Dexter Gordon: Our Man In Paris (1963) Blue Note

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Selection: A Night in Tunisia (Gillespie)

Artists

Dexter Gordon (tenor sax) Bud Powell (piano) Pierre Michelot (bass) Kenny Clarke (drums)  recorded CBS Studios, Paris, France, May 23, 1963,  engineer Claude Ermelin, mastered by Van Gelder, and released in November 1963.

1959_french-tv1Artist of Note: Bud Powell, piano!

Powell left New York for Paris in 1959, where American jazz artists found a congenial expatriate community, and decent espresso. Right, Powell pictured at Club St Germain, Paris, with Kenny Clarke (drums) and native Parisian Pierre Michelot (bass),   Clark Terry and Barney Wilen  on brass.

Holy Cow, someone get me a ticket!

1960 The Three BossesPowell, Michelot and Clarke–  played a year-long residency at the Blue Note Club, Paris, the longest period of continuous employment in Powell’s career. The club’s ten-year life, 1958-68, saw concerts by Chet Baker, Donald Byrd, Sonny Criss, Ervin Booker, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Giuffre, Gerry Mulligan, Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, J. J. Johnson, Jimmy Smith, Elvin Jones, Lee Konitz, Sonny Rollins, Sahib Shihab, Lucky Thompson, Nathan Davis,  Mal Waldron, Ben Webster, and Cannonball Adderley. To name but a few.

Make that a season ticket!

Having allegedly downed a customer’s drink when they weren’t looking, Powell was fired, or so the story goes. Concert bookings still flowed, taking him to Switzerland,  Oslo, Copenhagen and Stockholm. Back in Paris, at the time of this Gordon session,  Powell made as many recording dates in four months as he had since his arrival in Paris four years previously. However from here on Powell went  into a spiral of decline from which he never emerged, ending in his death in 1966, age 41.

There seem to be two fixed points in jazz criticism which come up whenever that artist’s name is mentioned: Sonny Stitt is Charlie Parker’s shadow (oh no he isn’t/ oh yes he is), and the later Bud Powell, as a shadow of his earlier self. I’m not sure it helps you appreciate the good in either. Everything has an upside, its a physical fact.  All-Music gives a more generous account of Bud’s contribution to Our Man In Paris:  “His playing is a tad more laid-back here, but is nonetheless full of the brilliant harmonic asides and incendiary single-note runs he is legendary for.” Well said that man.

Music

Our Man In Paris was Dexter’s first Blue Note message from France. John Fordham described it as  “a tenor-sax tour de force from a key figure bridging bebop and its swing predecessor.” Dexter’s notes are hard and precise, in elongated runs. At times I find him too controlled, too sure-footed and laid back, I crave more risk-taking, dangerous sorties,  but here Dexter gives one of the strongest of all his performances. Blistering climaxes, terrific attack, especially in the standard Night in Tunisia, with its quirky oscillating opening, Woody Woodpecker-like intro; a stop-start Gillespie tune that nevertheless offers the perfect platform from which to launch incendiary solo flight, as it did Charlie Parker’s break. It’s all in the tension and release.

I like to think Powell’s presence helped spur Dexter on – how could it not? All the tracks are jazz standards, chosen for Bud’s familiarity with the material, as Bud’s appearance was apparently a last-minute substitute for Kenny Drew.  That familiarity also encouraged  Dexter in exploring fresh directions in those familiar melodies, weaving in a masterly flow of quotations, Long Tall at his most Rollinesque.

Snap Poll! We haven’t had a poll since the last one. Which are your favourite Dexter Blue Notes?  I say, whichever I am playing at the time. We need a poll,  popular vote carries the day, your three favourite Dexters. Reminder:

dexter_gordon_blue-notes

Eight candidates, you are allowed to nominate three, poll closes in one week, no ID required, no leaks, no hacking, no recounts, and no tears if you disagree with the result. Go ahead, make your  play.

Vinyl: Blue Note BLP 4146

Mono, ear, VAN GELDER, and WOC – writing on cover!

