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Wynton Kelly 

Wynton Kelly!; Kelly Great; Someday My Prince Will Come (Collectables)

Along with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and Red Garland, Wynton Kelly was among the most influential jazz pianists of the '60s and '70s. Though he was an original stylist, Kelly wasn't an innovator; he made a synthesis of existing styles that had a major impact. His initial influence was bop great Bud Powell, but his playing was funkier, as he added elements derived from Red Garland. Kelly played with Miles Davis from 1959-1963, which added to his visibility -- and consequently, to the influence he had on others. Pianist Ellis Marsalis even named one of his sons after Kelly.

Kelly made these recordings around 1960 for the Vee Jay label. Wynton Kelly! contains trio selections with bassists Paul Chambers and Sam Jones and drummer Jimmy Cobb. On Kelly Great, he's joined by trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenorman Wayne Shorter, Chambers, and drummer Philly Joe Jones. Someday My Prince Will Come also contains trio tracks, with one quintet selection added. You can't go wrong with any of these CDs -- Kelly has everything going for him. He swings easily, articulates precisely, displays a very accurate sense of time, and paces his solos intelligently. He also creates a variety of moods, playing with warmth and lyricism on ballads and exhibiting drive during the uptempo selections. Morgan and Shorter were impressing people in Art Blakey's band when they recorded with Kelly, and Shorter was then synthesizing the styles of Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Shorter plays inconsistently, although he does contribute a lovely ballad in "Sydney." Chambers, Sam Jones, Philly Joe Jones, and Cobb are among the finest post-bop rhythm section members, and they demonstrate it on these CDs. It's a pleasure just to zero in on them as they accompany others.

More by Harvey Pekar

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