Joseph Henry Gordon: born May 15, 1928 in Boston; died Nov. 4, 1963 in Los Angeles
Trumpeter Joe Gordon is the prototype of the tragic artist who is undervalued in his lifetime and claimed too early by death. Gordon was born in Boston and studied with Fred Berman at the New England Conservatory, practicing his trumpet on breaks at his job as a sandwich boy on the Boston-Albany railroad. Another job, selling newspapers in front of local jazz clubs, allowed him to meet a variety of jazz stars. Soon he was working with Sabby Lewis, and by 1950 was the first-call local trumpet for such visiting names as Georgie Auld, Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker.
In 1954, Gordon replaced his idol Clifford Brown in the Art Blakey band and recorded his first album for EmArcy with Blakey and Charlie Rouse as sidemen. With the exception of a brief stay in Dizzy Gillespie’s 1956 big band, Gordon spent most of his time in Boston with Herb Pomeroy’s orchestra and his own group until 1958, when he relocated to Los Angeles.
His West Coast period included two years with Shelly Manne’s Men, gigs at the Lighthouse under his own name and his second album, Lookin’ Good! on Contemporary. This recording, plus those he cut in California with Benny Carter, Barney Kessel, Harold Land, Manne and Monk, suggest that Gordon was about to take his place as one of the dominant trumpeters of the modern era; but his rise was cut short when he died in a rooming house fire.
Joe Gordon (Photo by Roger Marshutz)