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The official rap on Wynton Kelly is that he was everyone’s favorite accompanist in the hard bop era. “Everyone” in this case includes Miles Davis during one of the trumpeter’s most revered periods, the late fifties-early sixties group that also featured Cannonball Adderly, John Coltrane, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb, but Kelly also recorded with a virtual who’s who of the era, and often seemed to show up whenever and wherever people happened to be making some of their best work ever. While Bill Evans was the pianist for much of the landmark Davis LP Kind of Blue, that’s Kelly on “Freddie Freeloader.” Likewise, while making Giant Steps with Tommy Flanagan, Coltrane tagged Kelly in for the recording of “Naima.” The five albums Kelly made with Hank Mobley include the two widely considered the saxophonist’s finest, Workout and Soul Station. Kelly teamed up with Wes Montgomery for two of the guitarist’s best efforts, Full House and Smokin’ at the Half Note. Record producers clearly trusted Kelly to deliver the goods as well, as the pianist appeared on the LP debuts of Grant Green, Johnny Griffin, Wayne Shorter and Blue Mitchell. This in addition to working with Cannonball Adderly, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Elvin Jones, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan and, just to show how cool he was, King Curtis. Maybe he was such a good accompanist because of all the work he did with singers. Which singers, you ask? Oh, you know: Dinah Washington, Abbey Lincoln, Helen Humes and, ah, Billie Holiday.
And his fourteen records as a leader are totally worth checking out, too.
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