Saturday, August 31, 2013




Record albums celebrating the artistry of Wardell Gray proliferated after his untimely death in May of 1955.  The Bihari brothers had released some of Wardell Gray’s finest playing on Modern 78 rpm releases that had been recorded by Gene Norman at his “Just Jazz” concerts.  The 78 releases were edited to fit within the allotted time duration that hovered around three minutes.  These same edited versions were reissued on 45 rpm singles and extended play versions once that format gained popularity.  It was not until the Bihari’s ventured into the long play 33 rpm format in 1950 that some longer versions of the “Just Jazz” concert recordings became available.  Modern Records LP 2012 (10” LP) featured two tunes that finally presented the full concert versions.

Just You, Just Me and Sweet Georgia Brown (Bop) were recorded at a December 27, 1947 concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and featured Wardell Gray (ts), Vido Musso (ts), Ernie Royal (tp), Barney Kessel (g), Harry Babasin (b),  Arnold Ross (p), and Don Lamond (dr).

Three other “Just Jazz” concert recordings were taken from Modern’s initial 78 rpm releases to be included on their celebration of Wardell Gray LP release: Modern 20-640, Modern 20-641 and Modern 20-642.

These 78 releases were drawn from Gene Norman’s first “Just Jazz” concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium on April 29, 1947.  Blue Lou, Parts One and Two, on Modern 20-640 A/B featured Erroll Garner (p), Wardell Gray (ts), Red Callender (b), Irving Ashby (g) and Jackie Mills (dr).  One O’clock Jump on Modern 20-641 & 20-642 featured Erroll Garner (p), Wardell Gray (ts), Howard McGhee (tp), Benny Carter (as), Vic Dickenson (tb), Irving Ashby (g), Red Callender (b), and Jackie Mills (dr).

The other tune that initially appeared on the Bihari’s Wardell Gray celebration, Way Out Wardell, was a solo performance of Tenderly, Modern 20-692, by Erroll Garner that has been attributed to a studio recording, not a live “Just Jazz” concert.  All five tunes were included on the first release of Way Out Wardell, Modern Records LMP-1204. 

The first release of Way Out Wardell, Modern Records LMP-1204, matrix numbers MMLP-1204-1 (side one) and MMLP-1204-2 (side two) used a photograph of Wardell Gray by William Claxton on the front cover that was taken at a Teddy Charles recording session for Prestige Records on February 20, 1953.  The group photo featured all members of the Charles group:

Florette Bihari used another photo from the recording session for the cover, showing Wardell having a good time between takes.  Another exposure from the recording session was used on the back LP cover liner notes which shows Wardell on tenor with Frank Morgan’s alto saxophone visible on the left:

The version used in the liner notes splits the photo above in half, with Frank Morgan not visible, but his saxophone on the left side of the edited photo. 

This liner note version of the photo would continue to be used on subsequent releases of Way Out Wardell with the same edited photo replacing the candid photo of Wardell on the front cover on later reissues of the LP. 

The second release of Way Out Wardell had the same blue cover and photo of Wardell Gray, but it was on the Bihari’s new CROWN imprint.

The labels for this second release featured the Crown Records logo, but the matrix numbers were identical to the first Modern Records release.  The Bihari’s had not created new masters for this second release.

The cover of the first LP release, LMP-1204, had a deep blue background panel on the left where the “Way Out Wardell” text was placed.  The photo panel was in black and white.  

The third LP reissue, shown below, used the liner note photo in sepia tones, and the color panel background on the left changed to a shade of blue/green or turquoise.  The text below the title which had appeared on the back liner was now highlighted on the front:

“The Late Great Wardell Gray”
“The Effervescent Erroll Garner”

This third release of Way Out Wardell as Crown CLP 5004 had the original matrix numbers plus new Crown matrix numbers: MMLP-1204-1 and CLP-5004-1 (side one), MMLP 1204-2 and CLP-5004-4 (side two).

The fourth LP reissue of Way Out Wardell was remastered with some major changes to tune order and selection. The new matrices were CLP-5004-1N and CLP-5004-2N. Side one which formerly had offered Blue Lou, Sweet Georgia Brown, and Tenderly now contained Blue Lou and Just You, Just Me. Side two which formerly offered Just You, Just Me and One O’clock Jump now contained One O‘clock Jump and Tenderly.   Sweet Georgia Brown was eliminated from this third LP reissue of Way Out Wardell.

The front cover used the same sepia tone image of Wardell Gray that the previous LP reissue had used, but the color panel at the left was now a bright pink color.

There were two versions of the cover of this fourth LP release. One version did not include “The Late Great” prefix to Wardell Gray and “The Effervescent” prefix to Erroll Garner. The other version restored the text that had been on previous covers.

