The Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond had its first successes in the early '50s, but it wasn't until the addition of drummer Joe Morello (in 1956) and Gene Wright (in 1958) that the classic quartet took its final shape. The band was enormously popular; Brubeck himself had appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1954, and the band's 1959 album Time Out became the first jazz LP to sell more than a million copies. Wright's contribution was essential; his excellent time-keeping (and Morello's tastefully dextrous drumming) formed the crucial underpinnings for the leader's experiments in odd time meters and polyrhythms.
Wright began playing cornet in school before switching to bass. While in his early twenties, he led his own band, the Dukes of Swing, which at times included saxophonist Red Holloway and the popular Chicago vocal group the Dozier Boys, among others. (A young arranger/composer by the name of Sonny Blount wrote most or all of the band's book; he later became famous by a different name: Sun Ra.) The band recorded a few sides for the Aristocrat label before Wright disbanded the group so he could join Count Basie.
During the '40s and '50s, Wright also played with such musicians as saxophonists Gene Ammons and Arnett Cobb, pianist Vince Guaraldi, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco, and vibists Cal Tjader and Red Norvo, before landing the gig with Brubeck. After the Brubeck quartet's demise in 1967, Wright played college concerts for a time, then joined pianist Monty Alexander's trio in 1971. After leaving Alexander's band in 1974, Wright worked in TV and film. He also became more active as an educator, serving as chairman of the University of Cincinnati's jazz department. Wright continued to perform reunion concerts with Brubeck over the years, most notably in 1976 at a celebration of the quartet's 25th anniversary. ~ Chris Kelsey, Rovi