Wardell Gray

Wardell Gray (1921-1955) is one of my favorite saxophone players; here's some miscellaneous trivia and commentary about him.

The entire melody to Twisted (the song with Annie Ross lyrics made famous by Joni Mitchell) is Wardell's composition and **improvised solo** over a bebop blues chord progression (many people are surprised to discover it's not a Joni Mitchell composition). In addition to the released take, there are 4 alternate versions; transcriptions of all of them are available at Jeff Rzepiela's excellent website. One of the alternate takes on Youtube (JRC46A ) had not been previously released on the Prestige "Wardell Gray Memorial" CD.

Recordings such as The Chase (this version has a little rehearsal at the beginning not on the released version) and The Hunt are often described as "duels" or "battles" or "cutting contests"; that seems inappropriate in this case. They seem to me to be more of a cooperative work, where Wardell and Dexter Gordon are having a blast completing each others melodic lines (a continuous melody without circular breathing!). I expect that what went on in some of the late night jam sessions one reads about was much more competitive :-).

Wardell and Dexter's "The Hunt" is mentioned twice in Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" (here, from the scroll version published by Penguin books in 2008, with unaltered names).

(p 215) "They ate voraciously as Neal, sandwich in hand, stood bowed and jumping before the big phonograph, listening to a wild bop record I had just bought called 'The Hunt', with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume."

(p 228) "To the wild sounds of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing 'The Hunt' Neal and I played catch with Louanne over the couch; she was no small doll either."

Bill Moody has done a series of jazz-oriented mystery novels. "Death of a Tenor Man" (1995, Walker Publishing Company) is a fictional story of a contemporary detective and jazz pianist investigating the suspicious circumstances of Wardell Gray's death in Las Vegas.

A ridiculously thorough Wardell Gray discography is available at wardellgray.org