The Troy Street Observer

The Joe Gordon Story, Part 1: Boston

Trumpeter Joe Gordon was only 35 when he died in 1963, and he was in and out of the limelight during his too-brief career. Relatively little is known about him, and it seems like the same few biographical sentences copied from The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz appear on website after website. With the anniversary of his birth approaching, I thought it was time to dig deeper into Gordon’s history.

Photo of Joe Gordon, 1954
From back cover of 1954 LP, Introducing Joe Gordon

Part 1 of this three-part post covers Joe’s early years, mainly spent in Boston, and stops in 1953, the year Joe met Clifford Brown. Part 2 covers his hard bop and big band years, from 1954 with Art Blakey to his flight to West Coast in 1958. Part 3 covers his final years in California, ending with the tragic fire that killed him in 1963.

Gordon’s was an original and confident voice, and writers such as Nat Hentoff, John Tynan and John S. Wilson noted with approval his big sound, clean, articulate attack, and creative solos brimming with ideas. In terms of influences, Joe himself said: “I always seem to have liked Miles’ melodic thing with Dizzy’s drive, but actually it would be hard to say which one of the trumpet players I did follow. I always seemed to have a scope wide enough to employ everyone’s style.”

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Oct 19, 1947: The New Jazz Comes to Boston

Symphony Hall was a busy place for jazz in 1947. Lionel Hampton, Jack Teagarden and Max Kaminsky, the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, and Jazz at the Philharmonic were among the shows presented earlier that year. But the night of October 19 brought something entirely new.

Dizzy Gillespie concert program cover
Things to Come: Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra at Symphony Hall

In fact, that’s what the concert was called: “The New Jazz,” and the music was provided by Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra. In addition, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet, featuring Charlie Parker, played five tunes. Parker did not perform with the orchestra.

Gillespie had been to Boston before this in his big band days, and perhaps Parker had as well. But this was Gillespie’s first appearance in Boston as a bandleader, and it was the first time Gillespie and Parker were in Boston as the “high priests of bebop,” or whatever label it was that the press slapped on them. But labels aside, this was the first major-venue modern jazz concert in Boston. There would be more shows, and soon.

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April 12, 1951: Bird’s Jam Session at Christy’s

Charlie Parker and friends were caught on tape at a jam session at Christy’s on April 12, 1951.

Eddie Curran ran a supper club on Route 9 in Framingham called Christy’s. Big jazz fan that he was, he liked nothing better than to invite the musicians in after closing time for a party and a late-night blowing session. These jam sessions were the stuff of legend, with up-and-coming local guys playing until dawn alongside the leading lights of modern jazz.

There was a house band of sorts, led by alto saxophonist Boots Mussulli; pianist Dick Twardzik, drummer Roy Haynes, trumpeter Howard McGhee, and multi-instrumentalist Dick Wetmore were often on the bandstand. Trumpeters as diverse as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bobby Hackett all took their turns. Oscar Pettiford was there, and Gigi Gryce, and one night the whole Stan Kenton Orchestra showed up.
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