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Dexter Gordon: 'Settin' the Pace'

The cover of Settin' the Pace

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MURRAY HORWITZ, American Film Institute: That assurance, that confidence, that big tone — not what you might expect from a 22-year-old. But it wasn't just any 22-year-old. It was Dexter Gordon. Hello, I'm Murray Horwitz and today we're inducting Dexter Gordon's Settin' the Pace into the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library.

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HORWITZ: These are recordings from These are recordings from 1945, '46, and '47 — right in the thick of the style we call bebop. Dexter Gordon is credited by some as being the first great bebop stylist on the tenor saxophone. You hear him do what the great beboppers always did — stretching the tunes, especially in the harmony, so that they surprise you and take you where you didn't think they were going.

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HORWITZ: But, you know, there's something a little more accessible in this music than there is in other, even more famous bebop, say Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. I think it has to do with the gutsiness of the lower sound of the tenor saxophone as opposed to the higher pitched alto sax or trumpet. And it has to do with Dexter Gordon, himself. There's something elegant and relaxed about his style, and — I don't know — maybe you hear more rhythm-n-blues in the tenor sax of Dexter Gordon. In any case, it maybe just be a little easier to follow than some of the more frenetic bebop you may have heard.

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HORWITZ: It doesn't hurt that Dexter Gordon has some of the best sidemen of his day on this CD. There's drummers Max Roach and Art Blakey; pianists Bud Powell and Tadd Dameron; and the trumpeter Fats Navarro. The ideas and the performances all seem fresh today 50 years later.

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HORWITZ: The CD is called Settin' the Pace. It's on the Savoy label. The Basic Jazz Record Library is supported in part by the Lila-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund. For NPR Jazz, I'm Murray Horwitz.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

A. B. Spellman
Murray Horwitz
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