Wardell Gray

Born Feb 13, 1921

Wardell Gray was an American jazz tenor saxophonist who straddled the swing and bebop periods. Today often overlooked, Gray's playing displays a unique style, an unmatched tone and a strong presence.

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1921 Birth Born on February 13, 1921.
1929 8 Years Old Wardell Gray was born in Oklahoma City, the youngest of four children. His early childhood years were spent in Oklahoma, before moving with his family to Detroit, Michigan in 1929. … Read More


1936 15 Years Old He left in 1936, before graduating. … Read More


1941 20 Years Old It was at around this time that he met Jeanne Goings; together they had a daughter, Anita, who was born in January 1941. … Read More
1945 24 Years Old Dorothy was married but, although the marriage was on the point of collapse, an unfortunate intervention by a "friend" led Gray to believe that this was not so, and he returned to Jeri; they were married in Chicago in September 1945. … Read More
1946 25 Years Old He left Hines late in 1946, settling in Los Angeles, California; soon after arriving there, he recorded the first session under his own name. … Read More
1947 26 Years Old Apart from a spell with a little band led by Al Killian (some Jubilee recordings by this group (8) show Wardell in fine form) Wardell was still working mainly in one-off sessions during 1947. … Read More
1948 27 Years Old The group was not, however, a financial success and Goodman eventually broke it up, but by now Wardell was fully established on the East Coast as an up-and-coming musician. For a while in late 1948/early 1949 he worked with the Count Basie Orchestra, while also managing to record with Tadd Dameron (10) and, in excellent quartet and quintet sessions, with Al Haig (11, 12). … Read More
1949 28 Years Old Wardell left Basie in 1949 to return to Benny Goodman. … Read More
1950 29 Years Old On leaving Goodman, Wardell rejoined Count Basie. Basie had bowed to economic pressures and broken up his big band, forming a septet which included Clark Terry and Buddy DeFranco; Wardell joined them in, probably, July 1950. … Read More


1951 30 Years Old However, there are increasing signs of a lack of engagement in Wardell's work around 1951/52, notably in a further live session with Dexter Gordon from February 1952 (5), and it seems that he may have been becoming disillusioned with the music business. … Read More
At around this time, Gray apparently became involved with drugs; friends reported that this was taking its toll. His playing was now less fluent, and a studio session in January 1955 (12), which was to be his last, shows strong but (by his own standards) rather unsubtle playing.
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