Clarinetist and saxophonist from Indianapolis, Indiana, who received his first clarinet at the age of eleven or twelve and soon thereafter was performing with the Indianapolis Newsboys Band. In high school, he began receiving his first formal training, as well as playing with jazz bands on the local dance circuit. He went on to attend Indiana University and received Bachelor’s of Music and Master’s of Music degrees in woodwinds.
During his last year at IU, he auditioned and won a job as third clarinetist with the Kansas City Philharmonic. He left them in 1964 to serve as a clarinetist with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra . After a two-year stint with the SLSO , he moved to L.A. to check out the burgeoning session scene.
Frank Sinatra was instrumental in getting him a foot in the door. In 1968, after winning the Frank Sinatra Award for his performance of Debussy’s “Premiere Rhapsody” and “Der Hirt auf Dem Felsen” of Franz Schubert, as well as a couple of jazz pieces (without the benefit of sheet music) he was given the $2000 first prize by Sinatra himself. Sinatra apparently phoned up the Warner Bros. music contractor and encouraged him to hire Gary. This led to his first movie work, on the soundtrack of Bonnie & Clyde.
In 1969, he was handpicked by fellow clarinetist Mitchell Lurie to join the newly-formed Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Neville Marriner was the conductor at the time and stayed with them until the mid-to-late ’70s, when he became disenchanted with some of the woodwind musicians and fired them. Gary and Mitchell were not among them, but quit in protest.
In the late ’70s, when Gerard Schwarz took over the reins of the LACO, Gary auditioned again and was awarded the second clarinet chair. After having the brass to ask to be the co-principal clarinetist and being denied, Gary and the LACO parted ways again in 1984. About four years later, after Gerard Schwarz left, Gary was asked to come back to the LACO, where he stayed for twenty years.
In the meantime, Gary was well on his way to an impressive recording career, on albums such as Gary Gray, Clarinet, and Fur Wolfgang Amadeus (Tributes to Mozart), both released on CD in 1994. In 1995, he recorded Copland: Clarinet Concerto, which he had performed live for the first time the previous year, and became a full-time professor at the University of California-Los Angeles.
He was also involved with Pacific Serenades at this time and they released their first album, Hall of Mirrors, in 2000. The same year found Gary recording the clarinet part of Ned Rorem’s “Water Music” on Brian Asawa’s album, More than a Day. He also appeared on a pair of albums, Brahms: Clarinet Quintet and Savoir Faire, released in 2005. In February of 2008, Gary was honoured to perform “Rhapsody in Blue” with pianists Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang, at the 50th Anniversary of the Grammy Awards.
In the field of musical education he has been a long time member of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music faculty where he is Professor of Clarinet and Area Head of Woodwinds.
He is on clarinet here performing Gershwin Preludes…