Dexter Gordon: Dexter Calling (1961) Blue Note


Selection: Modal Mood  (Kenny Drew)



Dexter Gordon (tenor sax) Kenny Drew (piano) Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) recorded Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, May 9, 1961

Dexter’s career (b.1923-1990) covers a lot of musical territory and geography:

Early beginnings: The Savoy and Dial sessions (1945-47) Big band and tenor battles
The intermediate years: Bethlehem, Dootone, early Prestige sessions (1955 – 1960) “The Connection” (1959) west coast staging
N.Y. rennaissance: the Blue Note sessions (1961-65)
The Copenhagen years (1968-71)
The later Prestige years (1969-72)
The Steeplechase sessions: Montmartre, Copenhagen (1973-76)
Homecoming: return to US 1976 ; Village Vanguard; 1986 Bertrand Tavernier’s film ” ‘Round Midnight.”.

Through the lost years of the ’50s Dexter was arrested numerous times for possession of heroin: an “easy bust” favoured because jazz musicians were often in possession of drugs, but unlike criminals, rarely armed and liable to shoot back to ensure their escape. As a result, Gordon spent several years in Chino, California, and later served time in Fort Worth and Lexington correctional facility.

These long periods in jail enabled him to escape the turbulent life of narcotic-use, enjoy periods of peace and quiet to get in physical shape, practice on his instrument and develop his own playing style. Dexter declared “I probably owe my life to the fact that I had a few enforced ‘vacations’.” Another example of the Law of Unintended Consequences, imprisonment improves music, who would have thought of it.


Dexter Calling is one of four Blue Notes that marked Gordon’s New York renaissance in 1961-2, including Doin’ All RightGo, and A Swinging Affair.  A further three titles followed after he packed his bags and headed for Europe, four if you include Clubhouse published later. My favourite Dexter Blue Note  is the Paris-based One Flight Up, closely followed by Gettin’ Around, but they are all good. (Note to myself, Our Man In Paris seems to have gone missing! Future post)

Following on from the recent post on Freddy Redd’s  Music From The Connection,  Dexter Calling includes three compositions Dexter contributed to the west coast staging of The Connection. Considering Philly Joe’s long-standing addiction to heroin, and Gordon’s own brush with narcotics, they add an extra touch of authenticity. The three “Connection ” tunes on Dexter Calling are Soul Sister (= Theme For Sister Salvation), I Want More (= O.D.) and Ernie’s Theme (= Music Forever).

On the west coast stage with Dexter was Charles ‘Dolo’ Coker on piano, George Morrow on bass and Lawrence Marable on drums. Returning from Hollywood to record at Englewood Cliffs, Dexter Gordon has Kenny Drew in for Freddy Redd, Chambers and Philly Joe along for the rhythm section.

Dexter’s horn speaks with a big full sound, reminiscent of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, influenced by Prez,  but his own voice  and vocabulary. Few tenor players have such a big sound, a huge hard tone, stripped-down phrasing and clarity, “plain and smooth, like polished marble“,  long laid-back solo lines laced with a few quotations, speeding up for contrast, mounting climaxes,  tension and release.

A master stylist, Dexter is at his best in his Blue Note phase. As regards his compositions for The Connection, I have an overall preference for Freddie Redd’s more tremulous and bluesy tunes, like Sister Salvation over Soul Sister. Dexter adds a little too much west coast sunshine for my taste, a little predictable,  however Kenny Drew’s Modal Mood draws the best out of him,  pushing him out of his comfort zone. That’s often what we need to give our best.

Vinyl:  BN LP 4083,

Mono, RVG, Plastylite, 168gm vinyl, “rare original “, slightly grubby rear slick but lovely laminated cover.

Big room-filling mono, connects you straight to the music, directly into the vein, by-passing any  audiophile baggage of imaging soundstage and instrument placement. The stereo edition would likely have Dexter panned hard left, which never seems right. Going back to this album this reminded me what strong presentation these early ’60s Van Gelder mono offer, truly works for me.

Even the back cover “looks right”, catalogue number at the top right( without the “8”) in large friendly letters, and none of that tradition diss-respecting  Liberty and United Artists give-away shrunken type. There is a heart-sink moment with some records in your collection when you find you have only an early stereo imprint, with hard-panning, and reach gingerly for the mono switch on your phono amp.




Collector’s Corner

From a man who clearly believes in blowing his own trumpet, email recently in from éminence grise of british jazz, star of stage, screen and pub-bandstand, tenor saxophonist in the best Tubby Hayes tradition, Simon Spillett:

The winners of the 2016 British Jazz Awards have just been announced and I’m pleased to announce that I have won the Services To British Jazz Award.

