Jerry Gordon, a jazz guitarist who played before thousands at Washington and Baltimore area nightclubs, bars, churches and music festivals in a career spanning more than 30 years, died Aug. 26 at his home in Columbia. He was 58.
He died of heart ailments, said his sister, Angela Gordon.
Mr. Gordon’s guitar playing was known for a warm style and soft sound that recaptured the essence of his musical role model, Wes Montgomery, widely considered one of the 20th century’s great jazz guitarists. Like Montgomery, who died in 1968, Mr. Gordon played the strings of his instrument mostly with his thumb, not a guitar pick, which was said to have contributed a warm tone to his music.
“He played with such feeling,” said Joe Lee, the former proprietor of Joe’s Record Paradise in Silver Spring. “He was the man in town for jazz guitar. He had a brilliant soft touch, and he was a powerful player, but he did not use volume to achieve his power.”
On May 12, the Jerry Gordon Trio played its last public performance at Joe’s Record Paradise, said Lee, who had known Mr. Gordon since 1974 when the young guitarist walked into his store looking to buy some records.
Over the years, the Gordon ensemble was sometimes a trio, sometimes a quartet, sometimes a quintet, with a keyboard player and saxophonist added to the drummer, guitarist and bassist. There was occasionally a vocalist but never as a regular member of the group, said Emory Diggs, Mr. Gordon’s bassist for 20 years.
In 1993 with his quintet, he won a $10,000 Hennessy Cognac Award in the Best of D.C. Jazz contest at Blues Alley in Georgetown.
Jerry Phillip Gordon was born in the District on Aug. 23, 1954. He developed an interest in music as a child listening to records in his father’s collection at home, and he bought his first Montgomery record when he was 13. He was a self-taught guitar player who, like Montgomery, never learned to read music.
“The only thing I’m able to do is play what I hear,” Mr. Gordon told The Washington Post in 2000.
As a young man, Mr. Gordon often took his guitar to Pig’s Foot, Mr. Y’s and other Washington clubs, where he picked up tips and techniques from older, experienced musicians, said David Cole, a friend and guitar-playing contemporary.
Mr. Gordon had a day job refurbishing used cars for local auto dealers while pursuing his musical career at night.
His ensembles produced five albums. Writing in The Post, music critic Mike Joyce said Mr. Gordon’s album “Soft & Warm” demonstrated his “fluidity as a melodist and blues-based improviser.”
In recent years, the frequency of the public performances of Mr. Gordon’s ensembles had decreased. At times, he worked as a salesman in Lee’s record shop.
His wife, Linda Diane Taylor Gordon, whom he married in 1980, died in 1996.
Survivors include two children, Tamara Clark of Bowie and Naomi Walker of Woodbridge; his mother, Eleanor F. Hargis Gordon of Washington; two brothers, Marcus Gordon of Great Mills and Johnny Gordon of Fayetteville, N.C.; a sister, Angela Gordon of Silver Spring; and three grandchildren.