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.
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.”
Pianist, organist, and bandleader Hillary Rose born in Saint Michael Parish, Barbados. Rose’s family emigrated when he was a child, settling in Cambridge, where he studied piano. He later studied at the Boston Conservatory, and privately with Sandy Sandiford, and eventually graduated from Berklee in 1955.
He organized his first band, Hillary Rose and His Rhythm Boys, in 1935. He worked with saxophonist Pete Brown in 1945, and his 1946-51 quartet with saxophonist Tom Kennedy, bassist Lee Farrell, and drummer George “Peanuts” Seaforth was a regular feature at the Savoy, the Hi-Hat, and many Merrimac Valley clubs.
Rose led a short-lived band with trumpeter Joe Gordon in 1952 (“This cat is soulful though he can’t read a note!” Gordon told Jazz Journal), then was on the road through much of the 1950s. When he returned to Boston in 1958, he was playing the organ exclusively. He led trios all over the South End, at the Trinidad Lounge, the Big M, and the Hi-Hat (he led the last house trio at the Hi-Hat, which burned in March 1959). Rose, with drummer Bill “Baggy” Grant, had the house trio at Connolly’s first with tenor saxophonist Dan Turner, then with Jimmy Tyler, from fall 1959 to spring 1962.