My Unforgettable Jazz Friends

Duke, Benny, Nat, Rex...

By Claire P. Gordon

Phase V Press, California ISBN: 0-974-98140-1


The first impression given by this book is a sense of intimacy. Claire Gordon spent a great deal of time with some of Americaís most important and influential Jazz musicians. Her relationships with these people, Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Nat Cole and Rex Stewart, obviously went beyond casual acquaintanceship. There are stories of meetings with mums and dads, birthday parties for kids and lots more homely stuff that actually makes for very interesting reading. Again, it is the sense of intimacy that prevails; the little things that are so important to what we call a life.

Most people claim that their career was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and that is how Claire explains her fortuitous and ongoing life in the world of Jazz. She is modest, however, because opportunity is a matter that needs to be taken advantage of to be of any use. Claire jumped at her chances with an élan that told of a great love of her chosen path - following in the wake of the good ship Jazz, and then becoming part of the crew. The lady's one obvious advantage was that she was, at first perhaps apprehensively and later with perfect confidence, colorblind - not altogether a matter of course among Caucasians in the USA of the 1930s.

That astonishing moment (ask any real fan about that awesome first time) occurred when Jazz entered her life. As a teenager she found ways to visit the clubs around Los Angeles, and she must have been socking out the right vibes because by the time she had discovered where Art Tatum was playing and had become a regular visitor at his gigs, Tatum had Claire on his greeting list. Tatum had the ability to mesmerize the squarest of hearts, but Claire needed no conversion. Around that time she became a booking agent - the papers were cosigned with her father because she was actually too young to go it alone - although booking was always her reason to be.

The series of friendships she enjoyed then became a foregone conclusion. Nat Coles (sic - new one on me) became a staunch friend and it was one of Claire's husbands, Irving Gordon, who wrote the undying hit "Unforgettable." Maxine Sullivan was a friend and so was Dizzy Gillespie who has one chapter dedicated to him titled The Night I Nearly Killed Dizzy Gillespie. Claire was driving Dizzy one night and things were a little unfocussed, but the title fails to mention that Lalo Schifrin and James Moody were also in the car. Claire was a close friend of Mary Lou Williams and also knew the apparently difficult Dinah Washington well enough to get into a never to be forgiven argument with her. Rex Stewart was a chum and they collaborated on Jazz articles for various publications. And then came Benny Carter who was to remain one of her closes buddies until he passed on. Working for Duke Ellington, of course, put her on first name terms with the entire Ellington Orchestra (there are some nice thumbnail sketches of some of the guys). Duke himself bestowed gifts on Claire who was then the young lady who dealt with his fan mail. And Claire managed Duke's appearance to speak at a meeting for the abolition of the vote fee levied on Negroes.

There is plenty of new gossip and facts about Jazz and its famous interpreters to be enjoyed here. Nicely done, Claire! P.S. Joe Zawinul is not Hungarian but Austrian.

by Lawrence Brazier

Jazz Now, Austria

Jazz Now Interactive February 2004 Vol 14 No. - Table of Contents

Copyright Jazz Now, February 2005 edition, all rights reserved