WBGO Playdate

WBGO's Playdate: Dexter Gordon's 91st Birthday

Round Midnight poster by Steve Chorney

Thirty-one years ago, in February 1983, WBGO celebrated Dexter Gordon's 60th birthday with a live broadcast of him and his band from New York's Village Vanguard.

Here's a special track from that night: Dexter's own "Soy Califa," with Kirk Lightsey on piano, David Eubanks on bass and Eddie Gladden, drums.

Dexter was born on February 27, and on February 25th, the Maison Française at Columbia University hosted a screening of the 1986 film which starred him, French director Bernard Tavernier's Round Midnight.

Tavernier was present, and after the screening he reminisced about the screen test that convinced him that Gordon - a musician, not an actor - must play Dale Turner, the fictional saxophonist whose character in the film was based on Lester Young and Bud Powell.

Gordon received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Herbie Hancock won an Oscar for Best Music, Original Score. Music from Round Midnight was released on two LPs, one from Columbia, one from Blue Note.

The film takes place in Paris, but towards the end, the fictional Turner and his friend and protector François Cluzet, whose character was based on the real-life François Paudras, a French author who befriended Bud Powell in Paris, come to New York.

They are met at the airport by the agent Goodley, played by Martin Scorsese, who accompanies them in a taxi across the East River to Manhattan. In his taxi monologue, Goodley upsets the delicate emotional balance that Turner so poignantly achieved in Paris.

That night, Turner plays an exciting show in a New York club. Freddie Hubbard is on trumpet. Tavernier told us that the night club set was almost an exact replica of the original Birdland. It's one of many authentic details in the film.

All the music in Round Midnight was filmed live, and a memorable host of musicians play. Hancock, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Pierre Michelot and Billy Higgins are the Paris band. Bobby Hutcherson is the character Ace, who doesn't leave his Paris rooming house but cooks up a storm for Buttercup (played by Sandra Reaves-Phillips, who sings). Lonette McKee also sings.

And we hope you enjoy Dexter Gordon at The Village Vanguard, live on WBGO, from just two years before shooting Round Midnight!

Listen to additional tracks:

Support comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey State Council on the Arts and WBGO.

Playdate funders

Produced for WBGO by Alexander Ariff,
with Becca Pulliam and Duke Markos, Executive Producer Josh Jackson.

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