Monday Notes

Wynton Kelly & Wes Montgomery, No Blues

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[Monday Notes no. 60] Among the many outstanding musicians Miles Davis chose for his bands, one of the lesser known is certainly Wynton Kelly. In Miles’ lineups, Wynton Kelly came after Bill Evans and immediately before Herbie Hancock. Let’s listen to his No Blues, taken from the album Smokin’ At The Half Note, which he recorded together with guitarist Wes Montgomery.

Wynton Kelly has been very important for the history of jazz piano, in fact he contributed to invent and popularize the famous jazz voicings used by all pianists since the ’40s. Wynton Kelly was also one of the greatest piano accompanists of all time, in this he is the greatest heir of Teddy Wilson.

Wynton Kelly’s playing is relaxed and pleasant, simple and with an inimitable sound. The pianist is also a true blues specialist, and he proves it on this recording, alongside guitarist Wes Montgomery.

The piano lays out the 12 measures of the initial theme, and then the guitar solo begins, which lasts 24 choruses! Wes Montgomery’s improvisation is exciting, the guitarist often seems to converse with himself by playing riffs, just as a big band would do behind a soloist (for example at minute 1′ 40”, 5′ 14”, 5′ 44”)

The pianist supports the guitar solo with an extremely varied and incisive accompaniment. Here is a typical rhythmic pattern performed by the piano:

Un pattern ritmico ricorrente nell'accompagnamento di Wynton Kelly
A recurring rhythmic pattern in Wynton Kelly’s accompaniment

We can observe that the pattern begins with a rest (on the first movement of the first measure) and ends with an eighth note anticipation (on the last eighth of the second measure). Wynton Kelly uses this pattern, and other similar ones, to support and push the soloist.

After we have listened to Wynton Kelly as an accompanist during Wes Montgomery’s solo, we can appreciate him as a soloist (6′ 15″). The pianist performs 20 wonderful choruses, very imaginative and full of blues.

Wynton Kelly was a generous musician who always played for others and never for himself. This recording also shows how important the classic 12-measure blues form is in the jazz repertoire: the two musicians go on improvising for thirteen minutes, without being boring or repetitive.

Until next Monday!

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