Wardell Gray: Age 34 | Cause Of Death: MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

(b. 13 February 1921, Oklahoma City, Ok, d. 25 May 1955, Nevada)

Wardell Gray was one of the top tenors to emerge during the bop era (along with Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards). His LesterYoung- influenced tone made his playing attractive to swing musicians as well as younger modernists. He grew up in Detroit, playing in local bands as a teenager.  Gray was with Earl Hines during 1943-45, recording with him (1945). That same year he moved to Los Angeles and he became a major part of the Central Avenue scene, having nightly tenor battles with Dexter Gordon; their recording of “The Chase” was popular. Gray recorded with Charlie Parker in 1947 and yet his style appealed to Benny Goodman with whom he played the following year. Among his own sessions, his solos on “Twisted” (1949) and “Farmer’s Market” (1952) were turned into memorable vocalese by Annie Ross a few years later. Back in New York, Gray played and recorded with Tadd Dameron and the Count Basie septet and big band (1950-51); “Little Pony,” his showcase with the Basie orchestra, is a classic. Gray was featured on some Norman Granz jam sessions (“Apple Jam” has a particularly heated solo) and recorded with Louie Bellson (1952-53). Ironically, Wardell Gray, who in the late ’40s was an inspiration to some younger musicians due to his oppostion to drug use, himself  became involved in drugs and died mysteriously in Las Vegas on May 25, 1955, when he was just 34. ~Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide

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Wardell Gray

Gray died on 25 May 1955 in circumstances that have never been fully resolved: his body was found in the Nevada Desert, his neck broken. The official report gave the cause of death as a drug overdose, though there was no autopsy, and rumours persisted that Gray had been murdered—either for failing to pay gambling debts or simply as a random victim of racial violence.~Music Central 96