Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wilton Gaynair: A Jamaican Saxophonist in Europe

When one considers Jamaica's contributions to world music, it's inevitable to think of reggae and ska, but jazz may not be the first thing that comes readily to mind. And yet in the 1940s and '50s, a group of Jamaican jazzmen that included trumpeter Dizzy Reece and altoist Joe Harriott moved to England and made their mark on British jazz. Among this group was tenorist Wilton Gaynair, nicknamed "Bogey," although he actually settled in Germany, where he didn't have much trouble finding a job within the ranks of the popular jazz-inflected orchestra led by Kurt Edelhagen. Born in Kingston in 1927, Gaynair learned to play the saxophone while at the famous Alpha Boys School and was soon a regular fixture at the local clubs before relocating to Europe in 1955 at Reece's behest. Producer Tony Hall, who supervised some of Gaynair's sessions, describes the saxophonist as "a very humble, modest man," which is perhaps one of the reasons why the groups he led always sound so relaxed and the interaction between the musicians appears to be seamless. Unfortunately, Gaynair only cut three albums as a leader, the first two (Blue Bogey and Africa Calling) for the British label Tempo in  1959 and 1960, and a third one (Alpharian) in Germany in 1982, some 22 years after his second outing for Tempo.

Although, after leaving Jamaica, Gaynair lived most of his life in Germany, the session that yielded Blue Bogey took place in London on August 26, 1959. Seven songs were cut under Hall's supervision in a quartet setting with Gaynair on tenor, Terry Shannon on piano, Kenny Napper on bass, and Bill Eyden on drums, filling in for the great Phil Seamen, who apparently wasn't able to make it to the session. Besides a fine reading of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring" and the two standards ("The Way You Look Tonight" and "Gone with the Wind") that brought both the session and the album to a close and that are taken at a rather brisk pace, four originals by Gaynair were recorded, and they offer ample proof of his talent as a composer. The album opener, "Wilton's Mood," is based on a catchy riff that is stated both at the beginning and at the end, and "Blues for Tony," dedicated to the session's producer, is an engaging blues tune played with conviction by Gaynair, who is ably supported by the rest of the band. "Deborah" is a beautiful ballad written for Shannon's daughter, and here Gaynair's relaxed, lyrical approach shows his debt to both Coleman Hawkins and Johnny Hodges. "Rhythm" is a great example of the perfect understanding that exists between the four members of the quartet, since it was originally just a rehearsal that sounded so good that it was deemed a keeper! In fact, the whole album is a keeper, a wonderful, sadly neglected record that is best enjoyed when one dims the lights.

No comments: