Thursday, November 12, 2009

Wynton Kelly: The Unheralded Giant

Wynton Kelly (piano; b. 1931 - d. 1971)

Wynton Kelly is most remembered for his lush, melodic, hard bop performance on Miles Davis' "Freddy Freeloader" from the Kind Of Blue album. But I feel he was much more a significant player than just that one shinning (and I do mean "shinning" moment). His career was not long ('51 - '68) and his recordings were what some may call "middle of road" but if you listen much more closely you will hear all the signatures of a great giant emerging onto the scene. Miles knew this. Unfortunately Wynton Kelly didn't have the opportunity to expand on the ideas he was creating as a leader.

His most constant trio (Paul Chambers (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums) performed with Wes Montgomery on the classic Live At The Half Note and with Joe Henderson on two fantastic albums for Verve. (Four! and Straight No Chaser). Wynton Kelly's style laid right in the middle of the hard bop scene. He was definitely more powerful than his contemporary, Bill Evans (whom he replaced in Miles Davis' quartet) and had a rhythmic excellence that blended perfectly with his fellow musicians on every record. He could go from a straight ahead hard bop standard to his own more bluesy driven ballad with ease.

Wynton Kelly is that missing link in the Miles discography that everyone should investigate. Most of his albums are surprisingly still available. If you have the opportunity you should check out two import collections which combine a number of albums on to two discs (The Vee Jay Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz) and The Complete Blue Note Trio Sessions (Jazz Factory)). These collections cover a lot of ground and along with Live At The Half Note (Lone Hill Jazz) and Complete Joe Henderson Recordings (Lone Hill Jazz) would give you about 85% of the Wynton Kelly you would need. And that's still good.

For those you looking to download try Kelly The Great and Kelly At Midnight both on Vee Jay Recordings.

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