Dexter Gordon accompanied more vocalists than you might imagine. There was Helen Humes in 1950, Gladys Bentley in 1952, Kitty White in 1965, Pony Poindexter in 1966, Vi Redd in 1970, Miriam Klein in 1973, Eddie Jefferson in 1978 and Tony Bennett in 1990. In the mid-1940s, while in Lionel Hampton's band, Gordon accompanied Rubel Blakey; in Louis Armstrong's band in 1944, Gordon and the band accompanied Velma Middleton, Jimmy Ross and Pops himself; and with Benny Carter in 1946 he accompanied Maxine Sullivan, Lucy Elliott, Candy Ross and Kay Starr. And there were plenty of others.
One of Gordon's more unusual vocal-accompaniment albums was backing Norwegian singing star Karin Krog in Oslo, Norway. Recorded in 1970, Blues and Ballads included Krog (vcl), Gordon (ts,vcl) Kenny Drew (p,org), Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen (b) and Espen Rud (d). The songs were Some Other Spring, Blue Monk, How Insensitive, Blues Eyes, Jelly Jelly, I Wish I Knew, Everybody's Somebody's Fool, Shiny Stockings and Ode to Billy Joe.
To American ears, Krog's voice takes a little getting used to. In essence, it's like listening to an accented cross between Dinah Washington and Little Jimmy Scott. But to her credit, Krog had plenty of power, a jazz feel and terrific intonation. Gordon picked up on all of this and dug in. The result was a collaboration that worked, with a collection of smartly chosen tunes.
Songs of note are Blues Eyes (written by Swedish jazz pianist Berndt Egerbladh and Krog), Jelly Jelly (on which Gordon joins Krog; his voice is reminiscent of Joe Williams), Everybody's Somebody's Fool, Shiny Stockings and even Ode to Billy Joe, accompanied during the first run-through by Pedersen playing the bass like a guitar. On the recent reissue, you'll find alternate takes of Some Other Spring, Blue Monk and Shiny Stockings.
Gordon throughout is in peak form on solos. He and Krog feed off each other beautifully, as you can hear on Jelly Jelly. And if you've never heard Gordon sing, you'll be quite surprised and impressed.
Dexter Gordon died in 1990; Karin Krog is still with us.
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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