The fifth release of Way Out Wardell as Crown CLP-5004 featured cover graphics that emphasized “HIGH FIDELITY” with a broad text band at the bottom of the cover.  The text panel on the left was in a tan/orange hue with the title text in bright yellow.  The same photo of Wardell in sepia tones was on the right panel. The liner notes that had been a feature of previous releases were now replaced by a generic listing of releases on the Crown Records label.

The label graphics changed on this release as well. Previous labels had been on a black background with white text.  This label had a grey background with text in black.  The CROWN logo that previously curved over the label at the top was now replaced by a straight line block letter CROWN logo.

The next major change in marketing this material would occur when Crown began to issue reprocessed “stereo” versions of this music in addition to “monaural” releases which had been the only version offered (all of the original masters were monaural recordings). 

The sixth LP reissue of Way Out Wardell was released as CLP 5278 (mono) and CST 278 (stereo), matrices CLP-5278-(2)-1 & CLP-5278-2 (mono versions) and CST-278-1 & CST-278-2 (stereo versions).  Another major change in tune selection occurred with this reissue.  Side Two which formerly offered One O‘clock Jump and Tenderly now offered three tunes with no Wardell Gray content.  Although the front jacket of the LP advertised five tunes: What’s Up, Zingo, A La Mode, Hideaway and Reunion;  the pressings contained only What’s Up, Hideaway and Reunion.  These tunes are from a Buddy Collette session with Gerald Wiggins, Joe Comfort, and Bill Douglass. 

The front jacket was changed as well, now featuring an artist’s rendering of Wardell’s image that was used on previous releases as a photo. The text above the title did note that Buddy Collette and Gerald Wiggins were among the artists on this reissue. Liner notes which had been featured on all previous versions were replaced  by a listing of Crown albums in the catalogue.

The labels on the mono release listed the three tunes on side two correctly.  The stereo labels listed five tunes on side two, ZINGO and A LA MODE were listed in error as there were only three tracks on the stereo version.

Previous LP releases that listed an address for Crown Records noted their headquarters at 9317 West Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California.  The seventh version of Way Out Wardell altered the title of the LP to Wardell Gray Plus Erroll Garner with the tune selection and order identical to the sixth LP reissue.  This release did not identify the Buddy Collette group on the front jacket although Buddy’s name is included on the labels.  The address listed for Crown Records is 1435 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, California.  The LP jacket back lists records available in the Crown Records catalogue, no detailed liner notes. The front jacket photo returned to the photo used on the first Modern Records release, LMP 1204. The color panel on the right used a light shade of green.

Matrix numbers for this fifth version were: CLP-5424-1 and CLP-5424-2 (mono version) and CST-424-1 and CST-424-B (stereo version).

Labels for this version were identical to the labels used for Crown Records CST-278 and CLP-5278.

The eight release of this material was on another Bihari imprint, Custom Records. The address for the firm was now listed as 5810 South Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles, California. The album title was changed again to SHADES OF GRAY  WARDELL GRAY. The tune selection restored the tunes that had been used on the fourth LP reissue: Blue Lou and Just You, Just Me on side one and One O‘clock Jump and Tenderly on side two. 

Images of Wardell Gray were not used for this series which instead featured an artist’s rendering in black & white of two saxophones. The background color of the cover is white.  The back jacket copy did not discuss the music, but informed (incorrectly) that the music had been recorded on an Ampex tape recorder.

Custom Records continued the mono and stereo version releases with matrices XX CM-2060-1 and XX CM-2060-2 for the mono version, CS-1060-1 and CS-1060-2 for the stereo version. The label featured a "Pac-Man" knock-off logo.

At least three more versions of Way Out Wardell were released using the title “Shades Of Gray / Wardell Gray” on United Superior Records and United Records; all using an address at 5810 South Normandie Avenue, Los Angeles, California.

The ninth variation:

The tenth variation:

The eleventh variation:

This last release restored some liner notes and returned to the white cover graphic that had been used on the Custom Records covers.  The order in which these last three variations were released is partially discernible in the matrix numbers where original matrices used for Custom Records releases are cancelled with a new US matrix entered along side it in the wax.  At this point in time the Bihari’s had stopped issuing mono versions of the Wardell Gray sessions and issued the reprocessed stereo versions only. 

This research originally appeared in Names & Numbers, the Dutch discography journal, No. 53, April 2010.  Additional research since then has modified those original findings.  A documentary film on the Bihari Brothers and their record empire, MUSIC BY THE POUND, had its premier showing at the City of Angels Guitar Show, May 25, 2013 in Pasadena. 

June 22, 2014 update:

A reader has kindly pointed out that the various releases of BLUE LOU on the vinyl releases discussed above were edited versions.  The full 9:20 version of BLUE LOU is preserved on the following vinyl releases:

CD reissues with the full versions include: