Wardell Gray – Way Out Wardell (1956)

FrontCover1Wardell Gray was one of the first great tenor sax players of the modern era. Born in Oklahoma Cityand brought up in Detroit, he started out playing clarinet in high school. He played in a variety of bands before joining up with Earl Hines, one of the old guard who was most open to the new sounds emerging in jazz. For three years Gray enjoyed the openness of Hines’ band. In 1946, with his style fully developed, he settled in Los Angeles.

A vibrant scene had sprung up around Central Avenue in the wake of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie’s appearance at Billy Berg’s Swing Club. Gray fitted right in alongside Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Chico Hamilton and others who were defining West Coast modern jazz. Some of the best nights were the Just Jazz jam sessions organised by local disc jockey Gene Norman. “Way Out Wardell” is the recorded evidence of two of those 1940s nights. Four numbers featuring Gray alongside Howard McGhee, Barney Kessel, Erroll Garner and a member of Garner’s Trio make up the album. What the tracks lack in high fidelity they make up for in excitement and high quality improvising. The album, originally released after Gray’s mysterious death in Las Vegas in 1955, is an essential record of a long-lost scene. (by Dean Rudland)

Wardell Gray01This album was recorded live in Los Angeles in 1948, and finds the great Wardell Gray amidst some of the finest musicians of the time. In the late 1940s, the West Coast jazz scene introduced the big band jazz concert idea to the public. At this time in his short career, Gray was starting his ascent and would achieve lasting fame in tenor sax history. The recorded sound on the album is tinny, given that it was recorded in a hall, and the echo is distracting. However, the compact disc cleaned much of this up, and the dueling between the two tenors shines right through. Vido Musso, the other fine tenor here, was with Stan Kenton for a time. His punchy style plays off the smoother swing of Gray. There’s also some strong, bright soloing by Howard McGhee, Ernie Royal, Barney Kessel, and Red Callender. The rhythm section swings hard throughout the session, and Gray knows how to ride the wave with a vengeance. He had that effortless tone of Lester Young, and was full with the fire of bop at the same time. His improvisation was prodigious, and he could translate a landslide of ideas through his horn. The genius Erroll Garner, then only 35, renders a fine solo version of “Tenderly.” The compact disc version adds the bonus cut “Sweet Georgia Brown.” This is what ignited jazz at the summit sounded like in concert in the late 1940s. Recommended. (by Mark Romano)

Wardell Gray02

Irving Ashby (guitar)
Harry Babasin (bass)
Red Callender (bass)
Vic Dickenson (trombone)
Erroll Garner (piano)
Wardell Gray (saxophone)
Barney Kessel )(uitar)
Don Lamond (drums)
Howard McGhee (trumpet)
Jackie Mills (drums)
Vido Musso (saxophone)
Arnold Ross (piano)
Ernie Royal (trumpet)


01. Blue Lou (Finckel) 6.10
02. Sweet Georgia Brown (Casey/Bernie/Pinkard) 10.29
03. Tenderly (Gross/Lawrence) 3.01
04. Just You, Just Me (Greer/Klages) 10.28
05. One O’Clock Jump (Basie/Gaines) 11.27