Wynton Kelly, who was both an elegant piano soloist with a rhythmically infectious solo style in which he combined boppish lines with a great feeling for the blues as well as a particularly accomplished accompanist, gifted with perfect pitch and a highly individual block chording style. Kelly’s work was always highly melodic, especially in his ballad performances, while an irresistible sense of swing informed his mid and up-tempo performances.
Kelly was one of the most prolific sideman pianists of his era, performing on scores of jazz albums, and led albums under his own name, as well as being a superb accompanist and a distinctive soloist. He distinguished himself on record with such talent as J.J. Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin and especially Hank Mobley whom Kelly inspired to some of his best work on classic Blue Note albums like Soul Station, Work Out, and Roll Call.
In early 1959 Miles Davis invited Wynton to joint his sextet as a replacement for Bill Evans. Kind of Blue, recorded in March 1959, on which he shares the piano stool with Evans, Kelly excels on the track “Freddie Freeloader”. Wynton proved a worthy successor to Red Garland and Bill Evans in the Miles Davis combo, together with bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.
A fundamentally unobtrusive pianist who liked above all to swing, Wynton Kelly nevertheless became many people’s ideal pianist during the 60s. A solid mainstream player grounded in the blues. He could make anything he played bounce. An important stylist, but largely unrecognized except by fellow pianists, Kelly’s mature style was hinted at in his earliest recordings. He combined boppish lines and blues interpolations with a taut sense of timing quite unlike anyone else except his imitators. The same quality made his equally individual block chording into a particularly dynamic and driving accompanying style that was savored by the many soloists that he backed.
“Wynton Kelly always projects a happy feeling, regardless of the tempo.”
— J. J. Johnson