Yesterday, in my post on trombonist Bob Flanigan and guitarist John Gray, I wondered what became of Gray. A large gap exists in his discography between 1947 and 1956, and his recording career ends abruptly in 1968. Curious, I reached out to vibist Gary Burton [pictured], who played with Gray in George Shearing's quintet in the early 1960s.
But first, a little background from the liner notes of The New Wave (1962), John Gray's only leadership date:
"George Shearing was organizing a West Coast tour for Concerts Inc. during the early part of 1962, and he asked Herb Ellis [pictured] to come along. Ellis had prior commitments so had to decline, but he recommended his friend and fellow guitarist, John Gray. John was auditioned and immediately engaged as a member of the Shearing Quintet for the tour.
"And that brings us to the above mentioned 'clue' to this 'New Wave' in guitar playing: John is quick to acknowledge his longtime admiration for, and indebtedness to, George Shearing's piano style and harmonic ideas.
"As John puts it, 'I seem to think along the same line with Shearing harmonically. He hits my ear better than the far-out players, though I appreciate what they do.' "
John Gray recorded with Shearing from 1963 to 1965, the same period as Gary Burton. Yesterday, I asked Gary about Gray:
"Wow, John Gray. I only met him the day of our concert recording in Santa Monica in 1963 [pictured]. I had just joined Shearing's band a couple of weeks earlier, and it surprised me that when George decided to record the band in concert that he didn't want to use Ron Anthony, the guitarist in the band.
"Instead he brought in John who had to read the pieces and figure out how to blend in with the ensemble all in one rehearsal before the gig that night. I thought it was kind of an insult to Ron, actually. Ron was quite a decent player, a very good sight-reader, and he already knew all the material.
"But, George seemed to think Ron [pictured] was somehow not up to his standards. With George, there was never much soloing anyway. The rule was you only got to play one 32-bar chorus of a tune, so your solo would last all of about 30 seconds. And no one soloed on ballads except George. Frankly, any guitarist could have covered the guitar solos on George's band.
"I enjoyed playing with Ron during the year with Shearing, and was pleased to learn that some years later he became part of Frank Sinatra's back-up group, along with the bassist Gene Cherico, who also was with Shearing at that time.
"But John Gray is one of those mystery figures who made a few records, and then gradually faded from view. He would be in his late 70's now if he's still around."
I also asked bassist and personal manager John Levy about Gray. John managed both George Shearing and Nancy Wilson:
"I don't specifically recall John Gray playing with George Shearing in the early 1960s. I do recall him recording with Nancy, and I was very impressed with his playing. I tried to find him on several occasions after the Nancy Wilson dates, but I was not able to find him. It seemed like he retired from the music business."
The mystery of John Gray continues...
JazzWax clip: Here's Nancy Wilson singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco in 1964 with John Gray on guitar, from Today, Tomorrow, Forever...