Duke Jordan

Pianist for Charlie Parker


Irving Sidney "Duke" Jordan, pianist: born New York 1 April 1922; married 1952 Sheila Dawson (one daughter; marriage dissolved); died Copenhagen 8 August 2006.

Duke Jordan will always be remembered for the lyrical beauty of the eight-bar piano introductions that he played on some of Charlie Parker's most influential records. His inspiration, like Parker's, reached its zenith on their 1947 recording of "Embraceable You".

He played in Parker's quintet, which also included Miles Davis and Max Roach, for over three years in an unusually stable period for the group's personnel. Jordan persevered in the band, although both Davis and Roach hated the pianist for what they saw as his inability to blend into the rhythm section. Parker's music was at its most radical and intoxicating and the young musicians had trouble keeping pace with him.

Jordan's first job was with a band at New York's World Fair in 1939. His early classical piano studies made it easy for him to switch to jazz and his early work showed the influence of Teddy Wilson and Art Tatum. Jordan spent a year with the Savoy Sultans and then played in swing groups including the "Horsecollar" Williams Septet and the Roy Eldridge big band. He played piano on some of Eldridge's finest records of the mid-Forties.

It was when he was playing at the Three Deuces in New York that he was heard by Parker and signed up for the quintet. With his reputation as a tasteful bebop pianist established with Parker, Jordan went on to work and record with bands led by some of the finest saxophonists, including Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons and Stan Getz.

He recorded first with Getz in 1949 and became a regular member of the Getz quartet in 1952, replacing Horace Silver. This wasn't a happy time, because Getz gave Jordan few solos and the pianist had more rhythm section difficulties, this time because Getz's guitar soloist Jimmy Raney also played rhythm and, Jordan felt, obstructed the piano.

Duke Jordan left Getz in the spring of 1953 and rejoined Roy Eldridge for four months. Throughout the Fifties he played with a multitude of bebop bands, often in the company of the baritone sax player Cecil Payne, a close friend. The two men went to Sweden with the trumpeter Rolf Ericson in 1956 for an exiguous tour which had them playing one-nighters for three months without a break. Drink- and drug- fuelled behaviour throughout the tour led to the four American musicians being warned to leave the country. In the Sixties, Jordan and Payne appeared in the revolutionary theatre production The Connection when the successful play about drug addiction toured Europe.

In the late Sixties Jordan, brought down by the drug addiction that had afflicted him since his days with Parker, left music and worked as a taxi driver. He came back as a pianist in 1972 to work with his trio and returned several times to Scandinavia. He toured Japan in 1976 and made several albums there, and at home he also recorded with other leaders.

Bitter about what he saw as his neglect in his homeland, he moved permanently to Copenhagen in 1978. This was a good move, for he was much appreciated in Europe and toured and worked regularly with his own trio for the rest of his days. He recorded with the expatriate Americans Chet Baker and Art Pepper and in 1959 wrote at least part of the score for Roger Vadim's film Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Jordan claimed to have written the whole score and not to have been paid for his work. He made a brief appearance in the film playing the piano.

From Denmark he resumed his worldwide travels and made tours of Japan four times during the Eighties. He recorded prolifically for the Danish Steeplechase label and expanded his writing activities. One of his earlier compositions, "Jordu", became a bebop standard.

Steve Voce

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