Wynton Kelly

Artist Playlists

About Wynton Kelly

Although he led a successful trio with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb throughout the 1960s, pianist Wynton Kelly remains best known as a peerless sideman, a musician with deep blues sensibility and a crisp rhythmic snap that made him a desirable collaborator for the likes of Miles Davis, Johnny Griffin, and Wes Montgomery. Born to Jamaican immigrants in Brooklyn in 1931, he began playing at age 12, and four years later appeared on Hal Singer’s 1948 R&B hit “Cornbread.” Kelly became ubiquitous for his accompaniment in R&B bands led by Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis as well as for bebop vocalist Babs Gonzalez. By the early 1950s Kelly was working with Dizzy Gillespie and Lester Young, but his ascent was slowed by a mandatory two-year stint in the army. Following his discharge he jumped back into the fray, emerging as an in-demand sideman for Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley, and Blue Mitchell, among others. His most important gig began in 1959 when Miles Davis hired him for his quintet, a partnership that lasted until 1963, although he only played on the track “Freddie Freeloader” on the iconic Kind of Blue. Kelly’s own trio worked with Montgomery and Joe Henderson, but they performed and recorded on their own for most of the 1960s until Chambers died in 1969. Kelly, who had epilepsy, died from a seizure in Toronto in 1971.

December 2, 1931
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