The wife of the legendary tenor saxophonist who died in 1990 explores his legacy through a blend of biography, memoir, and research that draws on interviews and a selection of Dexter’s personal letters.
Although fairly short passages from Dexter Gordon’s notepads appear here and there, the book is mainly Maxine Gordon’s, and that’s to its benefit ... Sophisticated Giant is a work of considerable sophistication, the first-person testimony of its subject employed with affectionate discipline, smartly contextualized and augmented by material from interviews Maxine Gordon conducted with the tenor saxophone masters Sonny Rollins and Jimmy Heath, the record producers Bruce Lundvall and Michael Cucsuna, and others ... Maxine Gordon astutely frames the fiery daring of Dexter Gordon’s generation of bebop innovators in the context of rising black consciousness and creative agency in midcentury America ... With Sophisticated Giant, Maxine Gordon has produced a homecoming even more dramatic, and perhaps more important, than the one she helped arrange for him in 1976: She has brought back the restive teenage fireball who wanted only to play some new music.
His long, prolific career may have been characterized by dramatic highs and lows, but the final 15 years of his life were marked by one success after another ... and we get a particularly intimate look at those career highs in this wonderful biography of the iconic jazzman ... Maxine has also done her homework ... She is quite thorough in covering Dexter’s 14-year expatriation to Copenhagen (1962-76), where he was openly embraced by appreciative jazz fans all over Europe ... Most striking for this reader was how, through her intimate, first-hand knowledge of her husband’s life, Maxine was able to convey how the art of jazz was far more than a career path for Dexter and his colleagues. The very spirit and essence of jazz was an attitude and a way of living one’s life as an artist. And certainly Dexter’s warm, soulful, big-toned sound enriched the lives of those who heard and embraced it.
Maxine Gordon...has produced a story of Dexter’s life that is also about the challenge of portraying a reluctant subject ... Sophisticated Giant (which shares its title with a Gordon album) is affectionate, enjoyable and informative, painting a portrait of a handsome, elegant, easygoing person and artist who refused to agonize about his past. Like the man himself, however, the book fails to discuss some things the reader may wonder about ... Perhaps more important, the word 'legacy' in the subtitle is misleading. Maxine Gordon clearly regards as her husband’s crowning achievement his lead performance as the fictional musician Dale Turner, based on the pianist Bud Powell, in Bertrand Tavernier’s 1986 film Round Midnight, for which Gordon was nominated for an Oscar. Jazz fans, though, might be more interested in Gordon’s stylistic influence on other musicians, one obvious example being Sonny Rollins. Maxine Gordon relies on quotes from others for that, and even those are sparse.