Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton were friends of his father, a Los Angeles doctor. Aged seven Dexter started playing the clarinet, but later, switched to the saxophone. After a dalliance with the alto saxophone, Dexter discovered the tenor saxophone. That would be the instrument that he played during a four decade career where he released over thirty albums. His sophomore album was 1955s Dexter Blows Hot and Cold, which was recently released by Boplicity, an imprint of Ace Records. Dexter Blows Hot and Cold was the debut album from one of the founding fathers of bebop, Dexter Gordon, a truly innovative musician who I’ll tell you about.

Born in February 1923, Dexter Gordon grew up in a middle class Los Angeles family. His father was a highly respected doctor, who loved music. He wanted his son to share his love of music. From an early age, Dexter was introduced to the work of legendary jazz players of the day. This included Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Having introduced Dexter to music, his parents then bought him his first instrument when he was just seven.

The instrument they chose, was the clarinet. Like many jazz musicians, Dexter learnt to play the clarinet, but by the time he became a teenager, decided the clarinet wasn’t for him. As a replacement, he chose the saxophone. He tried the alto saxophone, then later, switched to tenor saxophone, which became his favoured instrument. Dexter playing style was influenced by two of the era’s top tenor saxophonists, Lester Young and Andy Kirk. Soon, he’d forged own unique style, which would see him join one of the biggest bands of the day. 

Aged just seventeen, Dexter joined Lionel Hampton’s band. He spent three years playing with Lionel Hampton’s band. This gave him good musical education. After that, he joined Fletcher Henderson’s band. Then came the biggest break of Dexter’s career, when he joined Duke Ellington’s band. While this allowed Dexter to continue his musical education, he missed playing with musicians of his own age. Luckily, he got the chance to join a new band.

Before forming his own band, Billy Eckstine had been a member of Billy Hines band.  This was an old style swing band. To Billy, this was the music of the past. He wanted to form a new band, one whose music was innovative. That would be the case. Look at the lineup. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Art Blakey and Fats Navarro all joined Dexter in Billy Eckstine’s band. In the new band, Dexter worked hard to establish his own sound. He didn’t want to copy other players, so forged his own unique and inventive style. Despite being an innovative and progressive band, the Billy Eckstine band weren’t a commercial success, so split-up.

Now without a regular gig, Dexter became a session musician. He played in pickup bands in Los Angeles, with a group of likeminded musicians. Among them were Charlie Mingus, Buddy Collette, Chico Hamilton and Shelly Manne. They proved a formidable quintet. In recording sessions, Dexter and fellow tenor saxophonist Wardell Grey became sparing partners. Their solos were referred to as chases. Like a game of daring do, each encouraged the other to greater heights. Dexter was establishing a reputation as one of bebop’s best tenor saxophonists. Sadly, all wasn’t well.

After Miles Davis released Birth Of The Cool in 1949, it was a game changer. The West Coast sound was much more popular than the traditional bebop sound. Many people preferred the West Coast sound. For some people, it was the acceptable face of bebop. In many ways, it was bebop without its rough edges. That however, wasn’t Dexter’s only concern.

Like many jazz musicians, Dexter Gordon’s drug of choice was heroin. Heroin and jazz musicians seemed to be synonymous with one another. Many of the great jazz players succumbed to it. This has often been romanticized. There’s nothing romantic about heroin. It creeps up on people, and soon they’re addicted. That’s what happened to Dexter. He even spent time in prison. Much of the fifties was lost to heroin addiction. However, he was able to release two albums in 1955.

On his debut album, Daddy Plays The Horn, Dexter’s heroin addiction meant his playing suffered. It’s the age old problem of heroin addiction affecting a horn player’s chops. Without pianist Kenny Drew, the session wouldn’t have been completed. Kenny’s playing rescued the session. After Daddy Plays The Horn was finished, people advised Dexter to take time out. Two months later, Dexter’s health had improved, and he was ready to record his sophomore album, Dexter Blows Hot and Cold, for Dootsie Williams’ newly founded Dootone label.

For his sophomore album, Dexter Blows Hot and Cold, Dexter and Maxime Gordon cowrote four tracks. They were Silver Plater, Rhythm Mad, Bonna Rune and Blowin’ For Dootsie, a homage to Dootsie Williams. Burton Lane and Frank Loesser wrote I Hear Music. Dexter Blows Hot and Cold also included covers of Cry Me A River, Don’t Worry About Me and Tenderly. These tracks were recorded by an all-star band.

Accompanying Dexter, when Dexter Blows Hot and Cold began was Dexter Gordon’s All Stars. The quintet featured pianist Carl Perkins, bassist Leroy Vinnegar, drummer Chuck Thompson and trumpeter Jimmy Robinson. This was a much easier session than the Daddy Plays The Horn sessions. Soon, Dexter Blows Hot and Cold was recorded and Dexter’s sophomore album was ready for released in 1955.

Unfortunately, Dexter Blows Hot and Cold didn’t enjoy the commercial success Dexter’s later would. What Dexter Blows Hot and Cold did, was demonstrate just who talented a player Dexter. Without the monkey on his back, he was one of the best tenor saxophonists of the day. That would become apparent on Dexter Blows Hot and Cold.

Opening Dexter Blows Hot and Cold is Silver Plated. Driven along by Leroy’s bass and Carl Perkins’ piano, the horns take centre-stage. The band play as a unit, before the solos begin. Straight away, you can hear in improvement in Dexter’s playing from Daddy Plays The Horn. His trademark sound is back. This sees to spur the band on. There’s a joie de vivre about their playing. They kick loose. Opening their shoulders, it’s a joyous way to open Dexter’s comeback album.

