Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Winding, Kai (Chresten)

Trombonist Kai Winding adapted the bebop language to his instrument, and in doing so expanded its harmonic function and abilities. Along with J.J. Johnson and Curtis Fuller, Winding's influential changes to the trombone's phrasing earned him the nickname "Mr. Trombone."

Kai’s innovations helped to expand the sound of brass sections in modern jazz, starting with his work with bandleader Stan Kenton and lasting until his final days.

Kai Chresten Winding was born on May 18, 1922, in Aarhus, Denmark. In 1934, at the age of twelve, Kai and his family left Denmark for the United States. Upon their arrival, he discovered jazz and was taken by the robust sound of the trombone. Largely self-taught, he spent his teenage years practicing and engrossing himself in the sounds of jazz.

Upon graduating from Stuyvesant High School in 1940, Winding received his first professional job performing in pianist Shorty Allen’s group before joining guitarist Alvino Rey’s band. With the onset of World War II, Kai entered the United States Coast Guard in 1942, and spent the next three years performing in a service band.

Following the end of the war in 1945, Winding relocated to New York City where he began to immerse himself in the contemporary jazz scene. Winding gained considerable performing experience by participating in jam sessions at Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House.

In November 1945, Winding became a member of clarinetist Benny Goodman’s group. Early the following year, Kai left Goodman to join Stan Kenton’s group as a featured soloist. The same year, he made his debut as the leader of Kai’s Krazy Kats, which included Stan Getz on tenor sax, Shelley Manne on drums, and Shorty Allen on piano. The group recorded “Loaded” and “Sweet Miss” for Savoy Records.

In 1947, Winding appeared with the Kenton band in the short film Let’s Make Rhythm. Directed by Wallace Grissell, the film was a combination of a traditional narrative and musical and featured such songs as “Artistry In Rhythm,” “Concerto To End All Concertos,” and “Tampico.”

On March 31, 1947, the Kenton group recorded “Lover” in Hollywood, California. The song is an ideal example of Winding’s early contributions to bebop. After the introduction, Winding begins the verse with a sentimental interpretation of the melody choosing to use a darker tone against the mellow feel of the song. What is most striking is the superiority of his tone, which has a vocal component about it that entirely fits the environment of the song.

The following year, Winding performed with tenor saxophonist Charlie Ventura and continued to increase his profile in the jazz community. Winding’s work with Ventura brought him to the attention of pianist/composer Tadd Dameron, with whom he performed from 1948 to 1949.

Throughout the late 1940s, Winding led his own group which featured tenor saxophonist Brew Moore and pianist George Wallington. Kai also served as a sideman with Moore and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and performed at 52nd Street clubs like the Royal Roost and Birdland.

Winding's playing then came to the attention of trumpeter Miles Davis, who at the time was experimenting with the compositional boundaries of modern jazz, in collaboration with composer/arranger Gil Evans. The resulting sessions produced the songs that made up the album Birth of the Cool.

A fine example of Winding's work with Davis is the song “Godchild.” Arranger Gerry Mulligan utilizes Winding’s powerful and clear tone in the arrangement to open up the sound of the brass section. For his solo, Kai briefly performs an ascending melodic motif that makes way for a cleverly succinct line that blends easily back into the ensemble passage.

From 1954 until 1956, Winding collaborated with trombonist J.J. Johnson. Initially recommended by producer Ozzie Cadena, the combination of Kai’s deep and bluesy one with J.J.’s clear-cut and acute quality was a progressive melodic design unseen before that time.

During their time together, the two men recorded several albums including 1951’s Modern Jazz Trombones, 1954’s Jay & Kai, and 1955’s Nuf Said. At various times the group featured several stars of the scene as sidemen, including bassists Charles Mingus, Peck Morrison, and Milt Hinton, pianist Dick Katz, and drummers Al Harewood and Osie Johnson. During their time together, Winding and Johnson recorded for several labels including Bethlehem, Columbia, Debut, Prestige, and Savoy records.

