Happy Birthday Wardell Gray
February 13, 2011 6:05 PM   Subscribe

Exactly ninety years ago today jazz saxophonist Wardell Gray was born. While never a household name, among enthusiasts Gray is remembered as a gifted bebop soloist with a relaxed style and warm tone. Here he is playing Taking a Chance on Love (1952), Blue Lou (1948?), A Sinner Kissed An Angel (1950), One for Prez (1946), The Squirrel, & w/Dexter Gordon on The Chase (1952; Gray takes the 2nd solo).

Along with Gordon, Gray was part of the L.A. jazz scene in the 1940s and 50s (a scene that included such players as Hampton Hawes, Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, Art Pepper, etc). He also played with such notables as Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, Erroll Garner, Count Basie, Annie Ross, Art Farmer, and Gerald Wilson.

Tragically, Gray's drug habit has led to some speculation about the mystery surrounding his untimely death: in 1955 his body turned up in the desert outside Las Vegas. There is even a pretty good mystery-genre novel based (loosely) on his death.
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream (11 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Great, thanks TEoIC! I hadn't heard of him before.
posted by carter at 6:13 PM on February 13, 2011

Wardell Gray was a great saxophonist. It is a pity he did not live as long as his compadre Dexter Gordon. The original West Coast boppers helped make the tenor sax the king of modern jazz instruments.
posted by rdone at 6:19 PM on February 13, 2011

The original West Coast boppers helped make the tenor sax the king of modern jazz instruments.

But it took Rahsaan to put the stritch on the map.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:34 PM on February 13, 2011

Don't forget his manzello, esteemed flapjax.
posted by rdone at 6:39 PM on February 13, 2011

Nice, I never heard of him before, but Dexter Gordon is one of my all time favorites.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 6:44 PM on February 13, 2011

Yes fl@m, but that map is fading.
I know Wardell's playing but didn't know of his mysterious departure.
Happy Birthday, wherever you are.
posted by Jode at 6:46 PM on February 13, 2011

this will wardell.
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:13 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wardell Gray played the original "Twisted" which Annie Ross put lyrics to, later popularized by Joni Mitchell.
posted by Jode at 6:51 AM on February 14, 2011

I found the album "Way Out Wardell" buried deep in my Dad's record collection back in the early '70s. Been a Wardell fan ever since. What a player!
posted by Aquaman at 9:34 AM on February 14, 2011

I love Wardell Gray. Really really cool that you took the time to commemorate him with this post, Emperor of Ice Cream.
posted by The_Auditor at 11:53 AM on February 14, 2011

I couldn't believe the post didn't mention "Twisted" but since Jode has done it for me, I'll just say Gray was a terrific musician who deserves to be better known. Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 1:08 PM on February 14, 2011

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