Dexter Gordon is considered to be the first musician to translate the language of Bebop to the tenor saxophone.
Dexter Keith Gordon was born on February 27, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. His father, Dr. Frank Gordon, was one of the first African American doctors in Los Angeles who arrived in 1918 after graduating from Howard Medical School in Washington, D.C. Among his patients were Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton. Dexter's mother, Gwendolyn Baker, was the daughter of Captain Edward Baker, one of the five African American Medal of Honor recipients in the Spanish-American War.
He began his study of music with the clarinet at age 13, then switched to the alto saxophone at 15, and finally to the tenor saxophone at 17. He studied music with Lloyd Reese and at Jefferson High School with Sam Browne. In his last year of high school, he received a call from alto saxophonist Marshall Royal asking him to join the Lionel Hampton Band. He left Los Angeles with the band, traveling down south and learning to play from fellow band members Illinois Jacquet and Joe Newman. In January 1941, the band played at the Grand Terrace in Chicago for six months and the radio broadcasts made there were Dexter’s first recordings.
It was in 1943, while in New York City with the Hampton band, that Dexter sat in at Minton’s Playhouse with Ben Webster and Lester Young. This was to be one of the most important moments in his long musical career as, as he put it, “people started to take notice.”