Artist: Dexter Gordon.
Title: A Swingin’ Affair.
Label and Catalogue Number: Blue Note BLP 4133.
Personnel: Dexter Gordon (tenor sax); Sonny Clark (piano); Butch Warren (bass); Billy Higgins (drums).
Side 1: Soy Califa; Don’t Explain; You Stepped Out of a Dream.
Side 2: The Backbone; Until the Real Thing Comes Along; McSplivens.
Recording Date: 29 August 1962 at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA.
On The Record
Selection: Soy Califa.
Ah, Long Tall Dexter! Few jazz musicians can have had such long and colourful careers as this man – not to mention as many comebacks. A Swingin’ Affair dates from the years when Gordon had struck up a cordial, even playful, relationship with Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff of Blue Note records for one such comeback period. During this time, Gordon was mainly living and performing in Europe and made periodic trips to New York where Lion and Wolff would team him up with carefully selected sidemen to record enough material for a couple of LPs at a time.
In this case, all the tracks for Go! and A Swingin’ Affair were cut on two dates (27 and 29 August 1962) with the same group. The former is widely considered to be the zenith of Gordon’s recording career but there’s barely a cigarette paper between the two records in my book. In my wilder moments of fanciful imagination I think of Gordon as the Omar Sharif of the tenor saxophone – handsome, self-assured, laconic and a captivating raconteur on his instrument. Regardless of the tempo, Gordon was always sure-footed and knew what he wanted to get across to the listener.
Gordon sets Side 1 in motion with a verile vocalisation at the outset of Soy Califa which then keeps up a relentless samba from start to finish courtesy of Higgins’ stick work. Even that avowed non-lover of jazz, Mrs. K, was moved to sway round the room during this number. The quartet doesn’t falter with an immediate change of mood for the ballad Don’t Explain – so much so that it’s a surprise to know that the running order of the LP does not follow that of the session. Soy Califa is marked as Take 15 of the session while Don’t Explain was noted as Take 22 (the last successful take of the date). Like all great exponents of the ballad, Gordon ensured he knew the lyrics so that not only could he interpret them musically but he could practically sing the song directly to you through his horn. Side 1 closes with a jaunty latin interpretation of You Stepped Out of a Dream.
Bass player Warren’s The Backbone gets Side 2 off to a terrific start with some figures that are hard to shake. Next we’re treated to another Gordon balled master class with Until the Real Thing Comes Along and matters are brought to a close as the pace swings up for McSplivens which Gordon humorously named for his pet dog.
Aside from the ease and mastery shown by the whole quartet across all six tunes, I’m struck by (what I assume to be Lion’s) sure hand with programming the running order for the record. The session log shows the three up tempo numbers being committed to tape first, followed by a change down through You Stepped Out of a Dream to completion with the two ballads. Yet Lion’s deft touch mixes up the chronology so that the listener is kept engaged with dietary variety throughout the record.
Although the session was recorded in 1962, A Swingin’ Affair was not released until August 1964. In a letter to Wolff that month, Gordon wrote of the LP: “Overjoyed! That’s the word – overjoyed for our latest release – ‘Swingin’ Affair’. It’s a very happy sounding album and I think it’s going to sell very well.” Tragically, by this date, Sonny Clark had been dead for over a year, victim of illness related to his drug habit.
The acquisition of this record marks a slight departure for me and can best be described as a private purchase. Some time ago, I won an eBay auction for a record and, during some ensuing correspondence, I asked the seller if he had any more interesting records that were likely to come up for auction soon. This led to the surprising and welcome query about whether I was looking for anything in particular. Without getting into too much detail, we soon struck a deal for A Swingin’ Affair and a short while later the package arrived safely except for one small problem: right cover, wrong record – a very nice copy of Jackie McLean’s Destination Out – nice but wrong! I’m inclined to the view that most people are fundamentally honest, so I put this down as a simple oversight and contacted the seller to enquire about steps to put things right.
The seller’s explanation of the mix-up would give away that kind gentleman’s identity so it suffices to say here that he handled the matter more than satisfactorily and all’s well that ends well. In fact, so well that I have made subsequent purchases from this well-connected individual and I hope to continue our cordial mutually beneficial relationship in future.
As a little bonus, here’s a YouTube video of Gordon leading another great quartet live in Denmark in 1967 and opening with Soy Califa…
Between The Lines
In that same letter of August 1964, Gordon also referred to the liner notes thus, “B. Long’s liner notes are something special, too.” The B. Long in question being Barbara Long, a jazz singer who recorded a couple of sessions for the Savoy label in 1961 with the estimable Booker Ervin among the sidemen on both dates. So Long was no stranger to powerful tenor saxophone exponents and the art of the ballad which made her a sympathetic choice to pen these notes.
In an era when both jazz and jazz journalism were male dominated arenas, it’s rare and refreshing to read a female perspective. Long shows herself not only knowledgeable about jazz and jazz journalists but also displays literary panache of her own. A significant portion of Long’s essay is given over to her own youthful reaction to witnessing Gordon live in performance before she gets down to the more routine business of discussing the performances on the record.
I’m amused by Long’s account of a friend’s reaction on hearing Soy Califa for the first time: “A friend, with no knowledge about jazz and a fatalistic attitude about ever understanding it, ran into the room, put the needle back, and said, ‘I can finally see what it’s all about.'” – a reaction not entirely dissimilar to that of the aforementioned Mrs K!
For Collectors Only
Both sides are non-DG and are embellished with blue and white New York labels and bear the “VAN GELDER” machine stamp and a Plastylite “P”. Side 1 additionally has “BLP-4133 A” hand etched in the deadwax while Side 2 has the corresponding “BLP-4133 B” deadwax hand etching. Appropriately, this heavyweight measured 174g at the weigh-in and is in excellent condition apart from a few clicks and pops on the quieter numbers.
The cover is a Reid Miles special. The luscious lamination of this sharp cornered beauty protects the deep reds and oranges of a typical Wolff session photograph with Miles’ typography placed artfully around the serpentine curves of Gordon’s saxophone. The rear cover isn’t so pristine and bears writing and stamps that tell us of its purchase and ownership history. It’s all part of the charm of the genuine article: from Mr. Morris Fletcher of Los Angeles, California, USA to me in the United Kingdom in more or less 50 years. Such is the journey of a well-loved Blue Note mono first pressing.