Trombonist KAI CHRESTEN WINDING
(pronounced ki-win-ding) was one of the founding fathers of be-bop
music and truly one of the finest-ever jazz trombonists.
As a sideman to bop’s reigning kings
– Fats Navarro, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Tadd
Dameron – he was more a bridesmaid than a bride. Winding recorded too
infrequently as a leader during this period and none of his compositions
ever really caught on. Indeed, he was adept at putting a defining stamp
on others’ compositions – a trait he picked up while outlining the
artistry of Stan Kenton’s sound during the mid 1940s.
Kai was born on May 18, 1922, in Aarhaus,
Denmark. He came to the United States with his family in 1934. In 1940,
he made his professional debut as trombonist with Shorty Allen’s band.
He played with the bands of Sonny Dunham and Alvino Rey before joining
the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. After becoming a civilian in
1945, he worked with Benny Goodman’s highly popular band and moved
onto Stan Kenton’s orchestra, where he helped defined the brassy
Kenton sound and, quickly became a featured soloist. Thereafter, he
hooked himself up with a number of emerging stars of be-bop, the “new
jazz,” and recorded prolifically – most notably, as part of one of
the nonets featured on the historic THE BIRTH OF THE COOL (Capitol/1949).
Winding recorded and performed
prolifically during the 1950s, as a leader and – with distinction –
behind a number of significant and popular soloists such as Sonny Stitt,
Billy Eckstein, Neal Hefti, Woody Herman, Chris Connor, Sylvia Syms.
Still, the trombone was considered an
unusual instrument to lead a combo. So it was with prescient oddity that
in 1954, producer Ozzie Cadena proposed the marriage of two trombones
– Winding’s quick-witted mellifluousness with fellow trombonist J.J.
Johnson’s hard-edged angularity. The two leaders clicked together
musically right away (check out Savoy's JAY
& KAI) and, surprisingly, became a hugely popular club
attraction and critical favorite. Jay and Kai - or “Kai and
Jay” or “J.J. & K” or “J & K” or any other of a number
of other combinations - was born.
The duo recorded eight highly popular – and consistently artistic – albums over the next two years for the Savoy, RCA, Bethlehem, Prestige and Columbia labels. It was during this period that Kai's great compositional skill was finally recognized with such memorable tunes as "Don't Argue," "Wind Bag," "That's How I Feel About You," "Gong Rock," "Jeanne" and "Caribe."
At this point, Kai
Winding was a well-known – and bankable – entity. In addition to
continuing session work and well-paid gigs, Winding recorded several
“concept” oriented albums for Columbia where he embarked on his own
remarkable - and successful - concept of a four-trombone front line.
Producer Creed Taylor, who has always
recognized a sale-able sound (and produced the duo’s fourth album on
Bethlehem from 1955, K + JJ), kept
close tabs on Kai Winding. The producer brought the trombonist in for
the delightful 1958 album, THE
AXIDENTALS – WITH THE KAI WINDING TROMBONES (ABC Paramount)
and reunited with him when the producer helmed the inception of Impulse
Records – for the Kai and J.J. reunion (THE
GREAT KAI & J.J. – with the catalog number “A-1”) and
the marvelous solo record, THE
INCREDIBLE TROMBONES OF KAI WINDING.
When Creed Taylor accepted a lucrative offer from MGM to head the jazz division of their record label, Verve, Kai Winding was invited too. Winding recorded a dozen albums and 4 non-LP 45-rpm records with Creed Taylor during his stay at the label (1961-67). The music Winding made during this time is well worth hearing and, surprisingly, uncharacteristic of his recordings before or after.
This is the period that my discography
is most concerned with – and when the be-bop legend recorded what I
consider some of
his most interesting material. There’s no doubt that Verve Records
provided Kai Winding with the most popularity he’d known during his
entire career and, in some odd and sometimes wonderful coincidences,
provided the great trombone player, composer and arranger with the most
notable music of his career.
Kai Winding's first Verve record was the wondrous, Latin-esque KAI OLÉ (1961). Still firmly rooted in bebop, Winding goes a bit further South of the Border than he did on his Columbia records, where he simply added a conga or a bongo to spice up the mix. Creed Taylor next steered Winding to one of his famed "concept" albums with 1962's SUSPENSE THEMES IN JAZZ (1962), a collection of "crime jazz" (lots of Henry Mancini covers!), arranged by either Winding or the great Oliver Nelson.
Next came SOLO (1963), one of the first of Kai Winding's many 1963 recordings and a landmark in the trombonist's career. While not exactly true to its title, since it was a trombone-with-rhythm-section date, SOLO did represent Winding's first solo recording where he was the only horn player! The record also featured several titles that celebrated Winding's role as the musical director of New York's Playboy Club - a position the musician maintained throughout the 1960s. SOLO is, perhaps, Kai Winding's best jazz record on Verve, and maybe one of his least known for the label.
The next record, SOUL SURFIN' (1963) changed all the rules. Quite unexpectedly, Kai Winding's cover of Riz Orolani's "More (Theme From Mondo Cane)" became a top ten hit in 1963 - spawning innumerable covers from the bachelor-pad crowd. The album, a collection of somewhat interesting surf tunes (a sound not dissimilar to the soundtrack of TV's THE MUNSTERS), featured Winding and guitarist Kenny Burrell behind the oddly-annoying ondioline (played, without credit, by the legendary Jean Jacques Perrey!). After the single's unbelievable success, the album was renamed MORE.
