The jazz name Wynton Kelly is typically associated with other artists' endeavors, such as John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Atlantic, 1959), Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) or Wes Montgomery's Smokin' at the Half Note (Verve, 1965), just to mention three landmark recordings. While he always seemed best cast in supporting roles, Kelly did have a highly respectable solo career, and while it was neither as productive, nor considered as critically important as his sideman roles, it is still worthy of coverage.
When Kelly entered the studio to record what would be his first release as a leader, New Faces -New Sounds in the late summer of 1951, he was nineteen years old. He was already a recording veteran, having recorded with Hal Singer, Billy Stewart, Babs Gonzales, Babs Gonzales, and Dinah Washington, all since 1949. Kelly was between two Dinah Washington dates when recording these sides. Young and busy in early '50s New York City, Kelly began making a name as a durable go-to pianist able to operate in a variety of formats. Already fully formed at a young age, Kelly was set for a productive career at an important musical time.
Kelly's debut reveals an artist practicing within the wide-open bebop era while retaining the quiet sophistication of swing. Kelly manifests a stylistic collision between a Teddy Wilson or Red Garland and Bud Powell or Hampton Hawes. "Cherokee" and "There'll Never Be Another You" display Kelly's bop chops while the swing is readily detected in "Blue Moon" and "Goodbye." "Moonlight in Vermont" is interesting, with Kelly playing the celesta, giving the piece a 1950s television soundtrack feel and ambiance. Kelly is never too wordy, using block chords strategically and showing off his technical prowess only when necessary (on the bop pieces). His support was solid, with bassist Franklin Skeete being well captured on these recordings. Sonically, New Faces -New Sounds compares with other recordings of the period like Thelonious Monk's Genius of Modern Music, Volume 2 (Blue Note, 1951). There is a bit of a sepia air to this recording because of the early technology, making the recording both artifact and exposition. It is a good historical introduction to Kelly as an artist and leader.
Cherokee; Crazy He Calls Me; Blue Moon; Born to the Blue; Moonlight in Vermont, There’ll Never Be Another You; I’ve Found
a New Baby; Goodbye.
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