Wynton Kelly Plus Don Sleet: Four Classic Albums

The pianist who lit up Wes Montgomery's Smokin' At The Half Note is here heard with Adderley, Getz and the largely forgotten Don Sleet


Often regarded as a competent but unexceptional player, Wynton Kelly was not only one of the best accompanists in jazz but also a highly gifted pianist in his own right. He recorded 11 albums as leader, but his finest performances were with other artists, most notably Miles Davis (Freddie Freeloader on Kind Of Blue) and the inspired pairing with Wes Montgomery – Smokin’ In Seattle: Live At The Penthouse, and Smokin’ At The Half Note. His other albums include Pot Luck (1959-1960) and Kelly Blue (1959). Now Avid have re-released four additional items from his impressive discography.

Kelly Great features Wynton with Cannonball Adderley, who in the original liner notes wrote that “Kelly has greater solo space than anyone else” [including Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones and Cannonball himself]. Therein he demonstrates his dual abilities as soloist and accompanist. At Midnight has Kelly in the congenial company of Chambers and Philly Joe and elicited the colourful comment from Nat Hentoff that “Wynton is the light for a cigarette. He lights the fire and he keeps it going. Without him there’s no smoking.”

The bonus tracks are exactly that – comprising one of the ballad sequences from the excellent Verve LP Sittin’ In (1957), featuring Getz (I’m Through With Love), Gonsalves (Without A Word Of Warning), Dizzy (Sweet Lorraine), Kelly (Love Walked In) and Hawk (September Song). Kelly demonstrates his developing talents as accompanist and soloist. Getz is quoted as saying “He’s in the Hank Jones class, maybe even a little more of a swinger. He’s a fine young pianist.”

But the real surprise is the session entitled All Members, led by trumpeter Don Sleet. Largely forgotten today, Sleet enjoyed a brief career (including a stint with Stan Kenton) before a drug-related death aged 47 in 1986. Influenced by Miles, Kenny Dorham and Blue Mitchell, he attracted the attention of Orrin Keepnews who signed him to his Jazzland label.

On his debut (and only) album as leader, Sleet displayed his talents as a forceful high-note trumpeter also capable of fashioning a lyrical and light-bodied tone on ballads. The latter qualities are particularly evident on his rendering of Secret Love and Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise, both of which have compelling solos from Jimmy Heath. Sleet sets a hectic pace on his own composition Fast Company and Heath’s original All Members. Needless to say, Kelly is in top form throughout.

CD1: (1) [Kelly Great] Wrinkles; Mama “G”; June Night; What Know; Sydney; (2) Kelly At Midnight: Temperance; Weird Lullaby; On Stage; Skatin’; Pot Luck; (3) [bonus tracks] Dizzy Gillespie Sittin’ In; Ballad Medley: I’m Thru With Love; Without A Word Of Warning; Sweet Lorraine; Love Walked In; September Song (78.48)
CD2: (4) [Wynton Kelly] Come Rain Or Come Shine; Make The Man Love Me; Autumn Leaves; Surrey With The Fringe On Top; Joe’s Avenue; Sassy; Love I’ve Found You; Gone With The Wind; (5) [Don Sleet: All Members] Brooklyn Bridge; Secret Love; Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise; Fast Company; But Beautiful; All Members; The Hearing (76.58)

Wynton Kelly (p) with:
(1) Wayne Shorter (ts); Lee Morgan (t); Paul Chambers (b); Philly Joe Jones (d). NYC, 12 August 1959.
(2) Paul Chambers (b); Philly Joe Jones (d). NYC.
(3) Dizzy Gillespie (t); Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Gonsalves (ts); Wendell Marshall (b); J.C. Heard (d). NYC, 1967.
(4) Paul Chambers, Sam Jones, (b); Jimmy Cobb (d).
(5) Don Sleet (t); Jimmy Heath (ts); Ron Carter (b); Jimmy Cobb (d). NYC, 16 March 1961.
Avid Jazz AMSC1436