This week, Taos will celebrate a jazz legend while also welcoming a pair of living legends to town. It’s all part of “The Dexter Gordon Project,” an initiative by the Taos Jazz Bebop Society to present a famous jazz film while also celebrating the music of that film’s star – Dexter Gordon, one of the late, great jazz saxophonists of the 20th century.
Today (July 13), the Taos Center for the Arts will present a free screening of 1986 jazz film “‘Round Midnight,” which starred Dexter Gordon in an Oscar-nominated lead performance.
The next day (July 14), the Jimmy Cobb Trio will perform a “Tribute to Dexter Gordon” at the Harwood Museum of Art, featuring 88-year-old drummer Jimmy Cobb, who’s known for his collaborations with Miles Davis. The performance will also include special guest Doug Lawrence, a tenor sax player who has worked with some “small-time” artists, such as Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.
The two events are a collaboration with the 12th annual New Mexico Jazz Festival, which runs from July 13 to Aug. 5, and they mark a significant first. “It’s the first time we have done a show affiliated with the New Mexico Jazz Festival,” said Eric Gladstone, one of the founders of the Taos Jazz Bebop Society. What’s more, it’s the first time a New Mexico Jazz Festival event has been located in Taos.
The Taos Jazz Bebop Society, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 2014 with the mission of “making Taos an exciting jazz destination,” according to its website. The society also organizes a two-day poetry and jazz event in April to coincide with the dual celebrations of National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month, and this November will mark the organization’s third annual Frank Morgan Jazz Festival. “We also have done some workshops with [local] public schools,” Gladstone added.
July 13: ‘‘Round Midnight’ at TCA
In 1986, “‘Round Midnight,” a jazz musical film directed by Bertrand Tavernier, was released in theaters to critical acclaim. It starred jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon, who portrayed the fictional Dale Turner (a composite character based on biographical details of the lives of legendary jazz performers Bud Powell and Lester Young).
For his performance, Gordon was nominated for best actor at the 1986 Academy Awards and won a Grammy for best jazz instrumental performance for the film’s soundtrack album. In his review of the film, Roger Ebert said, “It has more jazz in it than any other fiction film ever made, and it is probably better jazz; it makes its best points with music, not words.”
Gladstone said he remembered when the movie came out. “It was a popular movie,” he said. “One of the great jazz movies of all time.”
After a bit more than three decades since its initial release, the film will be screened at Taos Community Auditorium, 7 p.m., on July 13. A question-and-answer session will follow with Maxine Gordon, Dexter Gordon’s widow. The screening is free and open to the public.
Gordon died in 1990 at the age of 67 after a long and storied musical career. In 1943, at the age of 20, Gordon landed a gig in Lionel Hampton’s band. Later, he was part of Hampton, Nat King Cole and Louie Armstrong’s big band and also performed with Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. Significantly, Gordon was known for bringing mid-20th century jazz, known as “bebop,” to the tenor saxophone. From the 1960s to the mid-1970s, Gordon spent most of his time performing and living in Europe before returning to the United States in 1976. After 10 years of recording and performing in the States, Gordon made his star turn in “‘Round Midnight,” and his legendary status was made permanent.
July 14: ‘Tribute to Dexter Gordon’ at the Harwood Museum
On Friday (July 14), 7:30 p.m., the Jimmy Cobb Trio will perform a set list that pays homage to Gordon’s work at the Harwood Museum’s Arthur Bell Auditorium. The headlining drummer, Jimmy Cobb, is a storied veteran of Miles Davis’ bands. He turned 88 years old this past January. Over the course of his lengthy career, Cobb has performed with Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Cannonball Adderley, among many others. Perhaps most significantly, he was a part of Miles Davis’ classic album, “Kind of Blue.”
The Jimmy Cobb Trio also includes pianist John Campbell, whom the Taos Jazz Bebop Society describes as a “powerful and creative player,” as well as St. Louis, Missouri-born bassist John Webber, who is considered “a prime example of the continuing stream of jazz musicians from the Midwest who have migrated to the jazz scene in New York.”
Doug Lawrence, a tenor saxophone player, features as the night’s special guest. Taos Jazz Bebop Society describes him as “the perfect player to channel Dexter with his big sound and loose, swinging feel.” Lawrence, the featured tenor sax player of the prestigious Count Basie Orchestra, boasts an astonishing list of collaborators, including Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Benny Goodman, Ray Charles, Tony Bennett and Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra.
“We hope to fill the auditorium,” Gladstone said. “All of our [previous] shows at the Harwood have sold out.” He advised prospective attendees to book their tickets early.
Tickets for the concert cost $25 ($20 for Harwood Alliance members) and are available at the Harwood Museum box office or by calling (575) 758-2052. For more information on both the screening and the concert, visit taosjazz.com.