Saturday, June 11, 2011

'ROUND MIDNIGHT RELIVED

Saxophonist Dexter Gordon
Dexter, Thursday the Detroit Jazz Festival held a screening of the film “’Round Midnight” at the Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor. After the screening, your wife, Maxine, discussed the making of ‘Round Midnight’. Maxine also, revealed that you alway talked about moonlighting as a famous actor. Twice you had a small role on the series “Crime Story”.

Maxine told the audience you're convinced the Academy of Motion Pictures would nominate you for a best actor. Maxine was surprised it happened. Maxine said you wrote an acceptance speech. I wonder if Maxine kept it. Dexter I have “’Round Midnight” on DVD. I’ve watched the film countless times. Wednesday evening “’Round Midnight” was part of a jazz movie marathon on the cable network TCM (Turner Classic Movies).

The jazz marathon began with “’Round Midnight,” followed by “Thelonious Monk Straight,” “Eastwood After Hours,” “Bird,” and “Young Man with a Horn”. I watched each. “’Round Midnight” and “Young Man with a Horn” were my favorites. There’s a Detroit alto saxophonist, Larry Smith, who resembles, Dale Turner, the troubled jazz musician you portrayed in “’Round Midnight”. Are you familiar with Larry? Larry is a terrific alto player in the same league as Charlie Parker and Sonny Stitt. Dexter if you email me your address in heaven, I’ll send you a copy of Larry’s albums “Estate’,” and “Larry Smith& Company Live at the Slovak Philharmonic”.

Dexter did you ever see “Young Man with a Horn”? Kirk Douglas played a trouble jazz trumpeter. Director Michael Curtiz based the film on trumpeter Bix Biederbecke's life story. I won’t give details. I don’t want to spoil it for you in case you plan to see “Young Man with a Horn”.

Anyway, Maxine talked about the making of “’Round Midnight”. Making the film was stressful for director and co-author Bertrand Tavernier. Bertrand developed a stomach ulcer. Bertrand believed making a film with jazz musicians would be easy. 

Maxine said you declined after reading the first draft of the script. Bertrand depiction of jazz musicians was inaccurate. But you’d reconsider participating if Bertrand reworked the script. You explained if you’d played Dale Turner as written the NAACP would’ve revoked your lifetime membership. The jazz musicians you knew had their demons, but they were smart and hardworking. You wanted them depicted as such. Begrudgingly, Bertrand made changes, and “’Round Midnight” was successful.

Warner Bros. considered killing “’Round Midnight”. Your inexperience concerned Warner Bros. Actor and director Clint Eastwood—a diehard jazz fan—supported you, offering to finance the film. You proved Warner Bros wrong.“’Round Midnight” received Oscar nominations, including best actor in a leading role.  Paul Newman won for The Color of Money". 

Dexter, during the Q&A segment, I planned to ask Maxine three personal questions about you. But I didn’t get the chance. First, when did you and Maxine first meet, and how long were you all married? Secondly, how was it being married to one of the greatest jazz saxophonist of any era? Lastly, did you have annoying habits such as leaving the toothpaste uncapped? 

Maxine shared a story about your relationship with the great tenor saxophone man Ben Webster. You and Ben toured. “Body and Soul” was on the set list. Ben liked to play "body and Soul" straight. Once you  deviated from the song's structure, playing the bridge like John Coltrane used to. At the bridge of “Body and Soul,” you played some of the changes to Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”.

Ben was irate and accused you of destroying the song. Ben stopped speaking to you for months. Dexter, the audience at the Michigan Theatre laughed when Maxine said Ben apologize, and gave you a gold Cartier cigarette lighter. Dexter, Maxine is doing a swell job carrying on your legacy. Maxine is scheduled to give a lecture during the Detroit Jazz Festival. Maybe then, I’ll get the chance to ask those silly personal questions only Maxine can answer.
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