Though the two men parted ways in 1956, though they would occasionally reunite to perform and record. In 1960, the duo released The Great Kai & J.J., featuring pianist Bill Evans, bassists Paul Chambers and Tommy Williams, and drummers Roy Haynes and Art Taylor.

The album features the song “This Could Be the Start of Something Good.” Haynes begins the song with a brief introduction before Winding and Johnson begin the verse. The contrasting styles of the two men are made apparent during their solos, with Johnson exhibiting a melodically robust sound and Winding displaying a more aggressive tone. The added support of Chambers perfectly blends the rhythmic and melodic design of the ensemble.

Winding supplemented his performance and recording schedule with other opportunities, including taking a position as musical director for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Clubs in 1961. Two years later, Winding scored his first top ten single “More,” which was the theme from the movie Mondo Cane and was arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman.

Soon after, Winding formed the Kai Winding Septet, a forward-thinking ensemble that featured four trombones and a rhythm section. The ensemble included trombonists Wayne Andre, Carl Fontana, and Dick Lieb as well as pianist Roy Frazee, bassist Kenny O’Brien and percussionists Tom Montgomery and Jack Franklin.

Throughout the late 1960s, Winding combined jazz with other types of music including bossa nova, country and popular music. In 1966, Winding appeared as himself in director Leo Penn’s movie A Man Called Adam. The film, a fictionalized account of events in the life of Miles Davis, also featured trumpeter Louis Armstrong and singer Mel Torme. In 1969, Winding moved to Southern California where he worked as a studio musician, and toured intermittently.

During the 1970s, Winding was signed to A&M Records, though he always struggled to find a steady label to release his recordings. From 1971 to 1972, Kai was a member of the Giants of Jazz, an all-star group which featured trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Sonny Stitt, drummer Art Blakey and pianist Thelonious Monk. In 1972, Winding performed at Philharmonic Hall in New York City with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon.

In 1974, Winding released the albums Caravan and Danish Blue for the Glendale label. The artwork for the albums were done by his second wife, Ezshwan. In 1977, Kai and Ezshwan moved to Spain, where he retired from active touring. During this time, he began to compose more including the song “Lady H,” which he dedicated to his wife.

In 1978, Winding returned to the Hampton band as a featured soloist alongside trombonist Curtis Fuller. The following year, Winding and Fuller co-led the group Giant Bones. At various times the group featured pianists Hank Jones and Horace Parlan, bassists John Clayton and Mads Vinding, and drummers Jimmy Cobb and Ed Thigpen. The same year, Mel Bay Publications released his first method book, Mr. Trombone: the Kai Winding Method of Jazz Trombone Improvisation.

In 1981, Mel Bay released a second book, entitled Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Solos. During the last year of his life, he reunited with Johnson to perform at the 1982 Aurex Jazz Festival and the Kool Jazz Festival in New York.

\ Winding passed away on May 6, 1983 at the age of sixty in Yonkers, New York. following a five-month hospitalization during which he was battling a brain tumor. Throughout his hospitalization, Kai kept his trombone by his side, which was insisted on by his friend flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione.

Mere weeks after his passing, the Kool Jazz Festival in New York issued a tribute to him. In 1995, the International Trombone Workshop at the University of Nevada honored him with a concert featuring the Nevada Symphony Orchestra.

Winding is survived by his second wife, Ezshwan Winding, and his son Jai.

Select Discography

As a leader

Loaded (1945)

Trombone Panorama (1956)

The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones (1960)

Penny Lane And Time (1967)

Caravan (1974)

Danish Blue (1974)

Lionel Hampton Presents Kai Winding (1977)

With Miles Davis

Birth of the Cool (1950)

With Curtis Fuller

Giant Bones (1979)

Giant Bones ’80 (1980)

With J.J. Johnson

Modern Jazz Trombones (1951)

Jay & Kai (1954)

Nuf Said (1955)

Trombone For Two (1955)

The Great Kai and J.J. (1960)

Contributor: Eric Wendell