Obituary: Chuck Wayne

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The Independent Online
Musicians on the whole are averse to the banjo. In 1963, in a move totally out of character for such a sensitive musician, the guitarist Chuck Wayne tried to bring the banjo into modern jazz, playing lines that had been used by the influential Charlie Christian on the guitar. "There's a banjo boom in the offing," Wayne said confidently, and recorded a long- vanished album on the instrument. All those with perfect pitch (the ability to throw a banjo into a skip without it touching the sides) must be grateful that he proved to be wrong.

Chuck Wayne's family had come to New York from Czechoslovakia and his musical career began when he played with a balalaika band. He also became an expert mandolin player. When his balalaika warped he threw it away and bought a guitar. He worked full-time as a lift operator at the beginning of the Forties and spent his evenings in the jazz clubs on 52nd Street, at that time the crucible for the development of modern jazz.

He worked in bands led by the pianists Clarence Profit and Nat Jaffe before his army service. Released in 1944, he immediately moved to the higher echelons, working with leading figures in the emergent Bebop music such as Dizzy Gillespie, Jay Jay Johnson, Lee Konitz and Bud Powell and playing in the band led by the clarinettist Joe Marsala at the Hickory House from 1944 to 1946.

Wayne replaced Billy Bauer in the Woody Herman band in 1946 and drew universal attention with his first recording with the band, the classic "Sidewalks of Cuba", where he shared the solo space with the remarkable trumpeter Sonny Berman. Wayne's cultured and flowing style, mixing chords and single-line styles, gave him a much more prominent role in the band than Bauer had had. When the band's pianist and composer Ralph Burns wrote his "Summer Sequence" suite, he based it largely on the solo voice of Wayne's guitar.

The band later recorded "Early Autumn", a fourth movement to the suite which was the first feature for Stan Getz. This became one of the ultimate jazz classics, and the suite and Wayne's place in jazz was assured.

His work with Herman proved to be his only jazz big band experience and ever afterwards he worked with small groups, most notably with the popular George Shearing Quintet, for whom he worked from 1949 to 1952.

The delicacy of his playing made him especially suited as an accompanist and he toured from 1954 to 1957 backing Tony Bennett. Later he worked with Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand and Sarah Vaughan and became a singer himself, working in a duo with the husky-voiced Morgana King.

Wayne was a composer of great ability, writing the music for the Broadway production of Tennessee Williams's Orpheus Descending in 1957. Miles Davis appropriated Wayne's tune "Sunny" and recorded it as "Solar" with the composer credit given to Davis. In 1959 Wayne became a studio musician and composer for CBS, at the same time leading his own groups and teaching guitar privately.

He also studied classical guitar, appeared in a multitude of television programmes and made many recordings in jazz and other musical styles. He was involved with more Broadway shows, including The Nervous Set and Copper and Brass. In 1973 he wrote the score for the documentary film The Mugging at a time when he was frequently called on to play in concerts, jazz clubs and guitar seminars.

The list of his recordings reads like a jazz history, for he appeared in groups led by Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Jack Teagarden, Tadd Dameron and Claude Thornhill, among innumerable others.

During the last years of his life Chuck Wayne was handicapped by Parkinson's disease, although he still played occasionally.

Charles Jagelski (Chuck Wayne), guitarist: born New York 27 February 1923; died Jackson, New Jersey 29 July 1997.