By February 20, 2013 3 Comments Read More →

Separated at birth?


Your (mostly one-man) staff here at Dead Like Jazz has been seriously “afk” for a few days, mostly due to an intervention by real life. A car accident to be specific. Luckily, even agnostics like us are blessed from time to time, and we escaped with minor, but reasonably painful, injuries. That relegated us to the couch, since standing (as we’re wont to do) at the keyboard was a little uncomfortable.

Once confined to that leathery device, the couch does have its pleasures. Enough alcohol and ibuprofen remove much of the physical sting of a high-speed freeway crash, and lying thereupon is a nice change of pace. It also gives one a chance to watch more TV, of course. Blessed with good taste, we stick to networks like Turner Classic Movies, and we were lucky enough to see Peter O’Toole’s mid-career romp in the 1983 film “My Favorite Year” late this afternoon. Certainly not a great movie, but a solidly good one, owing more than a little to O’Toole’s inspired take on a drunken, Errol Flynn-esque character making his first foray into live television in the early 1950’s.

While this movie, and O’Toole, have absolutely zero connection to this blogsite’s emphasis on jazz and other no-longer evolving forms of American music, watching it did evoke an oblique connection to a genuinely brilliant and cool jazz god, Dexter Gordon. For what were at first confusing reasons, we kept being reminded of Dexter as we watched the newly middle-aged, 1983 version of the famously self-abusive Peter O’Toole. O’Toole, and his partner in crime, fellow actor Richard Harris, were prominently and frequently blotto drunk both in life and during performances, so his role in this movie was something akin to autobiographical. While Harris has passed on to that pub in the sky, an 80-year old O’Toole survives in seemingly robust health after all of those years of abuse. Sort of the thinking man’s Ozzy.

Gordon, for the uninitiated, was a one of the great jazz saxophonists, and damn-near the only post-war tenor player who was NOT completely influenced by Lester Young. As one of the few who was able to establish a unique voice as bebop and later hard bop dominated the scene in the years after Swing, Gordon—as early as 1946—had already created a unique, staccato rhythmic approach, a very personal way of phrasing, and an utterly personal tone on the tenor sax that set him apart from almost all of his contemporaries. You’ll hear plenty about him here as we progress.

We finally realized that what struck us about seeing the 50-something O’Toole on TV today was how much he reminded us of the similarly-aged Dexter Gordon when he was in his “revival” period following a return form Europe in the mid-1970’s. I (the persona of the “we” invoked here) knew him personally from an interview I did with him in 1977. When I met him, I was all of 20 years old, but I already knew his music—and his musical history—pretty well. Like O’Toole, Gordon had, and continued to have at this juncture, issues with alcohol and opiates, and I was aware of those issues. Graciously agreeing to an interview with my furry young self, Gordon was utterly charming, and related stories of his days with the “Unholy Four” sax section of the revolutionary Billy Eckstine big band of 1944, his postwar adventures in LA, and his subsequent move to Europe in the late 1960’s.

The most striking thing to my impressionable young self, however, was Gordon’s appearance, Six-feet four inches tall (or so), and all of 150 pounds, he seemed almost fragile. His face was delicately handsome. Almost pretty, but with a weary undercurrent that just kept it from being a feminine visage. Utterly heterosexual, he might have been mistaken for an older, African-American leading man, had such a thing existed then. In fact, Gordon had acted before, marginally at least, in the play “The Connection” in the early ’60’s, and eventually received serious critical acclaim for his role 1986’s “Round Midnight”, Bertrand Tavernier’s film about a Youngian figure dying in Paris. Not only was Gordon convincing in the latter work, he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

Why are we talking about both of these fellas? Simply that Gordon and O’Toole are both ridiculously pretty, tall, skinny artists with substance abuse histories, and that they both sort of rehabilitated their careers in the late 70’s and early ’80’s. They both have this sort of effete, delicate body language, a bit short of effeminate, and it just seems odd to us that they had so much in common. One can be fairly confident that Gordon was aware of movie star O’Toole. We wonder if O’Toole was aware of Gordon. And, if so, we wonder if they saw any connection. We doubt it, but next time you watch Dexter in his movie, or see O’Toole in anything, think of the other man, and perhaps you’ll see what we mean.

Posted in: Jazz, Odds & Ends

3 Comments on "Separated at birth?"

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  1. Jay Knipstein says:

    AFK? Oh you hipsters and your jive. Everybody OK?

  2. Jay Knipstein says:

    AFK? Oh you hipsters and your jive. Everybody OK?

  3. jridetroit says:

    Yeah. We’re sore, but alive.

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