Med Flory dies at 87; alto saxophonist and actor founded Grammy-winning jazz group Supersax
Med Flory, an alto saxophonist and founder of the Grammy-winning jazz group Supersax in addition to being an actor who appeared on numerous TV series, has died. He was 87.
His son, Rex, who cared for his father during several years of heart maladies, reported that Flory died Wednesday at his home in North Hollywood.
Flory had not been professionally active over the last few years, a shift from the busy demands of a career stretching over six decades. One of Hollywood’s most unusual hyphenates, he was successful in two creatively demanding arenas.
He was born Meredith Irwin Flory on Aug. 27, 1926, in Logansport, Ind., to Florence and Wilmer Flory. He began clarinet lessons when he was 9 and joined his high school concert band when he was 12. It was his mother who provided the model that led him into music as a possible career.
“My mom was a real musician,” Flory said in an interview for the Web blog JazzWax. “She could sight-read three manual organ parts with pedals and everything. She had played for the silent movies when she was in high school. She never studied music but could memorize everything. She also could improvise. She was twice the musician I’d ever be.”
After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, Flory graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in philosophy and went to New York, where he worked with his own small groups as well as the big bands of Woody Herman and Claude Thornhill. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s, becoming involved with the arrival of cool jazz on the West Coast. Meeting and performing with players such as Art Pepper, Buddy Clark and Joe Maini, he planted the seeds for the eventual creation of Supersax.
In 1972, Flory and bassist Clark formed the nine-piece band that paid tribute to the music of bebop saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. It played classic Parker solos in arrangements by Flory. Supersax performed in several different formats — sometimes as a self-contained ensemble, other times as an element in Flory’s big band, Jazz Wave. The group won a Grammy in 1974 for its album “Supersax Plays Bird.”
In a Los Angeles Times review of a 1992 performance by Supersax, Zan Stewart wrote: “You wanted hair-raising thrills, heart-stopping chills? Forget Magic Mountain’s Ninja, Colossus and Psyclone roller coasters. Just listen to Supersax’s version of Parker’s famed ‘alto break’ that precedes his solo in Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘A Night in Tunisia.’”
Flory’s career as a character actor began to blossom in the 1960s, when he appeared in series such as “Wagon Train,” “The Rifleman,” “Maverick” and “Route 66.” He amassed nearly 100 credits, mostly in television, although he also appeared in a few films, including the Jerry Lewis comedy “The Nutty Professor.”
Describing Flory’s own feelings about his cross-genre career, Associated Press writer Jay Sharbutt wrote that “Med, who speaks in an easy Indiana drawl, doesn’t mind this split-ticket existence: ‘It makes a nice balance in life,’ he says. ‘The acting lets me spend a lot of time on music and keep the band working.’”
Before he began to have heart problems, Flory spent several years caring for his wife, Joan Barbara Fry, after she contracted Alzheimer’s disease. Said Flory’s son, Rex: “As great an alto saxophonist as my dad was, he was an even greater father and husband.”
In addition to his son, Flory is survived by his daughter, Ava, and two granddaughters. Fry died in 2000.
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