The Wynton Kelly Trio
All Music Guide
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Wynton Kelly was born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1931, the son of West Indian parents (as was his friend Oscar Peterson). Kelly began his professional career very early - at thirteen years of age - and at fifteen toured the Caribbean with tenor saxist Ray Abrams. He also worked with Hal Singer and Eddie "Lockjaws'' Davis and then accompanied Dinah Washington for three years. He worked briefly with Lester Young before joining Dizzy Gillespie in 1952, but military service intervened, until his discharge in 1954, which cut short his time with Gillespie. However, he rejoined the latter, staying until 1957, the year he formed his own trio. With Dizzy he'd won national and international recognition, but his four years with Miles Davis from 1959 to 1963 really put him into a special jazz category and for which he is probably best known. On leaving Davis he again formed his own trio, this time using his former rhythm section colleagues from the Miles Davis quintet, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Much in demand throughout the 1950s and 60s, Kelly also worked and recorded with Cannonball Adderley, Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Johnny Griffin, JJ. Johnson, George Coleman, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Clark Terry, plus, as here, Hank Mobley.
To describe Kelly's unobtrusive piano style is very difficult, for there is an unpretentiousness and lightness about it, an almost casual approach that is both swinging and happy-sounding at one and the same time, a style free of cliches and cheap quotes, but not easy to put into words. Something like Tommy Flanagan? Perhaps Wynton's most outstanding piano gifts - apart from his reliability and sheer consistency as a musician and sideman over the years - were his pulsing rhythmic drive and skillful non-interfering comping for horn players, for whom Kelly inspired enormous professional admiration - trombonist JJ. Johnson once said that "Wynton does all the right things at the right times" while Miles Davis described his playing this way: "Wynton's the light for the cigarette. He lights the fire and keeps it going. Without him there's no smoking." Kelly went even so far at to say once that "at one time I didn't like to solo. I'd just like to get a groove going and never solo. The first pianist I admired for comping was Clyde Hart, and later Bud Powell. The way you comp varies from group to group. Some guys leave a lot of space open for you to fill, like Miles. Others won't. And so you have to use your discretion. In general, I like to stay out of a man's way, but you have to judge it by the situation. I did some things with Dizzy I wouldn't do with Dinah, and things I did with them that I wouldn't do with Miles."
All of Kelly's qualities just mentioned are in abundant evidence in this 1967 recording, (which reunites three former members of the 1961 Miles Davis quintet), for Kelly was not only a solid group pianist but a stimulating soloist whose playing really caught fire on occasions, as it does here. Here he is leading a fine quartet in which he solos prominently, sometimes starting and ending some numbers himself, as he does on "On Green Dolphin Street", "If you could see me now" and "Speak low" (perhaps it was his way of letting the listener know who's boss?). As for Hank Mobley, born 1930 in the state of Georgia, his great misfortune was that at the time of his most mature and best playing it also happened to be the same time when the tenor sax field was almost totally dominated by the more declamatory styles of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. As a result Mobley found himself totally over-shadowed, another of jazz's under-rated figures, looking for somewhere to play where 'people aren't just comparing you to someone else.' His gifts ran counter to the prevailing climate of hard bop, for Mobley's softer sound and more subtle approach was unfashionable. Vehemence was the thing, and subtlety was out. However, and fortunately for his admirers, Mobley was in good form on the evening of the 12th November, 1967, when this live recording was made. Here his eloquence is unflagging, and demonstrates his unique oblique rhythmic sense and complex ideas. He produces many excellent and quirkily melodic solos, full of thoughtful constructiveness, especially on "Hackensack", "If you could see me now" and "Speak low". Elsewhere, there are plenty of examples of his unusual rhythmic qualities and use of complex involuted phrases. Sadly, Mobley's great dependence on drugs was his downfall, causing him first to lose his teeth and his health in general, then in 1984 a lung was removed and he finally died in May 1986. A cruel fate for so gifted a jazz musician.