Archive for Joe Gordon; Dizzy Gillespie; Clifford Brown; Art Blakey; Shelly Manne

Obscure Trumpet Masters #2 – Joe Gordon

Posted in Obscure Trumpet Masters with tags on February 3, 2011 by curtjazz

Joe Gordon (1928 – 1963)

“When Brownie [Clifford Brown] had won the New Star Award in the Downbeat Magazine Critic’s Poll, he told me I should have won it…” – Joe Gordon

Such was the respect that Joe Gordon earned from his contemporaries. 

It’s ironic that Clifford Brown once considered Joe Gordon his better; for Gordon often said that two of his major influences were Dizzy Gillespie and Brown.  Like Clifford Brown, Joe Gordon was a remarkable technician, who was formally trained.  Like Brown, he won the admiration of his musical elders while still in his teens and like Brown, his life was cut tragically short at an early age, due to accidental circumstances.

(Joe Gordon with Harold Land, Wes Montgomery, et al; on the title track from Land’s West Coast Blues! album)

Joe Gordon was born in Boston in 1928. He attended the New England Conservatory and made his bones by sitting in on jam sessions between Boston and Albany, on layovers from his job as a sandwich boy on the railroad.  As jazz greats such as Lionel Hampton, Charlie Mariano, Art Blakey and Charlie Parker came through Beantown, they looked this big toned kid up.  When Clifford Brown stepped down from the trumpet chair in the original Jazz Messengers, guess who took his place? After 6 months and one recording with the Messengers, Gordon was called by Dizzy to join his big band for a tour of the Middle East in 1956. Such was Gordon’s prowess, that he was given a solo on Dizzy’s signature tune, “Night in Tunisia”.

L to R - Joe Gordon, E.V. Perry, Dizzy Gillespie, Carl Warwick, Quincy Jones (photo by Herman Leonard (1955))

After the tour with Diz ended, Gordon moved west to Los Angeles and found that the west coast cats dug him just as much as they had in the east.  He played and recorded on the left coast with Harold Land, Dexter Gordon, Benny Carter, Barney Kessel, Shelly Manne and Thelonious Monk. He also recorded his second and final album as a leader, 1961’s Lookin’ Good!, for Contemporary Records, featuring Jimmy Woods on alto and Dick Whittington on piano, in their recording debuts.  Lookin’ Good! is a strong album. Gordon and Woods are in top form and the tunes, all penned by Gordon, range from very good to the minor classic (“Terra Firma Irma”).  This disc was a promise of many great things to come.

Sadly, it was not to be, as Joe Gordon died in Santa Monica, CA on November 4, 1963, from injuries he sustained in a house fire. The fire was said to be caused by a lit cigarette, which Gordon had dropped on his bed.  He was 35 years old.

Recommended Recordings:

 Lookin’ Good! (Contemporary/OJC) – CD is OOP; mp3 version available from and various sources.

Because Gordon’s discography as a leader consisted of only two albums, the remaining recommendations are, for the most part, from dates he appeared on as a sideman: