My Favorites (Jazz): “I Was Doing All Right” - Dexter Gordon
Dexter Gordon will always be one of my favorite saxophonists. Granted I’m biased because I am a tenor saxophone player, but I used Dexter solos to help some of my vocal jazz students learn how to swing when I taught at American University. The essence of swing feel is encapsulated in the way he plays a phrase. Dexter swings so hard he can actually speed up or slow down the whole rhythm section just by where he chooses to accent the beat. It also doesn’t hurt to have such a broad sound that was described by one jazz critic (I think it was Leonard Feather) as “cavernous.”
Recorded in 1961, Dexter’s recording of “I Was Doing All Right”on the album Doing Allright, is one of my all-time favorites. This piece holds a nostalgic value for me because it was during my formative years as a jazz musician in high school and early college that I encountered this recording. I was listening to Charlie Parker at the time and I had even been into Grover Washington Jr., along with Michael Brecker, David Sanborn and the infamous Kenny G. (not the maestro Kenny Garrett). When I heard the huge sound that Dexter plays on each note it made me focus that much more to my own practice of doing long tones and developing my sound.
I played this recording so much that I memorized the trumpet solo by Freddie Hubbard and the piano solo by Horace Parlan. I also transcribed the first few choruses of Dexter’s solo so I could decipher some of his hip bebop language.
I had heard some earlier recordings of Dexter where he has more space between his bebop phrases. On this track, however he bundles everything together connecting line after line, and shows his mastery and command of the broader bebop language, as well as his own bebop vocabulary. Many point to Charlie Parker as the architect of bebop saxophone (and bebop language in general) because he created the phrases and the language that we all use, but Dexter Gordon created his own language and many saxophonists use Dexter’s bebop phrases as well. His lines are perfect for starting and ending phrases and there is a built in swing inherent in the accents that will help keep you and the band “in the pocket.”
Aesthetically, just listening to the melody and the groove puts you in a good mood and you can’t help but feel relaxed. The title of the album says it all, Doing Allright.