Gray, Wardell

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Gray, Wardell

Gray, Wardell, jazz saxophonist; b. Oklahoma City, Okla., Feb. 13, 1921; d. Las Vegas, May 25, 1955. After working in Detroit, he toured with The Earl Hines band (1943-45). He settled on the West Coast and had his first session as a leader (1946). He then performed with Benny Carter, Benny Goodman (1948), Count Basie (1948; again 1950-51), and Tadd Dameron (1947-51). But it was his remarkable recording sessions in 1946-50, especially those with Dexter Gordon, that made his reputation. His ’Twisted” (1949) was set to lyrics by Annie Ross and became a hit in 1952. From 1951 until his death, he freelanced out of Los Angeles with various bands. He played with the same combination of lyricism, blues fervor, and facility as Lester Young (a major influence), but he also incorporated bop techniques, producing a unique and quite striking sound. His mysterious death appears to have resulted from a drug overdose in Los Angeles; his frightened companions drove to a desert area near Las Vegas and dropped his body there. He is the subject of a 1996 film by Abraham Ravett, Forgotten Tenor.


“One for Prez” (1946); “Twisted” (1949); W. G./Stan Hasselgard (1947); Way-Out Wardell (1948); Tenor Sax (1949); Central Ave. (1949) Easy Swing (1949); Chase and the Steeplechase(1952); Live at the Haig (1952); W. G.’s Los Angeles Star (1952); Sextet (1952); Live in Hollywood (1952).


Saxophone Solos, transc. by Tom Washatka (1994).


D. Salemann, W. G.: Solography, Discography, Band Routes, Engagements in Chronological Order (Basel, 1986); C. Schlouch, W. G.: A Discography.

—Lewis Porter

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Gray, Wardell

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