Wardell Gray

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Giants of Jazz: The Chase

I heard somewhere that Wardell Gray always carried around a copy of Sartre’s L'Être et le Néant; I don’t know if that’s true, but if it is he must have had big pockets. Anyway, this compilation inspired me to buy many Wardell Gray recordings, but it turns out the cream of them are all here: I wouldn’t change any of these selections. It starts out with the ultimate two-tenor battle, ‘The Chase’ (the 1952 version), in which Gray and Dexter Gordon try to outdo each other in front of a noisy and fully engaged audience. They are very evenly matched, and actually sound quite similar at this time; Dexter has the advantage of a slightly more powerful tone, but Wardell is slightly more ingenious, and it all ends in a show of unity. Jazz doesn’t get much more exciting than this. After that you get a long stream of classic bebop, most notably ‘Twisted’ and ‘Farmer’s Market’. Gray’s improvisations on these tracks are a continual flow of perfect melody, so much so that Annie Ross was subsequently able to add lyrics and turn them into superior songs: songs with a different melody every chorus! Gray was an amazing tenor player who took Lester Young’s style into bebop territory, and like Young, was able to invent endless streams of melody; his sound was nothing special, but it would probably have developed, like Dexter’s did, if he had lived long enough.