Saturday Night Tunes: Doin’ Allright

1961’s Doin’ Allright was kind of a comeback for tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon. He’d really been the first major bebop figure on the tenor, although the early part of his career sort of bridged the period from bebop’s immediate predecessors (tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins were two of Charlie Parker’s biggest influences) into the Parker-Gillespie heyday. But Gordon kind of dropped out of mainstream jazz consciousness in the 1950s, only to reappear on the scene in the 60s. Gordon’s sound and loose sense of time helped inspire John Coltrane in the early parts of his career, but the tables turned by the late 50s and it was Coltrane’s work that began to influence Gordon. Above all, Gordon was his own thing — a hard bop heavyweight whose pedigree stretched back to bebop and even before, a player who was equally at home playing meaty, 1960s-style jazz or applying a 1930s-style sensibility to an old ballad standard.

In 1962, Gordon left America and would make his home in Europe, mostly France and Denmark, for most of the next couple of decades. He said he was treated better in Europe, that he experienced less overt racism there, and on a personal level the change of scenery seems to have helped him kick his periodic drug problem. In 1986, he starred in the film Round Midnight, playing a character who was based on Young and pianist Bud Powell but who was, as an American jazz saxophonist living in Paris, also very much a reflection of Gordon’s own experiences. He was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar that year, which I’m pretty sure is the only time I’ll be saying that about anybody we talk about in these Saturday night sessions.

Doin’ Allright was Gordon’s first album for the Blue Note label, and he’s joined by Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Horace Parlan on piano, George Tucker on bass, and Al Harewood on drums. If you happened upon this album in 1961, and you’d been wondering where Gordon was for the past few years, you could listen to his playing here and see that he’d been, you know, doing alright, uh, ha ha.

In fact, here’s the lead track, “I Was Doing All Right,” written by the Gershwin Brothers, just in case you weren’t getting the message:

“You’ve Changed” is another standard, written by Bill Carey and Carl Fischer. Gordon shows off his prodigious ballad chops before handing off to Hubbard for a brief interlude:

Gordon wrote “For Regulars Only,” the next track, which gets back into a light, medium tempo feel:

Gordon’s “Society Red” is the high point of the album in my opinion, a hard swinging blues that has the most contemporary (1961) feel of any of the tunes on the album. Hubbard’s solo is especially strong:

Another standard, “It’s You or No One,” written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, is a fun track that has the most “bebop” feel of any of the tunes on the album:

That’s it for the original LP tracks. My CD reissue also includes an alternate take of “For Regulars Only” as well as another Gordon original, “I Want More,” another swinger with a bebop feel:


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