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Leo Wright

In 1968 MPS Records assembled four alto saxophonists who, together, represented the spectrum of 1960s post-bop alto sax. Alto Summit featured Lee Konitz with his angular, abstract lines that stretched the boundaries of jazz, Phil Woods, feet firmly planted in the bop tradition, Norwood “Pony” Poindexter, the often overlooked reedman who never lost bop’s blues roots, and Leo Wright, in whose playing can be heard the full spectrum: bop, hard bop, Texas blues, and third stream, along with a healthy dose of Latin and African flavors.

Leo Nash Wright was born on December 14, 1933 in Wichita Falls, Texas. He took up the saxophone in the early 1940s under the tutelage of his father Mel, who taught him, “Don’t forget what came before.” He was influenced early on by blues greats Louis Jordan and fellow Texan Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. As Wright told one reporter, “People in the South know the blues.” His first alto idol, however, was Johnny Hodges whom Wright called the “father of the alto saxophone.”

It was also inevitable that a young altoist in the fifties would fall under the spell of Charlie Parker. “Whatever Bird was doing, in all his music,” Wright said of his predecessor, “he retained the idea of the blues.” Wright could never have imagined that just a few years out of college he would play Bird’s former role as the foil to Dizzy Gillespie.

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