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Maxine Gordon, Farah Jasmine Griffin (FRW), Woody Louis Armstrong Shaw III (AFT)

Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon's place among those who created and performed some of the most influential music of the 1940s, 1950 and the early 1960s, when so many giants walked the earth, is indisputable. He was one of those giants, physically and otherwise.

That stature comes to sharp focus in a new biography by his widow, Maxine Gordon, Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon [University of California Press]. The author is not just a Dexter insider, but a thoroughly qualified researcher, particularly as it applies to music. She wasn't just Long Tall Dexter's wife, she was also married to trumpeter Wood Shaw and was a tour manager elbows deep in the music business. [When she writes of the questionable tactics of the shakers and movers in the industry, she know of which she speaks.]

The sharp portrayal, with in-depth observations and stories, is also important because Dexter himself is a kind of co-author. He was planning an autobiography and wrote things down with pen and paper over time. As his health waned, and finishing the memoir was not possible, he asked Maxine to continue; to see the project to fruition. This she did in laudable fashion.

Admittedly, there were things the saxophonist did not want to talk about and while he was alive DID not talk about. Particularly a good chunk of the '50s, when drug addition troubled him and so many others. Arrests and incarcerations were part of that period. But Maxine Gordon, properly, opens the curtain on those blemishes. Not for prurient interests. There is no car wreck to see. Showing hard times makes the eventual triumph more resounding. Rising after one falls is heroic. It's also part of the complete story.

The summation of Dexter the man and Dexter the musician is laid out over 20 chapters. Maxine explains it is not a typical bio, birth-to-grave. It's a travelogue of sorts, filled with facts, not just observations. But the stories are forthright, some of them right from Dexter's pen. The final painting is that of a man with not only supreme musical talent, but a curious and deep thinker, and man who cared about the plight of people, a man of kindness and of joy. So much of that joy was spread to people when he put the mouthpiece between his lips and began to blow.

Format: Hardcover
Published: in USA in 2018
Publisher: University of California Press
Pages: 279
Language: English
ISBN 13: 9780520280649
ISBN 10: 0520280644

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Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon