Joe Gordon B: May 15th, 1928 - Boston, MA
D: November 4th, 1963 - Santa Monica, CA

Instrument: Trumpet


by Paul Tomashefsky:

Born Joseph Henry Gordon in Boston, MA on May 15, 1928, Joe was an only child in a family without strong musical ties, “but my mother liked to sing, and her forcing me to go to recitals got me interested in music.” Joe attended the New England Conservatory and took a modern music course with Trumpeter and instructor Fred Berman, who he later credited for much of his success. As a teenage boy, he worked as a sandwich boy on the railroad lines between Boston and Albany and would take his horn along with him and often sit in on jam sessions in both cities for kicks.

Joe’s first professional gig was with Pete Diggs’ band in Akron, Ohio in 1947. Before long, Joe and a few other teenage musicians landed a gig at the Boston Savoy, after which Sabby Lewis, leader of a band very much in demand around the Boston area in the late 1940's, hired Joe to play. After this, Joe managed to get gigs with Alto Saxophonist Charlie Mariano, Lionel Hampton, Georgie Auld and even Alto Sax great Charlie Parker, with whom he performed at the Hi-Hat club December 1952 with Pianist Dick Twardzik, Charles Mingus on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. In the early 1950's he was heard playing in a combo led by drummer Art Blakey. Joe Gordon was not only a technically brilliant Trumpeter but also an outstanding jazz composer as well. Though he idolized Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown soon became a major influence in Joe’s playing. In fact, it was Joe Gordon who took Brownie’s place in Art Blakey’s group the Jazz Messengers. He worked with Art for six months then free-lanced again in Boston before the call came to join Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band for a tour of the Middle East in the Spring of 1956 (The same year Clifford Brown died in a tragic car accident). “When Brownie had won the New Star Award in the Downbeat Magazine Critic’s Poll”, Joe recalls, “He (Clifford Brown) told me I should have won it. I guess he liked me for what he heard in me of Diz’s conception, just as I Dug him for what I heard of Fats Navarro.

After leaving Gillespie’s band in the Summer of 1956, Joe returned to Boston to form his own group again, before joining Herb Pomeroy’s Big Band which performed at a local Boston nightclub called the Stables, where he remained until May 1958. Joe then moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly became an in demand Trumpeter in the west coast jazz scene, working with such notable players as; Harold Land, Dexter Gordon, Benny Carter, Barney Kessel and Shelly Manne. In 1961 Joe went back into the studio to record as a leader “Joe Gordon, Lookin’ Good” released on the Contemporary Jazz label.

Unfortunately this would be his last recorded project, as he died on November 4, 1963 at the young age of 35 years old, in Santa Monica Hospital as a result of injuries he sustained in a house fire at the house he was staying at in Venice, CA. The blaze was apparently caused by a lit cigarette, which Joe had dropped on his bed. This tragic accident put an end to a wonderful and influential career of one of the finest Trumpet players Boston has ever produced.