Dexter Gordon Enters The Library of Congress

"Jazz, to me, is a living music. It's a music that since its beginning has expressed the feelings, the dreams, hopes of the people."

Dexter Gordon once said that.

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Dex. The Dexter Gordon Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress hide caption

itoggle caption The Dexter Gordon Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress
Dexter Gordon

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The Dexter Gordon Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress

We heard it when we attended a ceremony marking the acquisition of over 1,000 items from the saxophonist's career at the Library of Congress made available by his widow, Maxine Gordon.

The collection includes items from throughout a career that spanned five decades. From his earliest days in Los Angeles until his death in 1990 — including memorabilia from his turn as a Oscar-nominated actor in Bertrand Tavernier's 1987 film Round Midnight — it's all there.

Maxine Gordon's presentation about the making of Round Midnight revealed more quotables from Dexter. Seems the film's success made him a big deal in Europe, and for the first time he had to travel with bodyguards. As he was being escorted in Italy, he turned to his wife and said, "This is the first time the police have been in front of me with their lights on!"

Dexter Gordon's humor was just as legendary as his playing. That talent was well represented in the Library's collection of Dexter's records — including many original issue 78-rpm discs. Matt Barton, a curator for the Library of Congress' Recorded Sound division, says the entire collection will be digitized at the LOC's Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Va. We asked him to pull a couple of gems from the many boxes of vinyl albums, cassettes, CDs and 78-rpm records.

For Gordon's early work, Barton choose a cut called "The Hunt," which was a sequel of sorts to a more famous recording, 1947's "The Chase". Both records feature Gordon with fellow saxophonist Wardell Gray. But "The Hunt" was recorded live — it's a 20-minute jam that was originally released on four 78-rpm discs! Here's where the song picks up with Gordon and Gray:

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Excerpt of "The Hunt," from Dexter Gordon & Wardell Gray, The Hunt, Pt. 5-8 (Original Issue: Bop 101-102). Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Wardell Gray, tenor saxophone; Howard McGhee, trumpet; Trummy Young, trombone; Sonny Criss, alto saxophone; Hampton Hawes, piano; Barney Kessel, guitar; Leroy Gray, bass; Ken Kennedy, drums. Los Angeles, Calif.: Recorded Jul. 6, 1947.

Gordon became a leading exponent of bebop, with numerous recordings throughout the 1940s and a little bit of the '50s. Barton pointed out that there's a paucity of recordings from the '50s. Two short periods of incarceration for drug charges during that era that may have contributed to that. Maxine Gordon, who is completing the autobiography of her late husband, says he simply wouldn't talk about those years, partly because he considered them a mistake he didn't care to relive.

The LOC's Barton picked up with a 1965 recording of the tune "I'm A Fool For Wanting You." It comes from his prolific Blue Note Records era. Maxine Gordon said this was her favorite recording of her late husband:

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"I'm A Fool To Want You," from Dexter Gordon, Clubhouse (Blue Note). Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Barry Harris, piano; Bob Cranshaw, bass; Billy Higgins, drums. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Recorded May 27, 1965.

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Dexter Gordon was jazz's most famous ex-pat when he moved to Europe in 1964. He frequently gigged and recorded with many European musicians and other Americans, often from his home bases: first Paris, then Copenhagen. Our last archive sample is from 1967 and recorded in Copenhagen:

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"Doxy," from Dexter Gordon, The Montmartre Collection (Black Lion). Dexter Gordon, tenor saxophone; Kenny Drew, piano; Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, bass; Albert "Tootie" Heath, drums. Copenhagen, Denmark: Recorded Jul. 20, 1967.

Dexter Gordon

In the film Round Midnight, Dexter Gordon plays a brilliant American saxophonist who comes to Paris for his last chance at success. Warner Bros., Inc. hide caption

itoggle caption Warner Bros., Inc.

So what happens to all this stuff?

Barton says LOC audio techs will meticulously digitize every recording. He pointed out that the LOC does not sonically clean up the recordings. The Library's entire collection of sound recordings function as a window into history, and they attempt to present it as it sounded or as they received it.

Visitors to Washington, D.C. can walk into the LOC and listen to anything they have in their collection. However, there are legal limits as to what they can stream from their Web site, so not all of Dexter Gordon's music will be available online.

It's a big deal when this country's guardians of our collective cultural history make a priority of preserving the work of jazz musicians. The recordings speak for themselves, but often letters and photographs tell stories that put the contributions of our heroes into thought-provoking social contexts.

As more of the post-World War II jazz innovators pass on, I hope their families consider donating their memorabilia to a cultural institution of their choice. There is more than just music in those boxes.

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