Dexter Gordon Plays ‘Body and Soul’ in the Noted Film Round Midnight

In the acclaimed 1986 film Round Mid­night, the great tenor sax­o­phon­ist Dex­ter Gor­don plays an aging Amer­i­can jazzman liv­ing in Paris in the late 1950s, strug­gling to con­trol his addic­tion to alco­hol so he can keep play­ing every night at the Blue Note in Saint-Ger­main-des-Prés.

The role came nat­u­ral­ly to Gor­don, whose own strug­gle with hero­in addic­tion in the 1950s result­ed in prison time and a loss of his New York City cabaret card. Unable to play in the clubs of New York, Gor­don moved to Europe in the ear­ly 1960s and stayed there for 14 years. But while Dale Turn­er, his char­ac­ter in Round Mid­night, is a worn-down man near­ing death, Gor­don’s Euro­pean exile was a peri­od of rebirth.

By the time the French film direc­tor and jazz enthu­si­ast Bertrand Tav­ernier tracked Gor­don down in 1984, though, the sax­o­phone play­er had been back in Amer­i­ca for a decade and was, after 40 years on the jazz cir­cuit, becom­ing a bit worn down him­self. The Dale Turn­er char­ac­ter is based part­ly on tenor sax­o­phon­ist Lester Young, who was Gor­don’s friend and men­tor and a major influ­ence in his life, and part­ly on pianist Bud Pow­ell, whom Gor­don knew and worked with in Paris. Tav­ernier was look­ing for authen­tic­i­ty and he found it in Gor­don, a man with a direct link to the gold­en age of bebop. As the film­mak­er told Peo­ple in 1986, “I could not think of any­one else doing the part.”

Round Mid­night was a crit­i­cal suc­cess. Gor­don received an Acad­e­my Award nom­i­na­tion for best actor in a lead­ing role. The film was not­ed for “its love­ly, ele­giac pac­ing and its tremen­dous depth of feel­ing” by Janet Maslin of the New York Times. “No actor could do what the great jazz sax­o­phon­ist Dex­ter Gor­don does in ‘Round Mid­night,’ ” writes Maslin, who describes Gor­don’s screen pres­ence as the very embod­i­ment of the music itself. “It’s in his heavy-lid­ded eyes, in his hoarse, smoky voice, in the way his long, grace­ful fin­gers seem to be play­ing silent accom­pa­ni­ment to his con­ver­sa­tion. It’s even in the way he habit­u­al­ly calls any­one or any­thing ‘Lady,’ as in ‘Well, Lady Sweets, are you ready for tonight?’ ”

Those are the words Turn­er address­es to his sax­o­phone at the begin­ning of the scene above. The film then cuts to the Blue Note, where the musi­cian’s young admir­er Fran­cis (played by François Cluzet) is trans­fixed as the old man gives a melan­choly, world-weary per­for­mance of the John­ny Green stan­dard “Body and Soul.” Like all of the music in the film, “Body and Soul” was record­ed live on the set. Gor­don is accom­pa­nied by Her­bie Han­cock on piano, John McLaugh­lin on gui­tar, Pierre Mich­e­lot on bass and Bil­ly Hig­gins on drums.

For more on Dex­ter Gor­don, includ­ing a film clip from a vin­tage per­for­mance at a Dutch night­club, see our ear­li­er arti­cle “Dex­ter Gor­don’s Ele­gant Ver­sion of the Jazz Stan­dard ‘What’s New,’ 1964.”

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.