Friday, January 3, 2014

Young man with a horn

When other kids my age listened to the Beatles, I walked around with a feeling of being born 30 years too late: My music was the big bands of the 1930´s and 40´s, and to my ears the high point of music history was Benny Goodman´s performance of “One O´Clock Jump” at his legendary Carnegie Hall Concert on January 16, 1938 (listen to the rideout at the end of the song and you will get the meaning of swing). My teenage Walter Mitty dream was standing in a white tuxedo in front of my big band, with young ladies fainting  from excitement right and left. Of course it was not to be..

So I was delighted when I discovered that our family history does after all include a young man with a horn.
Nellie Elge, daughter of emigrated gold miner Frans Otto “Francis” Elg(e), married James Austin Gordon, a dentist in Helena, Montana.
This was a musical family: Dr Gordon was also a clarinet soloist, and Nellie a pianist. With a number of musically inclined children, the formed a family orchestra led by their father. They performed as the staff orchestra for a local radio station.

 Photo: Tei Gordon collection

One of the children, Claude Eugene Gordon (1916-1996)  was given his first cornet at the age of five, and three years later, while in fifth grade, was featured as a soloist playing with the Helena High School Band! While he was still in his early teens, Claude was already a professional player and was teaching for both cornet and accordion.

During the era of live radio and television, Claude distinguished himself as one of the most successful studio trumpet players and gained a reputation as "the trumpet player who never misses." He performed with the studio orchestras on many popular shows including, Amos and Andy, and I Love Lucy. During the 1950s Gordon emerged as one of Hollywood's frequently sought-after jazz trumpet soloists. Claude later formed his own big band which was named the "Best New Band in America" in 1959. Perhaps his timing could have been better – this was a period when young men with guitars were set to take over the popular music industry..

Claude Gordon passed away in 1996. Today, he is best remembered as a teacher. He authored a number of method books. The "Claude Gordon Method" has influenced most of today's top trumpet players, and is still used by teachers across the world. The Claude Gordon Personal Papers and Music Instrument Collection is housed at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  About Claude Gordon´s approach to teaching