I had no idea that I had been nominated (and naturally assumed that an award of this type would go to someone with far more miles on the clock than me) but I’m very honoured to have been chosen.

Please find attached more information on this years winners and awards.

Best Wishes
Simon Spillett

Congratulations, Simon! Recognition, richly deserved.

From time to time I am asked to vote in the British Jazz Awards. Since I know little or nothing of today’s modern British jazz performers, I generally vote for Simon in every category, tenor, clarinet, trombone, big band, best CD, one of them must be right. Without the influence of Russian hackers (apparently they were otherwise occupied) and no calls for a recount, we have got these results.

Here are the awards in full, voted the best of the current British jazz scene.



The only thing that seems to me missing is a category for Jazz Website and Blog of The Year, to which I nominate, … myself!  2.5m page-views, pure jazz and vinyl-porn, Simon’s not the only one who can blow his own trumpet. Against the tide of laptop composers and craft-beer sipping Shoreditch shoe-gazers, I think it’s great that so many talented players are committed to making this great music, jazz.

Here’s wishing all LJC readers a very very Decca Christmas (cheesecake, 1958 style)



ljc-Santa-smokePostscript: What do junkies have for Christmas lunch?  Cold turkey. If you have an overdose of Christmas television and  have an hour and a half to spare, here’s a different sort of holiday movie. Someone has kindly posted the entire Shirley Clarke film of The Connection to YouTube. Now you can watch Jackie Mclean, Freddie Redd and the boys in action, ham acting and bop playing, the full film. May be copyright issues, so not stay up forever. Enjoy.

There is quite a lot of “acting” with the straight parts, overblown, but that is part of the period charm.

9 thoughts on “Dexter Gordon: Dexter Calling (1961) Blue Note

  1. I should have added that Jones charged me $5.00 a lesson. That would have been 1958/1959. I had read in Down Beat that he was giving lessons. One time when I was at the Apollo Thee-ate-ter Jones was performing with a group. After the set, I went to the stage and spoke with him about my taking lessons from him. That was the start. I had recently graduated from UCLA and was now living in the City. Jones lived with his wife, Gwen, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn (a.k.a. Bed-Sty) not far from a Methadone clinic. A former dancer, Gwen was a copyist for Tadd Dameron, Duke Ellington, and others. I actually saw and handled Dameron’s original music! She did her work at the kitchen table.

  2. In ’62 or ’63, I traveled parts of Europe with a tape dub of this album as part of my sound track. Everything about the sound on this album is great! Philly Joe’s drums are captured brilliantly by Van Gelder. Jones was an off and on drug user. For part of a year in the late Fifties, I took drum lessons from him at various places throughout the city or at his home in Brooklyn. It depended on where he might be playing. He had several thick scars on the back of his left hand he called “war wounds” from shooting heroin. At the time I knew him, he wasn’t using; Occasionally, however, he would drink a bottle of Cocinol (spelling?) cough medicine, which was numbing. As best I know, it is no longer made. Jones was also a regular Monday nights at Birdland, as was I (I had a comp card courtesy of Morris Levy).

  3. Compliments of the season to you LJC. Consider your nomination seconded. Keep up the great work.
    Dexter Calling was issued with yet another great Blue Note front cover. I like the colours used and the simplicity of the alternating bars.

  4. 15-20 years ago I had a blue label 70s issue of this that I hardly played; I was just not pleased with the sound and oh it looked so ugly too! Just a few months ago I bought a pristine mono original…broke the bank a bit but still around half the Popsike high and it looks like it’s hardly been touched since released. Finally I can really enjoy this session!!

  5. One of my top blue notes I own I scored in Chicago in winter 2016 VG++++ for $50 still amazed at the condition over 50 Years plus when you drop the needle it puts you at that exact time and place surreal RVG stamp and ear to match one of Dexter’s best which I enjoy all his blue note recordings.

  6. Thanks very much for al the jazz reviews in 2016 . I enjoyed them very much .
    Merry Christmas and a happy New Year .
    Walter Meersmans
    Radio Centraal / Antwerpen

  7. What a strangely conservative choice of musicians for the British Jazz awards. When one thinks of the innovatory world class players originating from UK who don’t rate a mention it brings the validity of the awards into question

  8. Always a pleasure to wake up to one of your reviews. I pulled Out my recording of the Dexter Calling on the Classic quiet svp 200 gms. Discovered that it is a mono pressing as well. There is also a Blue Note LT album called Landslide. Produced by Michael Cuscuna, The title track is an out take from the above Dexter calling Album. For the life of me can’t see why it was left out. All other tracks are from the other 1961-62 sessions…mostly Sonny Clark on Piano.

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