May 20, 2024

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Maxine Gordon opens up about ‘Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon’: Photos, Video

Dexter Gordon was an indisputable jazz legend when he died in 1990, at 67.

An iconic and dashing bebop hero of the 1940s, he had also made some of the defining Blue Note albums of the 1960s. He’d made a new life in Europe and then returned triumphant to New York, reaching a new tier of prominence — the kind that garners a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards.

But Gordon had one piece of unfinished business when he left this earthly plane: an autobiography that he had started with his wife and business partner, Maxine Gordon. Before he died, he entrusted the book project to Maxine, who promised to bring it to fruition. Twenty-eight years later, she has fulfilled that promise with Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon.

The book, just out on the Univ. of Calif. Press, is a fascinating and richly detailed account, combining scrupulous research, sociological perspective and deep personal insight. Maxine took her mission seriously: she went back to school, earning a degree in African-American Studies and pursuing graduate work in jazz studies. At times in Sophisticated Giant, she brings the reader in, illuminating her own process in the scholarly equivalent of breaking the fourth wall.

Maxine, who has been a longtime friend to WBGO, recently came in for a conversation about the book, and the man who stands tall throughout its pages.

Maxine Gordon has a number of events in the coming weeks, including a discussion at McNally Jackson Books on Nov. 13, with Farah Jasmine Griffin and Fred Moten; a reading at the 92nd Street Y on Dec. 18; and a discussion at Clement’s Place in Newark on Dec. 20, with Wayne Winborne from the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers.

Maxine Gordon, author of 'Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon'

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