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Each year, the MONTCLAIR JAZZ FESTIVAL honors a jazz legend marking their centennial through art and music. The 14th annual festival will continue this tradition by celebrating Dexter Gordon with the work of visual artist Andres Chaparro and a performance by the JAZZ HOUSE Collective on the September 9 Downtown Jamboree BDP Holdings Stage @ Lackawanna Plaza.

Dexter Gordon, who would have been 100 on February 27, is a true jazz icon. The influential tenor saxophonist was born and raised in Los Angeles and played clarinet and alto saxophone before settling, at 17 years old, on the instrument for which he would always be known. Nicknamed “Long Tall Dexter” because of his height (6’ 6”), Gordon was one of several horn players who came of age during the Big Band Era, but who would come to develop and define the Bebop Era, with its emphasis on small groups and improvisation by soloists. His saxophone sound was large and warm, continuing the tradition set by Lester Young but adding more creative exploration under the innovative influence of Charlie Parker. Gordon recorded nearly 100 albums as a leader during his long career, most notably for the Blue Note label, which also featured iconic covers that have become part of jazz history.

"What I'm doing, I prefer to call that jazz, because it is a beautiful word - I love it."

Unlike his contemporaries John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, Gordon never really moved beyond the bebop genre, continuing to perform with hard-swinging rhythm sections throughout his career of more than four decades. Like many jazz artists from the bebop era, Gordon moved to Europe to perform and record during the beginning of the rock and soul era of the ‘60s, when straight ahead jazz seemed to fall out of favor. Although he had been coming back to the U.S. often, Columbia Records celebrated his official return in 1976 with a live album called Homecoming which re-introduced the saxophonist to a new generation of younger jazz fans. For the next 10 years, Gordon would perform at clubs and festivals often backed by stellar sidemen like George Cables, Ronnie Mathews, Rufus Reid, Louis Hayes and Eddie Gladden. Along with Art Blakey and Betty Carter, Gordon was a key factor in the resurgence of interest in straight-ahead jazz during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Beset by emphysema towards the end of his career, Gordon would cut back on his live appearances, while at the same time he appeared as an actor in two films, Awakenings and Round Midnight. In the latter, he played a fictional expatriate jazz musician named Dale Turner based loosely on Bud Powell and Lester Young, but also incorporating various Dexter-isms, including his droll humor, languid sound and fascination for the lyrics of a song. Although not in good health at the time, Gordon’s performance in the film won him an Oscar nomination and acted as a bittersweet coda for one of the most distinctive saxophonists in modern jazz. Gordon died in 1990 at the age of 67.

JAZZ HOUSE KiDS is proud to unveil the art that pays tribute to the jazz great Dexter Gordon that will serve as the visual theme for the 2023 MONTCLAIR JAZZ FESTIVAL.

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