Wardell Gray: Four Classic Albums Plus

Gray was a master of the bebop lexicon but his loyalty to Lester Young meant he retained a swing not always present in the later idiom


Wardell and Dexter Gordon were near the peak of bebop tenor playing in 1952. The peak, although yet unrecognised as such, was the young Sonny Rollins.

Wardell and Dexter were both explicit disciples of Lester Young and, whilst Dexter moved happily in the language of bop, Wardell refused to move on from the President’s style and his playing was nearer to conventional swing that Gordon’s. Swing? Both swung like mad, a quality not recognised as important by the pioneers of bebop (which doesn’t mean they didn’t do it on occasion).

Whatever their status, they were ideally matched in the once famous, sometimes notorious lengthy jam sessions typified by The Chase and sponsored by Gene Norman. There are only a few of these, but elsewhere they sometimes breached the 20-minute mark. The longest here is The Steeplechase at 14 minutes.

It seems unlikely that such a ding-dong would produce good jazz, but Norman was less bloodthirsty than Granz and the playing here is more intelligent than was usual with the classic JATP sessions. The best example is One O’Clock Jump, a leisurely version that originally occupied three Vogue 78s. Although solo space is fairly evenly divided, Wardell is the star, happily confident and making the most of the unique rhythm section. Howard McGhee runs him close and largely there is no dull playing on the two albums.

The given personnels want some untangling, and none at all is given for the excellent (3) session which has Wardell leading a quartet quartet including Al Haig and Tiny Kahn. The version of Blue Lou is, happily, the six-minute one graced by classic piano from Garner and eloquent tenor from Wardell, which was much better than the shorter version elsewhere. Both are on Properbox 66 (The Wardell Gray Story).

While this new album is a fine standalone collection, much recommended, you might prefer the 77-track Proper. Whatever, this is jazz history to savour, often cast in the shadow of neglect by the era of bebop pioneers that immediately preceded it.

CD1: (1) The Chase; The Steeplechase; (2) Blue Lou; Sweet Georgia Brown; Tenderly; Just You, Just Me; One O’Clock Jump; (3) Matter And Mind; The Toup; Stoned (75.10)
CD2: (4) Twisted; Easy Living; Southside; Sweet Lorraine; Blue Gray; Greyhound; So Long Broadway;; Paul’s Cause; The Man I Love; Lavonne; A Sinner Kissed An Angel; Treadin’; (5) April Skies; Bright Boy; Jackie; Farmer’s Market; Sweet And Lovely; Lover Man; Scrapple From The Apple; Move (76.26)

(1) Conte Candoli (t); Gray, Dexter Gordon (ts); Bobby Tucker (p); Don Bagley (b); Chico Hamilton (d). Pasadena Civic Auditorium, 2 February 1952.
(2) Composite personnel: Howard McGhee, Ernie Royal (t); Benny Carter (as); Gray, Vido Musso (ts); Vic Dickenson (tb); Erroll Garner, Arnold Ross (p); Barney Kessel, Irving Ashby (g); Red Callender, Harry Babasin (b); Jackie Mills, Don Lamond (d).
(3) Gray (ts); Al Haig (p); Clyde Lombardi (b); Tiny Kahn (d). NYC, April 1948.
(4) Composite personnel: Frank Morgan (as); Gray (ts); Al Haig, Phil Hill, Sonny Clark (p); Teddy Charles (vib); Dick Nivison, Johnny Richardson, Tommy Potter (b); Art Mardigan, Larry Marable, Roy Haynes (d). November 1949-February 1953.
(5) Composite personnel: Art Farmer, Clark Terry (t); Gray (ts); Sonny Criss (as); Hampton Hawes, Jimmy Bunn (p); Billy Hadnott, Harper Cosby (b); Robert Collier (cga); Chuck Thompson, Larry Marable (d). August 1950-January 1952.
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