The only musician ever nominated for an Oscar was, “Dexter ‘LTD’ Gordon (Long Tall Dexter),” for his role in the most praised jazz film of all time, Bertrand Tavernier’s, “Round Midnight”; titled for Theolonius Monk’s signature composition. In Tavernier’s jazz classic, Dexter plays expatriate, “Dale Turner,” whose mission was to depict a great creative artist, and reveal the pain which often accompanies the exploration of beauty; an ongoing search for new melodic lines and harmonies that prevail within the full musical spectrum…that is be-bop.
Producer Tavernier hired Gordon for the leading role in Round Midnight after paying him a visit at his New York apartment; he was bewildered at what he saw. “I had to wait because he was sleeping, but when he entered the room I was really affected, just by the way he walked. Watching him come into the room, I had the impression that he was going to fall down and die on the spot. I don’t know who else could project that.”
Gordon’s portrayal of Dale Turner in the film was truly captivating; when he was on stage, that’s all you could see; he dominated the screen with his lofty and tottering presence. And with his raspy voice, which is probably a few octaves below the average human voice, he dominated the sound-on stage and off.
On the film set, Dexter hung photographs of Charlie Parker and Lester Young in his trailer. And before every scene, he would meditate upon them. He told producer, Tavernier, that he felt a responsibility to the two idols because he had an opportunity to bring their jazz personas to the screen.
At one point in the film, Dale Turner visits a French psychiatrist to discuss his pain dilemma. And with a hands-out-from-his-head jester, he tells the shrink, “My life is music…my love is music…” and with hands moving he finishes, “And it’s…twenty-four…hours..a..DAY.”
Born and raised in Watts, Ca., Dexter’s father was an LA physician whose patients included Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. While in his early teens, Dexter fell under the sophisticated preponderance of Lester Young and later, mastered the extroverted resonance or Illinois Jacquet and the complex harmonies of Charlie Parker.
Dexter was the first ‘real’ be-bop tenor saxophonist. At 17, he started with the Lionel Hampton orchestra, and before he was 30, he had adorned the stages of some of the top names in jazz history, including Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Billy Ekstine; his be-bop-chops were glowing.