Wardell Gray

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Wardell Gray (born February 13, 1921 in Oklahoma City , USA ; † May 25, 1955 in Las Vegas USA) was an American tenor saxophonist of early modern jazz .


Gray grew up in Detroit, where he learned the clarinet, studied at the Institute of Technology and played in local bands. From 1943 to 1945, like Charlie Parker before, he was employed by Earl Hines (recordings in 1945), where he first played the alto saxophone and clarinet in his big band before switching to the tenor saxophone. In 1945 he went to Los Angeles , where he often fought tenor battles with Dexter Gordon in clubs ( The Chase became known , recorded for Dial). He played in Billy Eckstine's band when they toured the West Coast and with Benny Carter . In 1947 he played with Charlie Parker when he was visiting the West Coast, and in 1948 with Benny Goodman in New York when he was briefly experimenting with a bebop-oriented big band. He also recorded with Tadd Dameron . In 1949 he recorded in a session with Al Haig , Tommy Potter and Roy Haynes ( Twisted , Solo Would you like to swing on a star ). In 1950 and 1951 he was active in the Count Basie Big Band (Solo Little Pony ) and also played in its septet. In 1952 and 1953 he played with Louie Bellson and then as a freelancer with his own groups. In the 1950s, however, drug addiction developed. He died under mysterious circumstances in Las Vegas in 1955, where he was at the Moulin Rouge Casino for appearances with Benny Carter . Gray came to rehearsals with Carter, but was absent from the club's opening on May 25th without excuse. He was found in the desert with a broken neck, apparently thrown from a car. Officially he died of an overdose, but the investigation was not carried out very carefully, so there is speculation to this day.

Alongside Dexter Gordon, he is considered to be one of the best tenor saxophonists of the bop era on the west coast. With his tone influenced by Lester Young , he is now considered by some to be a kind of forerunner of Stan Getz .

A biography of Gray by Richard Carter ( Easy Swing ) is in preparation.

Earl Hines on Wardell Gray

..he was a fine musician. Nobody ever ran over him and he made a lot of tenor players look up. He was just like Pres in the way he wanted to be playing his horn . He also remembers that he was cautious, didn't go out much and read a lot ( he used to read real serious books ). He also had strange eating habits, so he always carried a Tabasco bottle with him and buried his fried eggs under pepper.

Web links


Bill Moody, "Moulin Rouge, Las Vegas", Unionsverlag 2002 (crime novel by drummer Bill Moody )

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Stanley Dance The world of Earl Hines , Scribners 1977, p. 91.