Song of the Day: Dexter Gordon “Soy Califa”
An absolutely scorching latin jazz cut from tenor sax man Dexter Gordon, the lead cut from his 1964 LP A Swingin’ Affair. This song has been a long time favorite of mine and also features the talents of Sonny Clark on piano, Butch Warren on bass and Billy Higgins laying down a tasty latin groove on the drums. The song starts with with Gordon calling out ‘Soy Califa!” (which roughly translated to “I am king”, a point that is hard to dispute after the playing that Gordon lays down) before launching into the tune. Great solos follow from Dexter as well as from Clark and Higgins. The whole record is an absolute classic from Blue Note Records, with “Soy Califa” distinguishing itself in particular as a hard bop tune that you can get crazy on the dance floor to.
Dexter Gordon was born in Los Angeles in 1923. His father one of the first African American doctors on the West Coast after graduating Howard Medical School in Washington, DC. Some of Dexter’s father’s patients included Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton, helping to ignite the love of jazz in the young Dexter. Dexter, or “Long, Tall Dex” as he came to be known due to his lanky physique, took the jazz world by storm during the bebop era, beginning in the mid-40s, with a style that bridged the gap between the languid Lester Young and the fiery Coleman Hawkins. Dexter recorded extensively for Blue Note and other labels throughout the 50s and early 60s, cutting a string of classic bop and hard bop sides. Fleeing racism in America, he lived in Europe, mainly in Paris and Copenhagen between 1962 and 1976 before returning to the US. While his life, like many jazz musicians of his generation, was troubled by substance abuse issues, Dexter continued to play and record with the same lyricism and technique until his death in 1990. He also tipped his toe into other pursuits, including his lead turn as a troubled jazz musician in the 1986 Bertrand Tavernier film, ‘Round Midnight, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor.