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Topic: Duke Jordan RIP Return to archive
13th August 2006 01:36 PM
Ten Thousand Motels RIP Duke Jordan, 1922-2006
August 12, 2006
Michael J. West

Duke Jordan, the superb bebop piano player best-known as the pianist for Charlie Parker's classic 1947 quintet with Miles Davis and Max Roach, and as the writer and namesake of the jazz standard "Jor-Du," died on August 8 at his home in Copenhagen. He was 84.

Jordan was one of the last two surviving members, along with Max Roach, of the quintet known variously as the Charlie Parker Quintet, Charlie Parker's All-Stars, and the Charlie Parker Original 5. Although the band was only together for a year (1947-48), it is widely regarded as among the greatest in the history of jazz and American music in general.

Irving Sidney Jordan was born April 1, 1922 in New York City, and initially studied classical music — until he heard the work of Teddy Wilson, his first hero, and devoted himself to jazz. Jordan was also a devotee of Duke Ellington, after whom he named himself, and especially Bud Powell.

Famous though he was for being in Bird's group, Jordan had a much broader and richer career than his one year in the spotlight. His career began in 1945, at the age of 23, when he played in Al Cooper's Savoy Sultans and Coleman Hawkins Orchestra and made his recording debut with the Floyd "Horsecollar" Williams Quartet. He then spent a year in the Roy Eldridge Orchestra (with future associate Cecil Payne), during which he began adapting Powell's innovations to his own melodic, swinging style. Parker first heard him with Eldridge that year, and hired him to join his own band the following summer.

Miles Davis famously disliked Jordan's playing — ostensibly because, as he explains in his autobiography Miles, Jordan would attempt to follow Bird even on the great altoists' most junked-out, lost, and incoherent solos, thereby making a shambles of the rhythm section. While there may be some truth to that, Miles is also notorious for its exaggerated potshots at other musicians; besides that, Parker, for all his disasters in human relations, was a masterful judge of musical talent, and he clearly saw greatness in Duke's playing.

Jordan, for his part, obliged Bird's faith in him with some of the most memorable piano of the era, including his brilliantly modern solo on "Klaunstance;" the immediately distinctive introduction to "Scrapple from the Apple;" and, of course, the sublime four-bar intro to Parker's "Embraceable You," a snippet of music so perfect it almost seems a fairy tale.

When Parker reorganized his band in late 1948, Jordan left for a spell in the Stan Getz Octet, another with Teddy Williams, and then spent a pair of residencies in the Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons band and again with Stan Getz through the early '50s. Getz was said to shake his head and laugh when he heard Jordan's concise but endlessly melodic solos; he could play a dozen choruses, he once remarked, and not come up with a melody as good as the ones Jordan would play in eight bars.

Although he would continue journeyman work with many other musicians, Jordan established himself as the leader of a piano trio in 1954. It was with that trio that he wrote and performed "Jor-Du," a jazz classic that has since had treatments by such titans as Clifford Brown, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, and Stan Getz. (Even Chet Atkins took a stab at it on his classic country guitar album Progressive Pickin'.)

Over the next fifty years he would form a number of trios, quartets, and quintets, frequently with baritone saxophonist Cecil Payne, but would spend most of the late '50s and '60s as a sought-after sideman. His most visible (but still quite obscure) projects during the period were as an accompanist for his then-wife, the vocalist Sheila Jordan, and scoring the 1962 French film version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Lost in the shuffle was one genuine masterpiece for Blue Note, a quintet session entitled Flight to Jordan.

In 1973, however, Jordan began what would be a long association with SteepleChase, the legendary Danish jazz label, with the excellent albums Flight to Denmark and Two Loves. His resurgence finally made Jordan a star and a beloved jazz icon in Scandinavia, France, Japan ... almost everywhere except, of course, his home in the United States, a country that often seems to call jazz a National Treasure so it'll go up on the Ivory Tower and out of earshot. Jordan seemed to agree: in 1978, disgusted with the lack of audience in the US, he moved to Copenhagen and had crowds lined up to see him for the rest of his life.

While researching and writing this obituary, I have combed the Internet looking for reports of Jordan's death. Thus far I have found one blog — by a jazz writer and musician — and a Danish news report. For all of our steady rhetoric about how jazz is a great legacy, America's classical music, and how its great practitioners should get our highest honors (ha!), Blogcritics may now be the first U.S. news outlet to report on the death of a major stylist and member of one of the most important and groundbreaking ensembles in post-World War II music.

August 13, 2006

Duke Jordan, 84, jazz pianist who helped build bebop
By Tim Weiner
New York Times

Duke Jordan, a pianist whose work with the saxophonist Charlie Parker endures in the jazz canon, died Tuesday in Valby, Denmark, a suburb of Copenhagen. He was 84, and he had lived in self-imposed exile from the United States since 1978, continuing to perform in the musical tradition he helped create.

His death was confirmed by Alistair Thomson, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Denmark.
Jordan was regarded as one of the great early bebop pianists. The sound that he helped to create in the postwar era was something new in the American landscape, and it remains a cornerstone of jazz.
His work with Parker, recorded for the Dial and Savoy labels, soared with a lilting intensity. It was hard-driving and lyrical, heady and heartfelt, said Ira Gitler, a jazz critic who heard Jordan and Parker in 1947, at the Onyx Club and the Three Deuces, two long-vanished nightclubs on West 52nd Street in Manhattan.
A handful of recordings from 1947 and 1948 featuring Parker, along with Miles Davis on trumpet, Jordan on piano and Max Roach on drums, are considered masterpieces. They include "Embraceable You," "Crazeology," and "Scrapple From the Apple."

Jordan's "beautifully apt introductions," in the words of Phil Schaap, curator of Jazz at Lincoln Center, lasted only seconds. But they set the stage for three-minute explosions of creativity.
Bebop -- its nonsense name often credited to the trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie -- was nothing like the orchestral jazz of the 1930s, made for ballroom dancing. It was fast, furious, intricate and improvised. Musicians took the basic structures of the blues or standards like "I Got Rhythm" and turned them inside out, embellishing their chords with cascades of notes. In Jordan's hands, the piano, freed from keeping metronomic time, became a fountain of melody and color.

In 1949 and the early 1950s, Jordan recorded with groups led by the saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and Sonny Stitt, led his own quartet and performed at New York nightclubs and on national radio broadcasts. His work in the 1950's sometimes embraced more of a blues and gospel feeling but never left the fundamentals of the bebop sound.
Classically trained, he had a gift for composing and teaching, and several of his works, including "Jor-du" and "No Problem," remain jazz classics, Schaap said. Some of his compositions are also heard on the soundtrack of the 1959 version of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," directed by Roger Vadim and starring Jeanne Moreau.

Irving Sidney Jordan was born in New York at the dawn of the era of recorded jazz, on April 1, 1922. Before his 21st birthday he was playing piano in big bands, including the Savoy Sultans, the house orchestra at the Savoy Ballroom, in its day the world's most famous dance hall. Mr. Gillespie once called the Savoy Sultans "the swingingest band there ever was."

In 1952, he married the jazz singer Sheila Jordan, who often said that she loved Charlie Parker so much that she married his piano player. Their interracial marriage was unusual in the 1950s, when segregation remained legal and miscegenation was a crime in some states. The marriage did not last.

Jordan became a highly regarded performer whose career continues today. They had a daughter, Traci, who became a music promoter. He has no other known survivors.
Jordan, like many of his contemporaries, developed a heroin habit, Gitler said. By the mid-1960s, he was reduced to driving a taxicab in New York. He rehabilitated himself in the 1970s, and began a new life as a leader of trios and quartets in Copenhagen, where he settled permanently in 1978. He recorded more than 30 albums for the Danish label SteepleChase Records and performed in concerts and at jazz festivals worldwide.
"He never changed styles," said Scott Yanow, a jazz historian. "He had been one of the very first pianists to pick up on the changes that bebop brought, breaking out of conventional song, which took jazz beyond dance music into something new."

[Edited by Ten Thousand Motels]
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