A different sort of DG, “Dexter Gordon”, that autograph on the cover (1)  – is it genuine? Take a moment to compare. No. 2 is his drivers license signature, which presumably must be genuine. The remaining three autographs are also on record covers. On all except 5, the ascending stroke of T in Dexter is as tall as the first letter D or taller, and the upper half of the  x is bigger than the lower half. I reckon 1 is genuine, as are 3 and 4,  if anything,  5 is a fake, though it’s hard to tell. If you were planning to fake an autograph, you might take the trouble to copy an authentic autograph, but before the days of the  internet, how would you find one?

I have seen obviously fake Coltrane and Miles Davis autographs a few times on covers, but Dexter? Ask yourself, would you have the courage to “spoil” the front cover of a beautiful and expensive Blue Note with some big crappy-looking  “forgery”?  I figure the only person who would write on the cover of this album is Dexter himself, nothing to lose.

dexter-gordon-autographs

Plastylite and Van Gelder, though not recorded by Rudy, who it seems rarely if ever travelled to record outside the US. The recording was mastered by Van Gelder from tapes recorded by a young French engineer, Claude Ermelin, at CBS Studios, Paris. It was one of Emerlin’s first professional recordings. He later went on to record a wide spectrum of music for a wide range of French labels, including much chanson Francais, a couple of ’80s titles of the inimitable Jean Michel Jarre, but had no special jazz credentials at that time. Perhaps no one thought anything about it, the focus was on the artists, the engineering was a studio function simply taken for granted.

The audio recording quality has come in for a bit of stick from a few commenters on Amazon, those purchasing recent Audio CD, and some “vinyl” new reissues bought via Amazon.  An RVG Remastered CD buyer says: “Dexter’s tenor still sounds compressed, compartmentalized, and even grating (so, normal for a CD), and Bud’s piano still carries that trace of distortion“. To which one brave soul fires back:  “I still have the original recording (in mono!), and have always found the sound quality excellent – what I call a true jazz sound, with nothing softened or rounded off.” Which is also my experience. Can’t say I have noticed anything amiss, nothing intrusive.

No First Pressing Fundamentalist woes either. Readers may recall the controversy over Kenny Drew Undercurrent, as The Bard himself might have said:  DG, or not DG, that is the question.

Cohen initially declared the first pressing should be deep groove. By the time this record  was pressed in 1963, non-DG dies had been in use at Plastylite for nearly two years . Records turned up with DG one side or the other, no DG, or both DG at random. Whenever there was a stamper change, a different die permutation might occur. First off the second stamper is less desirable? When do you stop the “first pressing”? Friday?

Both DG and non-DG copies of Our Man in Paris are found on NY labels. Cohen has since revised his view, stating that everything after 4060 with all other correct markings but without DG is an “original issue”. Which is lucky, as a “preview copy” has come to light, which has good provenance, and like mine is not deep groove, and has a correct accompanying inner sleeve. I believe the seller’s name is familiar:  bill-sf

dexter-gordon-review-copy-back-labels-and-inner

Van Gelder mastered original vinyl, mono, big sticky-out ears, cracking sound, it’s all good.

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dexter-gordon-our-man-in-paris-blue-note-back-1920-ljc

Collector’s Corner

charlie-parker-dial-autograph1It took several years patiently following auctions of Our Man In Paris before one came affordably into my sights, of all places, on the wall of a London store. “Hey, I wanna discount, someone’s written on the cover!” I said.  A robust discussion followed as to the veracity of the autograph , and more important, did it add or subtract value? Charlie Parker on Yardbird Suite, Dial, right,  may be, but Dexter?

World-weary record store counter staff see a lot of records with faked autographs. And people who bring in “autographed” records to sell with high expectations – signed by Dexter! We agreed to ignore the authenticity issue of the signature, priced it out.

Autograph-hunters were a common phenomenon in the ’60s and ’70s, as indeed were autograph fakers, and groupies (who perhaps had something more energetic than an autograph in mind)  Venues were smaller, stars were still fairly accessible to fans, not surrounded by bodyguards and whisked away in limos to the after-gig party. Often you could go up to chat to them if you felt so inclined, or buy them a drink during the intermission.  Most importantly, people often carried a pen in their pocket, and record cover is physical and can be signed.

Today, they ask for a joint selfie to upload to Instagram to impress their friends, to go with their unwatchable hand-held 1½ hour phone-video of the concert: time better spent enjoying the concert for real.

Back to the vinyl: the high-end auction prices for Dexter in Paris took me by surprise.

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Top 25 auction prices in the $300-$700 range, and by my rough calculation only six of the top twenty five auctions mention DG in the headline description, and, more importantly, none of them are autographed by Dexter himself.

Dexter in Paris, 1964. Hi Dex, I’m a big fan from England. No, not New England, the old one.  Can I have your autograph? I’ve got your new Blue Note “Our Man In Paris” with me, brought it all the way from England. Here, I’ve got a pen. No, it’s not about me, why not just “Sincerely, Dext… “

dexparissmall1

Don’t forget to vote for your favourite Dexter Blue Notes. It’s free (unlike Blue Notes!). Check back often to see how your favourites are doing.

Postscript

There’s one that got away. Unissued recordings curated by Mr Cuscuna in the twilight of the United Artists years, 1962 sessions including LT with dream-team rhythm section, and Sonny Clark, among others. Looks a great catch, why haven’t I got this?


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35 thoughts on “Dexter Gordon: Our Man In Paris (1963) Blue Note

  1. I like my mono NY23 copy. Not DG, but VanGelder and the “P” are stamped in the deadwax. Vinyl is VG+ with some background noise. But the force comes through ! Only paid $10…..cover is G+….discoloration, significant wear, split seams….but you don’t play a cover….. I also have great NY23 copies Doin’ Alright (stereo) A Swingin Affair, and a Liberty copy of One Flight Up. GREAT music !

  2. Just after Christmas, I met with SF Bill and SF Larry at Amoeba Music on Haight St. in San Francisco, just up from Golden Gate Park (GGP). A former bowling alley, Amoeba is huge! Bill and Larry are two of three IAJRC members who live in San Francisco. Bill ran a record store for 25 years. Both men know every-which-way about jazz on LP. We all bought something. I got two N- Dexter Steeplechase LPs for $7.99 each. We then lunched at a local Japanese restaurant, called Ginza. Very good!

  3. I’m surprised you know Woody Woodpecker. Thought that was just an American cartoon. Must have made it over the pond… GO is my favorite jazz LP, ever.

  4. I have no Dexter in my collection. Never even heard him play as far as I know. But not for lack of trying. I just try not to listen to records I don’t own too often these days. Makes the hunt more fun and fresh. I’d scoop any of them up if I found them at an affordable price.

  5. every time I see a Dexter Gordon album I remember the history with Miles Davis, that he implied with Miles Davis clothes, saying that he’s is out of style, that he have to let the beard grow… this is bulling, man!

  6. Thanks for this great recounting of this unmissable LP. Whenever I play it, my ears always detect a different sensibility at the engineering board at work than there one in full bloom on the RVG LPs. Of Dexter’s two Paris recordings, I much prefer “Gettin’ Around,” if only for the delicious addition of Bobbie Hutchinson on the opening track.

    If I really want to go full on early 60s Parisian, I will follow Dexter’s LPs with Budd Johnson’s woefully underrated “French Cookin'” (Argo, 1963), John Lewis and Sacha Distel’s “Afternoon in Paris” (Atlantic, 1961), and some EPs by Francoise Hardy. C’est super!

  7. Thank you for this nice mention. I always try to keep my provenance good. But, how did you get those pictures? I know popsike only shows the cover photo. Is there another archive site I need to know about? For completeness sake, how about including the other Blue Note album in the survey? Landslide (LT-1051) collects previously unissued tracks from 3 sessions (one track from Dexter Calling and two other sessions from 1962 including one with Sonny Clark). It still wouldn’t get my vote though, which is for Go and A Swingin’ Affair with a seven way tie for third.

  8. In the movie Round Midnight, the Our Man in Paris LP, is in the background for maybe a second in one scene. You had to look quickly, but the album cover had been altered so the artist’s name was Dale Turner, the character played by Dexter Gordon.

    • Nice! Have to look for that. still never seen that or “Bird.” They’ve been on the list forever. One that always bothered me – in the movie “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” (which was pretty good I’d say) Jude Law’s character plays a jazz fanatic. In his apartment are clearly visible LPs by Chet Baker, I think Billie Holiday, and one clearly placed Miles Davis record. The problem is, it’s “Tutu” from 1986. The film takes place in the mid-50’s :/

  9. Thank you for another great post! As a side note I want to ask a maybe strange question: what are those red “stamps” we see on the back covers of some of your records? I saw them on your 2 last Dexter Gordon records but I’m quite sure I saw them before in older posts.

    • Those are Mecolico stamps to show that the royalties had been collected for the UK copyright owner, (for the mechanicals), on what were imported records. Mecolico, (Mechanical Copyright Licenses Company), were the collection body, and the stamp shows the amount paid, in the case of this Dexter LP 3 Shillings, or 15 New Pence in modern money, from memory of Jazz Journal adverts an import Blue Note LP would have cost around £2 or 40 Shillings back then. The use of those stamps predates World War One, but by the seventies they were replaced with stickers such as the red and gold ones EMI used and by the eighties the green stickers came in though neither were collected by Mecolico which has long since evolved into MCPS and merged with the PRS.

  10. One of my first ever Blue Note albums, taped (!) in about 1994 from a friend (Soul Station on the other side), and still probably my favourite Dexter.

  11. Another detailed account, Andy. I just don’t know how you find the time. I only seem to be able to manage one posting a month on Into Somethin’. BTW, it would be lovely if you added a link 😉

    As for favourite Dex LPs, I went for the Go!/A Swingin’ Affair pair plus Dexter Calling but on another day, in a different mood, I could easily pick a completely different three.

  12. PS – Dear LJC:

    I came by your site today to get some clarity. I recently found an album that had been a gaping hole in my collection for a long time – Gene Ammons’ “Boss Tenor,” a simple, yet stunningly satisfying session captured with great sonic clarity by our hero, RVG. With Tommy Flanagan, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor and Ray Barretto. The rhythm section is just straight cookin’ here, naturally.

    I was about a week away from buying the 200 gram Analogue Productions reissue, which I hear is great, when I found it for $10(!) this past weekend.

    Fairly sure I’ve found an early/first press: black and yellow fireworks, DG, mono, RVG stamp. Had some light wear but a quick gussy-up made for an incredible listening experience. I think it’s generally considered one of Van Gelder’s finer moments, certainly for Prestige.

    I wanted to cross-reference my new copy with your own copy and…could it be not only do you not have this one, but ANY Gene Ammons? His work in the 50’s and 60’s for Prestige Records are, if not terribly ground-breaking, really fantastic sessions, consistently. Especially the great jam session LP’s he did – stuff with a young Jackie McLean or Art Farmer, Kenny Burrell, many more… I highly recommend picking some up if not. Or am I just missing them in the search? Very possible. Curious!

    Peace!

    Bink Figgins

  13. One Flight Up is, in my opinion, a perfect recording. It doesn’t get the credit it deserves and I think it could be argued that it’s Gordon’s masterpiece. GO! gets most of the love, partly because the tunes are so catchy and partly because of the iconic Reid Miles artwork. But I’ll take One Flight Up over all the rest. Your “Paris” LP looks and sounds fantastic. Another classic by LTD. Well done, as always sir.

  14. I’ve gotta go with ‘Doin’ Allright’, Dexter’s 1st BN recorded on Englewood Cliffs soil, with Horace Parlan in the engine room & a young Freddie Hubbard on trumpet [his 1st date!].

    • I think Freddie Hubbard’s performance on Wes Montgomery’s 1957 LP “Fingerpickin'” predates “Doin’ Allright” by a few years. I don’t know if that was his first session though.

      • Correct Adam, according to most sources I can find. In fact by Doin’ alright Hubbard had already released Open Sesame and Hub Cap, as well as played on classic sessions like True Blue, Outward Bound, Coleman’s Free Jazz and Undercurrent – all in 1960!

        • Thanks, Adam & cellery, for putting me right [I’ll plead a ‘Senior’s Moment’ for this rare slip of expert recall].

          In fact, by ‘Doin’ Alright’, Freddie had recorded not only ‘Open Sesame’ & ‘Hub Cap’, but ‘Goin’ Up’ as well!

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