The Joe Gordon Story, Part 3: California
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In early spring 1958, Joe Gordon abruptly left Boston for California. His last known date with Herb Pomeroy was March 18. The story has it that he stopped by the Stable to tell Pomeroy he was leaving town, and he left that same night. Allegedly Joe owed a drug dealer money, was told “pay up or else,” and fled. It might be true, it might not, but the story conforms to the generally accepted Gordon narrative.
Gordon was strung out when he arrived in Los Angeles, but he found work with the help of drummer Shelly Manne, who became one of Gordon’s strongest supporters on the West Coast. Joe gigged with Dexter Gordon and Hampton Hawes among others. He also married Irma, whom he’d known in Boston, after arriving in L.A., and he later named one of his better-known tunes for her, “Terra Firma Irma.”
Manne had a recording date with Benny Carter and he got Joe on it too, sharing trumpet duties with Al Porcino and Ray Triscari. The result was the Carter album Aspects. Soon after, in about July, Gordon voluntarily entered the residential recovery program at Synanon, where he remained for about four months.
Through Manne, Joe met another ally, Lester Koenig, the founder of Contemporary Records. Joe would play on seven Contemporary sessions over a two-year period—his own album in 1961, plus three with Manne and one each with Barney Kessel, Helen Humes and Jimmy Woods. (See Michael Fitzgerald’s comprehensive Joe Gordon discography.)
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