Words for Lady Day
Dexter Gordon writes to DownBeat on the death of Lady Day
Since 52nd Street was going down fast, the jazz scene was moving to 47th and Broadway. One place was the Royal Roost, owned by a guy named Ralph Watkins. It was originally a chicken joint. But in 1948 Monte Kay talked Ralph into letting Symphony Sid produce a concert on an off-night there. Monte Kay was a young white guy who was hanging around the jazz scene.
It was thirty years ago this year that the film Round Midnight was released. The exact date in the U.S. was October 3, 1986. On March 24, 1987, we were in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards. Yes, it’s a true story about a jazz musician who made a film and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role. The other nominees that year were William Hurt for Children of a Lesser God, Bob Hoskins for Mona Lisa, James Woods for Salvador, and Paul Newman for The Color of Money. You probably know that Paul Newman won the Oscar that year. But Herbie Hancock did win the Oscar for Best Musical Score for Round Midnight, the first African American to receive that honor
Those of us old enough to have been there in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963 with over 200,00 people marching for jobs and freedom are forever touched by that event and we know that the struggle continues as young people pick up the torch and march in protest against the killing of young black men and women and all social injustice. Dr. King had a vision for the future that included an end to the War in Vietnam and dignity and justice for working people. At the time of his death, he was marching with the garbage workers in Memphis for a living wage and decent working conditions.
In 1983, we went to live in Cuernavaca, City of Eternal Spring, about 50 miles from Mexico City, for the winter months. Dexter was taking herbal treatments and acupuncture and swimming in the pool and walking to the the center of town, the zocalo. He had brought his tenor and soprano saxophones with him of course but he wasn’t practicing too much. He said he was trying to recuperate from the road and from years of being on and off airplanes and trains and buses.