Next up was the rather strange album titled KAI WINDING (1963). The record was also known by the title THE LONELY ONE, due to the release of the one 45 from the album. This one, which features some pretty rockin' tunes, notably Claus Ogerman's hip "Get Lost," certainly features Winding. But the trombonist barely solos and hardly ever takes a lead line. This writer guesses that the album was intended to be a feature for Garry (or "Gary," or "Gerry") Sherman, the arranger of many of the album's tunes. But the success of "More" encouraged Verve to issue the record (or a bunch of recordings that included Kai Winding) under the trombonist's name.
MONDO CANE #2 (1963-64) next featured Winding covering Nino Oliviero's sequel (and not as good as the oriiginal) theme to Winding's top ten hit. Covering several Ogerman tunes here (notably "Python") and a few originals (the best, which is " Simian Theme"), Winding seems barely present on this record. Jean Jacques Perrey is again said to have played the ondioline (credited to Winding!), which dominates the sound and solos of the record. This is not the record for those that admire hearing Winding's magical trombone sound.
When the hits didn't follow, Creed Taylor moved Kai Winding away from the surfing (and, thankfully, the ondioline) gimmick to other gimmick-y pastures. MODERN COUNTRY (1964) followed, matching Kai's trombone and arrangements with the Anita Kerr Singers and a Nashville rhythm section. Somehow, the concept (which Taylor would explore again with Hubert Laws for CTI) yielded some exceptionally notable performances. Check out "Busted," "Wolverton Mountain" and "Dang Me."
Getting back to basics, Taylor and Winding thereafter conceived RAINY DAY (1965) and THE IN INSTRUMENTALS (1965), both which - much in the style of the time - attempt to place Kai Winding's sound into more contemporary arenas.
Things started gelling again when the pair conceived Kai Winding's excellent MORE BRASS (1966), a not-so-veiled reference to both the trombonist's biggest hit and his best asset. The record yielded several credible performances of contemporary pop - highlighted especially by the delicate harpsichord styling of Hank Jones - that still had that sound of the past (and a marvelous re-arrangement of Winding's hit, "More").
But perhaps the "hippest" Kai Winding ever got for Verve was on his next record, 1966's DIRTY DOG. Featuring his patented four-trombone line-up with Carl Fontana, Urbie Green and Bill Watrous, Winding surrounded himself well with two-handed genius and funk overlord Herbie Hancock, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Grady Tate and guitarist Al Gafa (under the pseudonym "Buzzy Bavarian," to hide, perhaps an unusually rock-ish quality he lays down here). Winding traverses fast takes of the Hancock hits "Cantaloupe Island" and "Blind Man, Blind Man" and Gafa's surprisingly funky title track.
Winding's finest work with producer Creed Taylor, however, remains their last collaboration for Verve. PENNY LANE & TIME (1967) is an incredible accomplishment of pure pop finesse (shocking, given the number of Beatles covers here) and magical jazz arrangement (courtesy of Kai Winding himself). Winding pairs his mellifluous trombone with a four-part flute choir (featuring Hubert Laws, Danny Bank, Romeo Penque, Jerry Dodgion and Jerome Richardson). The result, probably inspired by Winding's former partner, arranger Claus Ogerman, is truly ethereal. Winding ended his 12-album run at Verve much the way he began it: with great artistic beauty.
Shortly thereafter, Creed Taylor left Verve Records to form his own CTI Records label. Winding recorded yet another album - that remains unreleased - for the MGM label (with Taylor, most likely) before Taylor reunited Winding with J.J. Johnson. The pair collaborated on three high-profile reunion projects at A&M/CTI during the late 1960s. Winding also did session work at the time for such A&M/CTI recordings as Paul Desmond's SUMMERTIME and Quincy Jones's WALKING IN SPACE.
By the early 1970s, Kai Winding toured extensively with The Giants Of Jazz, featuring such old comrades as Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Stitt and legendary masters Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey. He was also caught on a series of records which captured the 1972 Newport in New York Festival, reuniting with such early cohorts as Billy Eckstein, Flip Phillips and Zoot Sims.
Winding eventually chose to play when he felt like it, settling in Spain with his third wife, Ezshwan. Records during these years were sparse and on very small labels: two for the Glendale label and two for Lionel Hampton's Who's Who In Jazz label. Winding still performed on a regular basis, pairing up with the great Curtis Fuller in 1979 for two excellent "Giant Bones" recordings. Finally, Winding recorded an incredible "Trombone Summit" for the German MPS label (1980), heading a bone quartet featuring Albert Mangelsdorff, Bill Watrous and Jiggs Whigham - even reuniting one last time with J.J. Johnson for ALL-STAR JAM LIVE - AUREZ JAZZ FESTIVAL '82 (1982).
Unfortunately, after a long and artistically fulfilling career, Kai Winding succumbed to a brain tumor in a New York hospital on May 6, 1983, just shy of his 61st birthday. One of his sons, Jai, has kept Kai Winding's musical legacy alive as a respected - and busy! - session keyboard player for a wide variety of artists including George Benson, Michael Jackson, Madonna, America, The Eagles, Boz Scaggs, Jackson Browne, Molly Hatchet, Ted Nugent and many, many others.
Kai Winding's bop legacy has been kept alive in a variety of worthwhile reissues and countless compilations. However, one hopes that eventually major labels (Universal, are you listening?) will concede to acknowledge the considerable contribution Kai Winding made during the 1960s as part of Verve Records.
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