(photo by Tom Marcello)
Chuck Wayne [Charles Jagelka 1923-1997] was a guitarist and teacher who helped bridge the swing era with the modernist bebop revolution of the mid-1940s. Wayne worked along 52nd Street and took part in recording sessions with Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie, Barney Bigard and many others. He was a member of Woody Herman’s band and worked with George Shearing’s Quintet from 1949-52. Wayne toured and recorded with Tony Bennett in the 1950s and eventually became a staff musician for CBS television from 1959-71. He later taught at the Westchester Conservatory of Music and wrote four books on theory for jazz guitarists.
When the Music Division acquired the Chuck Wayne Collection last year, we were expecting to find the guitarist’s music scores, manuscripts, photographs, correspondence and other paperwork. There was one item, though, that proved somewhat startling; an unpublished 10” acetate disc of a recording session from 1946.
(Larry Appelbaum, Diane Wayne)
While any unpublished recording by Chuck Wayne would be reason to celebrate, this disc documents part of a session in Oklahoma City and contained an intriguing original song by Wayne loosely based on the chord changes to How High the Moon. Wayne titled it Sonny, for the trumpeter Sonny Berman, who is heard on the recording with Wayne.
To hear Wayne and Berman together (they met in Woody Herman’s Orchestra) is a pleasure, but the revelation is that the tune Wayne called Sonny is remarkably similar to a song made famous years later by Miles Davis under the title Solar. With permission from Wayne’s wife Diane, here is an excerpt from the original acetate disc. The grooves are worn and the disc is quite noisy, but the melody is clear, especially to those who know the now famous jazz standard.
Wayne failed to register this song for copyright. Seventeen years after the recording of Sonny was made, Prestige Music Co., Inc. registered Solar for copyright. The copyright registration paperwork is dated Aug. 8, 1963 and shows the composer of the song as Miles Davis.
Wayne told people over the years that his song had been appropriated, and in fact The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz entry for Wayne states: “He performed and recorded with Woody Herman’s First Herd (May-December 1946), and while with Herman composed Sonny, which Miles Davis later appropriated and claimed as his own composition, under a new title, Solar.” This story has circulated for years but only a few have heard the song Sonny as recorded by Wayne and friends, at least not until now.