Dexter Gordon is one of the most popular tenor saxophone players, his phrasing is simple and clear, his sound is characteristic, languid and strong. Original compositions can often be found in his albums, together with masterful interpretations of standards. Still, Dexter Gordon's pieces can't be found too often nowadays; they are rarely played, even by musicians who are devoted to traditional and mainstream jazz. For this reason, I transcribed some compositions from Dexter, for my own use and, I hope, for other musicians as well.
This composition belongs to the jazz march type, like the well-known tune by Benny Golson Blues March. There are not too many of such compositions in the jazz repertoire. They are characterized by a moderate and steady pace, and by a vigorous accompaniment with bass and drums mostly playing homo-rhythmically.
The tune has a structure AABA, each section lasting 8 bars. In part A, the bass line descends diatonically on the B♭ natural minor scale. The theme has a bluesy sound, with a descending melody as well. Two chords are quite interesting:
E♭7 on measure 3 - this chord is borrowed from the melodic minor scale (the minor natural scale has E♭m on the IV degree). Its sound is also bluesy.
B13 on measure 4 - this is a tritone substitution for an F7 dominant chord and is used to go back to the tonic B♭.
On part B, the tune modulates to E♭ major (4 bars) then to F major (4 bars). The coda is built upon the repetition of the last semi-phrase of part A, the ascending chromaticism of the chords A♭7-A7-B♭7. This is followed at the very end of the tune by an unexpected chord, E♭7, derived from the IV degree, instead of the more obvious B♭m, the tonic.
As a whole, the composition has a strong blues tinge. The AABA form is simple and fluid; the tune is simple but nevertheless effective and well-composed.
The tune that gives title to the album is a typical bebop composition. The theme is built once again upon the AABA structure. The melody starts on the IV degree and descends chromatically to the 1st degree.
A♭m7-D♭7, Gm7-C7, G♭m7-B7, Fm7-B♭7, E♭
This chromatic descent is also used in the introduction:
E♭, D♭m7-Gb7- B, B♭7
The drums play a very active role during the exposition of the theme. On first head, the drums answer the saxophone at bars 4-8-12-16-28-32, while on the last head the response is even bigger, on bars 4-8 e 12-16.
Part B is really beautiful, with a modulation to the III degree (G) and a nice descending melody on triplets.
This song is a very typical bebop standard, with a nice melody and solid harmony.
Lady Iris B
Dexter Gordon is a true master in playing ballads, this album contains two compositions of the kind: the languid and sad I'm a fool to want you, and another one in a warmer and brighter mood, composed by Dexter Gordon and entitled Lady Iris B.
The composition is based upon the harmonic element |A7 D7| D♭|, that is the triton substitution of the dominant (D7 is played in place of A♭7). We already encountered a similar device in Hanky Panky. The theme begins with a descending chromatic, also an element we already encountered on Clubhouse part B.
Dexter Gordon seems to like a few musical motifs, but he is able to exploit them in very different musical situations. Lady Iris B is a beautiful ballad, very similar to some compositions from Duke Ellington which also used descending chromatics, especially in his ballads (e.g. Prelude to a Kiss, Sophisticated Lady).
This song is not an original from Dexter Gordon; nevertheless it's interesting to analyze it, since it is the only modal tune of the recording. Devilette has an ABA structure, each part lasting 8 bars. Part A is based upon a Gm chord and a superimposed Gm Dorian scale, while part B is tonal.
The succession of these two different musical devices makes the tune interesting and varied.
Different from other musicians in the same period, Dexter Gordon did not shift to the new modal approach; he stayed faithful to the mainstream idiom, yet his performance in Devilette shows he is perfectly at ease with playing in a modal fashion.
Last tune of the album, Jodi is by all means the blues, even if it's built upon a 16-bars sequence and not upon the twelve-bar chord progression, which is the most common. If we consider the twelve-bar blues formed by three parts A-B-C (proposal-response-conclusion), in this case it's the central part which is expanded, and the result is an A-B-B-C model. The saxophone dialogues with the rhythm section on bars 5-12, the concluding phrase is not coming as soon as we would expect, and the delay makes the conclusion more effective.
Even in his solo, Dexter outlines that call-and-response phrasing typical of blues, inherited from older music genres like hymns and work songs. The melodic pattern is at first enunciated in bars 1-4, then repeated in bars 5-8. The same device occurs in bars 14-24 and 33-40. Dexter's solo is a masterpiece, perfect in its proportions and rich in those idiomatic patterns that every jazz musician would desire to possess. The rhythmic approach is also very noticeable; Dexter plays this tune staying “back” on the beat, especially when playing the more bluesy phrases.
The trumpet solo follows, again performed in a solid blues idiom. The last improvisation is from the pianist Barry Harris, who plays more in a bebop-fashion, colored with bluesy patterns in bars 9-10, 25-26, 38-40, 41-42.
Drawing a conclusion, this album features some worthy compositions by Dexter Gordon, showing some recurring melodic and harmonic patterns. The recording is also rich in variation of styles and sounds, all of which interpreted by Dexter Gordon in a very personal mood. Dexter Gordon stands out in playing ballads and blues, but he can play bebop and modal jazz as well. His original compositions are similar to some pieces of Duke Ellington, Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson. This outlines that all the jazz tradition can be found in the Dexter Gordon idiom. Dexter's peculiar style composes itself from clarity, sobriety, and of that warm and languid voice singing for us.