Wardell Gray – Live At Birdland – 1951 – Past Daily Downbeat
Wardell Gray this weekend. One of the true guiding lights in Post-War Jazz, he was that link between Big-Band and small group Jazz, and his collaborators read like a who’s who of the Jazz world. Playing with the bands of Earl “Fatha” Hines, Count Basie and Benny Goodman, he transitioned over to the small group atmosphere playing alongside frequent collaborator Dexter Gordon along with Chet Baker, Sonny Criss, Lawrence Marable and many others.
But his career was short-lived, Active from 1940 until his death in 1955 at age 34, Gray recorded comparatively little on his own and would have had an extensive recording career had it not come to an end under mysterious circumstances outside Las Vegas in 1955.
Since that time he has faded from prominence, winding up in the category of “what if’s” and largely overlooked in the bigger picture of the evolution of Jazz in the early 1950s. Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Jazz aficionado, the name Wardell Gray may not ring any bells with you. I admit hearing about him by accident 25 years ago when I ran across a copy of Way-Out Wardell in a record store bargain bin. After one listening I was hooked.
Finding out more about him, I realized what a major contribution he had made to Jazz in the early 1950s. This set is from a broadcast at Birdland in New York. Recorded on April 28, 1951 – it features members of the Count Basie band.
An astonishing artist who has since gone overlooked. Fortunately, with the number of live recordings surfacing over the years, there is much more evidence of his work to be sampled. Hopefully, we haven’t heard the end of it yet.
If you aren’t familiar, I would urge you to hit the play button and check it out.
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