RIP Ken Gordon (1927-2013)

Ken Gordon with Gary Crosby

Ken Gordon and me

A sad week in which we heard of the passing of Ken Gordon last Saturday (2 Nov). Such a pity. He was a wonderful individual and a rich source of information on jazz in London in the 1950s and 60s, always generous with his time and knowledge. I enjoyed many hours listening and talking to him at Coleridge Goode’s house over the years. Not only a fount of jazz knowledge, he was always just so cool, the personification of hipness – ALWAYS sharply dressed – and a perfect gentleman.

Below is the notice posted by my good friend, Ken’s cousin, Margaret Busby.

Goodbye, and rest in peace, brother Ken. Thank you for sharing.


Kenneth Clifford Montgomery Gordon (13 February 1927 – 2 November 2013)

We regret to announce the death in London, aged 86, of Ken Gordon, youngest son of the late Clara Marguerite Gordon (née Christian) and Dr Edgar Fitzgerald Gordon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_F._Gordon).

Born in Somerset, Bermuda, on 13 February 1927, Ken – the second boy after four previous girls – was said by his father to have been knighted at birth, being given names to fit the initials KCMG. The Trinidad-born Dr Gordon (1895-1955) had settled in Bermuda in 1924 with his Dominican wife, after having studied medicine in Edinburgh and then conducting medical practice in Scotland and in Dominica. Clara (1895-1964) was a great influence on the early lives of her children; she had trained as a singer at Oberlin College, Ohio, before beginning medical studies at Edinburgh University, where she met and married Edgar, curtailing her studies.

Ken and his brother Teddy (1924-91; later known as Hakim) were initially educated in Bermuda: first, by his mother and a private tutor at the family home “Gordon Villa”, near Manchester Street, Somerset, and subsequently at the Bertha Higgins School at Tin Top, Sound View Road. They then attended the Berkeley Institute, where Ken was a bright though rebellious student, refusing to shave his beard – which he would keep for the rest of his life.

In 1944, the brothers boarded a ship sailing to Scotland, where they entered Edinburgh University, with the intention of studying medicine; their four sisters were also being educated overseas.  Unfortunately, despite assistance from their grandfather George James Christian (1868-1940), a barrister who had settled in West Africa in the Gold Coast (now Ghana), financial constraints forced Teddy and Ken to discontinue university studies. Instead they both began to make fuller use of the musical talents inherited from their maternal side, gaining popularity singing with local jazz bands.

Moving to London, in 1948 (the year his parliamentarian father Dr Gordon changed his name to “Mazumbo” in protest at the racist treatment of Black Bermudians) Ken formed a vocal group called the Four Tune-Tellers, the other members being Dennis Hayward, Irving Farren and Frankie (Frances) Smith. However, Kenny soon moved on to join another group, the Three Just Men, alongside George Browne (otherwise known as the calypsonian Young Tiger) and Horace Dawson, presenting a repertoire that ranged from spirituals to bebop.  With Ken sometimes doubling on drums and piano, the group for the next two years toured throughout Europe (sharing a bill in Marseilles with Charlie Parker) and in North Africa.  On returning to London, Ken continued to play gigs as a regular drummer, in addition to performing as a mellow-voiced singer, not only in Britain but in Paris, Amsterdam and elsewhere on the continent.  Over the years he worked with notable musicians such as Humphrey Lyttelton, Cab Kaye, Shake Keane and Dizzy Reece, at many fashionable venues that included Mayfair’s Stork Club, Les Ambassadeurs, the Dorchester, L’Hirondelle and Gattopardo. In the 1963 film The Small World of Sammy Lee together with Jamaican bassist Coleridge Goode he appeared (uncredited) in a nightclub sequence featuring a piano trio.

Kenny was a well loved and respected figure on the London jazz scene: in later years, a regular at every concert of note mounted by Serious Music, an indefatigable after-hours companion to musicians and promoters, counting among his close friends the likes of veteran singer Tony Bennett, drummer Roy Haynes and trumpeter Guy Barker.

Kenny is survived by his son Tara, daughter Serena and wife Rene, his elder sister Marjorie Davis (mother of broadcaster Moira Stuart and Sandra Simmons and Sharon Davis-Murdoch), and many other family members in Britain, Ghana, Canada, the USA, the Caribbean and Bermuda, including his brother’s widow Kunu and her daughters Oonie, Lula, Aku and Mya.

Margaret Busby (1st Cousin)

2 thoughts on “RIP Ken Gordon (1927-2013)

  1. I have only just learnt of Kenny’s sad demise; I have been trying to contact him since last summer. He never looked a day over 55! I felt something wasn’t right when he didn’t contact me for the Notting hill Carnival. He always dropped into my place near Ladbroke Grove for a freshener before sliding out into the crowded streets. I have fondest memories of Kenny, in Ronnie Scott’s and some fairly low dives, as well as playing bass with him on drums and Alan Clare on piano for several gigs. He was often featured singer while playing drums, with a close affinity to Sinatra …. His connections in jazz were legion and it was due to this that I managed to hang out with the likes of Roy Haynes, Art Blakey and Arnett Cobb, and photograph them too. I miss his stories and hip wit, and entertaining hanging out…. R.I.P.

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  2. Pingback: Coleridge Goode at 100 – Let’s Celebrate! | gary crosby

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