Wardell Gray is a “forgotten tenor”, one of the lost masters of modern jazz. Many critics aptly classify his style with a moniker of “Easy Swing”, a felicitous facility that imparts a rhythmic grace yet intensive communicative attack that conveys a soulful message.
Wardell left Hines to settle in Los Angeles, where he became a pivotal figure in the excitement of post-war California jazz, often featured in musical battles with his friend Dexter Gordon, in the raucous jam session development of west coast bebop when Bird was in the air. Gray’s records with Dexter, “The Chase” and later “The Hunt”, and others, were big sellers and epitomized this excitement, fueling the drives of Jack Kerouac On The Road.
Later, Wardell made a few small group recordings for Prestige Records, most notably his composition “Twisted” and Art Farmer’s “Farmer’s Market”, to which Annie Ross wrote hip lyrics and remain a big part of the repertory to this day.
In the 1950's Wardell drifted away from major popular attention, but he remained active and was poised for a comeback when Benny Carter hired him to participate in a new band which would integrate the Las Vegas casino entertainment. However, on opening night in July 1955, Gray was killed at the age of 34, and his body found in the Nevada desert, under mysterious circumstances subject to various innuendos and yet to be solved.