Today In Jazz

Happy Birthday Wardell Gray and Wingy Manone!

February 13

Tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray is born in 1921 in Oklahoma City, OK. Gray is another transitional figure in jazz styles. He began as a Lester Young-influenced tenor saxophonist playing in local bands in the Detroit area (where his family had moved). In the early 1940s, Earl Hines came through town with an orchestra that had just served as an incubator of new ideas for Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Hines left with Gray (although on alto, as there were no tenor chairs available), who spent three years with the Hines band. Gray then settled in L.A., recording his first sides as a leader in 1946 and immersing himself in the lively Central Avenue after-hours jam sessions. This led to Gray appearing on a Charlie Parker record session, on which he acquitted himself well enough to become a major force on the tenor. His battles with fellow tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon are classics. Gray then caught the ear of Benny Goodman, who was flirting with a bop band at the time and who hired Gray for it. For the next five years, Gray bounced back and forth between Goodman and variously sized ensembles led by Count Basie. Benny Carter hired Gray to play with his band in Las Vegas in 1955, but on the first night, Gray failed to show up. Soon thereafter, his body was found on the outskirts of town, a grisly and mysterious end to the life of a great saxophonist who, while remaining essentially in the swing tradition, could hold his own in any musical setting. Here’s some evidence of that, a recording of “Pennies from Heaven,” made in 1952 with the great pianist Hampton Hawes:

Trumpeter Wingy Manone is born in 1900 in New Orleans. Manone lost an arm when he was 10 years old, but it didn’t stop him from having an extremely successful career, mostly playing with Chicago-style or “Dixieland” ensembles. Manone had his first record date in 1927 and had several hit records in the 1930s. He was very popular with the public–enough to convince record execs to let him lead sessions from 1935 to 1941 that included sidemen Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller, Bud Freeman, Jack Teagarden, Joe Marsala, George Brunies, Brad Gowans, and (yes) Chu Berry. Manone appeared regularly on Bing Crosby’s radio program. Manone lived the last 30 or so years in Las Vegas, but he remained active until his death in 1982. Listen to Manone’s first hit,“Tar Paper Stomp,” from 1930 and see if that opening riff isn’t quite familiar … from the last wedding you attended. Here:

Manone was a solid trumpet player–and besides, how could you hate a guy who recorded a tune called “Stop the War (the Cats Are Killin’ Themselves) in 1941?

Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd record Brazilian music for the first time. The year is 1962 and the resulting LP, Jazz Samba, would “rock the world,” as they say.