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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Dec 18, 1949: Last Call for the Sabby Lewis Orchestra

“Sabby Lewis is really rollin’ at the Show Boat!” gushed George Clarke in his Daily Record column of December 7, 1949 (earlier Lewis entries here and here). “And with Jimmy Tyler back in the fold, plus a new and fabulous trumpeter, the band is hotter than ever.” That fabulous trumpeter was none other than Cat Anderson.

Photo of Sabby Lewis
Sabby Lewis and Al Morgan, 1945

The Lewis Orchestra never had such punch, with Anderson joining longtime brass men Gene Caines and Maceo Bryant, and Tyler rejoining Bill Dorsey and Dan Turner in the sax section. Lewis, Al Morgan, and Joe Booker formed an unbeatable rhythm section, and Marilyn Kilroy handled the vocals. This was a formidable band.

Sabby brought the orchestra to the Show Boat, at 252 Huntington Avenue, in late November, leaving his home base at the Hi-Hat. It was a questionable decision. The club had no established clientele, and certainly no jazz clientele, because it had cycled through numerous entertainment policies in the postwar years and none of them had clicked. In fact, jazz fans’ impressions of the place were probably negative because of the bad feelings surrounding the closure of the Zanzibar Club there in 1948. Finally, the Show Boat was too far away from the cluster of clubs around Mass Ave and Columbus, where all the people were.

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Dec 15: Birthday of Saxophonist Jimmy Tyler

Alto and tenor saxophonist Jimmy Tyler, born in Kittrell, NC on Dec 15, 1918, is no stranger to this blog—his career is covered in entries on Mar 11, April 24, and May 29. I’m posting today to let you know I’ve finally uploaded one of his out-of-print Federal recordings to YouTube.

Here is Jimmy Tyler on tenor with a crack studio band playing his own 1956 composition, “Pink Clouds.” I’ve always liked Cliff Leeman’s drumming here. This isn’t the kind of mainstream jazz we associate with Leeman, but his touch is well suited to this tune.

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May 29, 1956: Jimmy Tyler Records for Federal

On May 29, 1956, saxophonist Jimmy Tyler recorded “Pink Clouds” backed by “Indian Love Call” for the Federal label with a crack studio band.

Label of Federal 12275
Jimmy Tyler’s “Pink Clouds,” Federal 12275, 1956

Saxophonist Jimmy Tyler, equally at home on alto or tenor, is one of those characters who keeps popping up in these blog posts (March 11, April 24). He was active musically, and often busy behind the scenes as well, in Boston from 1946 to 1963, and then sporadically through the end of the sixties.

Ralph Bass signed Tyler to the Federal label, an R&B-oriented subsidiary of King Records, in 1952. Between 1952 and 1957, Tyler released 14 sides for Federal on 78 and/or 45. Session details are hard to come by in most cases.

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April 24, 1952: Jimmy Tyler’s Smart Affairs

Between the late 1940s and early 1970s, Larry Steele’s “Smart Affairs” musical revue was one of the top draws on the black entertainment circuit, aka the chitlin’ circuit. In 1952, “Smart Affairs” was in Boston at Sugar Hill, and Jimmy Tyler was leading the show band.

Photo of Jimmy Tyler
Jimmy “Bottoms Up” Tyler

Sugar Hill was actually a new nightspot in what had been the Mayfair, at 54 Broadway just off Stuart Street.“Smart Affairs” opened on April 24th and ran to May 18th. The 1952 show included comic George Kirby, tap dancer Derby Wilson, vocalists The Four Tunes, and the vaudeville team of Butterbeans and Susie…and Tyler’s orchestra played for all of them.

Jimmy Tyler was no stranger to Boston. He’d been the top soloist in the Sabby Lewis band in the late forties, and when the Lewis band broke up in December 1949, its members regrouped under Tyler’s leadership. Tyler took the band on the road in spring 1950, traveling the eastern seaboard. It isn’t clear when Steele hired Tyler’s band, but fall 1951 is a reasonable guess. “Smart Affairs” would play at its home base, the Club Harlem in Atlantic City, all summer. Then the show would retool and go on tour. After Boston in the spring of 1952, Tyler took the band home to Atlantic City, worked the summer, and parted ways with Steele in September.
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