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Leo Wright

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A first-rate bop-oriented alto saxophonist, Wright was also one of the finest flutists jazz has known. He studied saxophone under the tutelage of his father. His first recording was made in 1958 with vibist Dave Pike; the next year, he played the Newport Festival with bassist Charles Mingus' group. Wright joined Dizzy Gillespie's band in 1959, remaining until 1962. In addition to his sideman work, Wright established himself as a leader in the early '60s, leading New York-based bands that included the likes of bassist Ron Carter, pianist Junior Mance, drummer Charlie Persip, and guitarist Kenny Burrell, among others. In 1960, he recorded the record for which he is perhaps best-known -- Blues Shout for the Atlantic label -- with a group consisting of himself, Mance, Persip, bassist Art Davis, and trumpeter Richard Williams. After leaving Gillespie's band, Wright went on to play and record with pianist/composer Lalo Schifrin and organist Jack McDuff; with the latter he recorded Screamin' for the Prestige label. He also worked with composer Antonio Carlos Jobim, trumpeter Johnny Coles, and singer Jimmy Witherspoon before moving to Europe later in the decade. There he worked with pianist/composer George Gruntz and he also played with saxophonist Lee Konitz in an all-star group called Alto Summit and with trumpeter Carmell Jones. Wright eventually moved to Berlin, where he played in a studio band and worked freelance. In May 1978, Wright co-led a studio session in New York City with pianist Red Garland for Muse Records. He essentially retired from music around 1979, before re-emerging in the mid-'80s. In 1986, Wright played gigs with the Paris Reunion Band, which also included trombonist Grachan Moncur III, cornetist Nat Adderley, and pianist Kenny Drew Sr. In the years before his death, Wright worked and recorded with his wife, singer Elly Wright. His autobiography, God Is My Booking Agent, was published posthumously by Bayou Press in the fall of 1991. His last recording was made with his wife on her CD Listen to My Plea. ~ Chris Kelsey

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Birth Name:

Leo Nash Wright


14 December 1933 in Wichita Falls, TX

Years Active:

'50s, '60s