2019 FORT ADAMS LINEUP
SATURDAY AUGUST 3, 2019
Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon by Maxine Gordon (University of California Press)
Sophisticated Giant presents the life and legacy of tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon (1923–1990), one of the major innovators of modern jazz. In a context of biography, history, and memoir, Maxine Gordon has completed the book that her late husband began, weaving his “solo” turns with her voice and a chorus of voices from past and present. Reading like a jazz composition, the blend of research, anecdote, and a selection of Dexter’s personal letters reflects his colorful life and legendary times. It is clear why the celebrated trumpet genius Dizzy Gillespie said to Dexter, “Man, you ought to leave your karma to science.”
Dexter Gordon the icon is the Dexter beloved and celebrated on albums, on film, and in jazz lore–even in a street named for him in Copenhagen. But this image of the cool jazzman fails to come to terms with the multidimensional man full of humor and wisdom, a figure who struggled to reconcile being both a creative outsider who broke the rules and a comforting insider who was a son, father, husband, and world citizen. This essential book is an attempt to fill in the gaps created by our misperceptions as well as the gaps left by Dexter himself.
Maxine Gordon is an independent scholar with a lifetime career working with jazz musicians. As an oral historian and archivist in the fields of jazz and African American cultural history, Sophisticated Giant fulfills the promise she made to her late husband, jazz saxophonist and Academy Award-nominated actor Dexter Gordon, to complete his biography.
“Maxine Gordon astutely frames the fiery daring of Dexter Gordon’s generation of bebop innovators in the context of rising black consciousness and creative agency in midcentury America…“Sophisticated Giant” is a work of considerable sophistication, the first-person testimony of its subject employed with affectionate discipline, smartly contextualized and augmented by material from interviews Maxine Gordon conducted with the tenor saxophone masters Sonny Rollins and Jimmy Heath, the record producers Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cucsuna, and others.” — David Hajdu The New York Times
“Gordon’s life has previously been chronicled, but not with so much of his own achingly personal, brutally honest voice. Sophisticated Giant is not a critical analysis of his music; instead, Maxine has interwoven Dexter’s own letters and poetry with a broad spectrum of anecdotal accounts, plus her own meticulous scholarship and adoring reflections, to craft a vivid life story. . . . This is a must-read for jazz fans.” — Jazz Times
“Dexter Gordon’s deep tone, relaxed delivery—even the frequent witty musical quotations—seemed like extensions of his gravely playful speaking voice. That voice carries over on the page too. You can hear it when you read his written testimony and extracts from letters included in Maxine Gordon’s illuminating biography.” — Kevin Whitehead NPR’s Fresh Air