“Forgotten Tenor” Documentary by Abraham Ravett

Remembering Wardell Gray


February 13, 1921 – May 25, 1955

Tenor saxophone giant Wardell Gray was born February 13, 1921 in Oklahoma City.

Wardell’s big break came in 1943 when he was hired by the “Earl Hines Orchestra” following in the footsteps of both Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Despite becoming an established Bebop artist himself, he would also spend time playing with Count Basie and Benny Goodman.

After moving to Detroit in 1929, Wardell started playing the clarinet during his teenage years before switching to the tenor saxophone, inspired by Lester Young.

He played in a number of small local groups including the bands of Jimmy Raschel and Benny Carew prior to achieving national fame while playing for two years with Earl Hines beginning in 1943.

Wardell moved to Los Angles in 1945 becoming a integral part of the Central Avenue music scene, known for his nightly tenor battles with Dexter Gordon. -Together they would produce the popular recording “The Chase”. 

“Little Pony”, Wardell’s showcase with Count Basie’s orchestra, has come to be considered a classic standard. 

He died under mysterious circumstances in Las Vegas on May 25, 1955 at the young age of 34.

This clip comes from the documentary “Forgotten Tenor” made by filmmaker Abraham Ravett 

Here’s a review of this outstanding film that goes into detail about the film and about Gray’s life and contributions to jazz : Review of “Forgotten Tenor”

In this clip Wardell Gray performs with the Count Basie band in 1950.


Count Basie, piano
Clark Terry, trumpet
Buddy DeFranco, clarinet
Wardell Gray, tenor sax 
Freddie green, guitar
Jimmy Lewis, bass
Gus Johnson, drums
Helen Humes, vocals