There’s a smokey, late-night sound to Cry Me A River. Carl’s languid piano is accompanied by a subtle rhythm section. They set the scene for Dexter’s heartbreaking tenor saxophone solo. Slow, wistful and full sadness, Dexter and the All Stars breath new life, meaning and emotion into a classic track.

Rhythm Mad bursts into life. The All Stars deliver a spellbinding performance. With Dexter unleashing a blistering tenor saxophone solo, the rest of the band can hardly keep up. Somehow they do. Pianist Carl Perkins and bassist Leroy Vinnegar match Dexter every step of the way. Later, the rest of the band get the chance to shine. First up, is trumpeter Jimmy Robinson then Carl and Leroy match each other stride-by-stride. Not to be outdone, drummer Chuck Thompson throws in some dramatic drum rolls, demonstrating why this band are called Dexter Gordon’s All Stars.

Don’t Worry About Me is another of the slower tracks. Here, Dexter allows other members of his band to shine. Crucial to the track’s success is pianist Carl Perkins.  His languid, but slightly flamboyant style sets the scene for Dexter. Carl makes the piano sound so easy. He delivers a poignant solo, while the rhythm section provide an understated heartbeat. When the baton passes to Dexter, his playing is pensive and wistful. When Dexter and Carl join forces, they prove a potent combination, capable of producing beautiful, but poignant and heartbreaking music.

I Hear Music has similarities to Silver Plated. Both tracks were written by Dexter and Maxime Gordon. It’s the introduction that leads to that comparison. Horns, rhythm section and piano join forces, as the track bursts into life. The All Stars are a tight, talented unit, who are the perfect foil for Dexter.  He unleashes a peerless solo. It’s quick, accurate and delivered at near breakneck speed. You can’t help but marvel at his control. He’s at one with the saxophone. Eventually, his solo is over, and he gets the chance to draw breath. Not for long. Soon, he’s back, while the rest of the band get take turns to enjoy their moment in the sun. Good as they are, they can’t quite match Dexter on what is, one of the highlights of Dexter Blows Hot And Cool.

Bonna Rue sees no drop in tempo. Dexter picks up where he left off on the previous track. With horns to the fore, the bass propels the arrangement along. As a unit, the All Stars are peerless. Then when the solos arrive, things get even better. The horns enjoy their chance to shine. So does drummer Chuck Thompson. He’s quietly gotten on with his job, so deserves the chance to unleash a solo. However, Dexter playing with power and passion, steals the show. Despite the band upping their game, Dexter’s the star of this show.

I Should Care sees Dexter return to the wistful sound of Don’t Worry About Me. Just a melancholy bass, pensive piano and wistful saxophone combine. They prove a potent and poignant combination. What they create is late night music, or music for the newly broken hearted. So good is this song, it’s worth having your heart broken to appreciate it.

The familiar combination of the bass and piano propel Blowin’ For Dootsie along. Soon, the horns get in on the action. Drums roll, cymbals crash and the All Stars hit their stride. They’re determined to pay homage to the Dootone label’s founder Dootsie Williams. This they do with aplomb. Here, the All Stars play around Dexter, who plays with passion and power. His passion and enthusiasm is infectious, spreading to the rest of the band. Pianist Carl Perkins, then bassist Leroy Vinnegar, drummer Chuck Thompson and trumpeter Jimmy Robinson all get in on the act. In doing so, they pay fitting homage to Dootise Williams.

Closing Dexter Blows Hot And Cool is Tenderly. It’s another of those wonderfully melancholy songs that Dexter Gordon does so well. Just the piano and bass accompany Dexter’s rasping saxophone. Straight away, it’s tugging at your heartstrings. So does Carl Perkins’ piano which has played a crucial role in the success of Dexter Blows Hot And Cool. What’s made the album, are the slower songs, including Tenderly, which is a quite beautiful way to end any album.

After the false start that was Daddy Plays The Horn, Dexter Gordon’s career got off the ground with Dexter Blows Hot And Cool, which was recently rereleased by Boplicity, an imprint of Ace Records. It was an improvement on his debut album, Daddy Plays The Horn. Quite possibly, Daddy Plays The Horn should never have been recorded. When Dexter recorded the album, he was in the throes of heroin addiction. He shouldn’t have been in the studio. Heroin affects a horn players chops. It certainly affected his playing on Daddy Plays The Horn. The people around him realised this. They told him to take a year of. That wasn’t possible. Dexter wasn’t a rich man. No. He’d only released one album and most of his money came from session work. In the end, he took two months of. These two months maybe saved his career.

After this two month break, Dexter had cleaned up his act. He was ready to enter the studio again. With Dexter Gordon’s All Stars, he recorded Dexter Blows Hot And Cool. A mixture of ballads and blistering bebop, it’s a new Dexter Gordon. We hear more than a few glimpses of the Dexter Gordon who’d be a star at Blue Note Records. Surrounded by top musicians, he flourished. The most important player, has to be pianist, Carl Perkins. On the slower tracks, like Cry Me A River, Don’t Worry About Me, I Should Care and Tenderly, which to me, are the best on Dexter Blows Hot And Cool, Carl Perkins is ying to Dexter’s yang. Having said that, there’s no passenger’s in the All Stars. Each member pulls his weight. They all play a part on Dexter Blows Hot And Cool, the album that might just have saved Dexter Gordon’s career before it even started. Standout Tracks: Cry Me A River, Don’t Worry About Me, I Should Care and Tenderly.


Dexter Blows Hot And Cool

Dexter Blows Hot And Cool

Dexter Blows Hot And Cool

Dexter Blows Hot And Cool

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