2 December 1931, Jamaica, West Indies, d. 12 April 1971, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Raised in New York, Kelly first played piano professionally with various R&B bands, where his musical associates included Eddie Lockjaw Davis. In the early 50s, he played with Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington and Lester Young. He recorded some fine sessions for Blue Note Records in 1951 with Lee Abrams (drums) and Fred Skeete (bass). In 1954, after military service, he rejoined both Gillespie and Washington for brief stints and later played with many important contemporary musicians, notably Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, with whom he worked from 1959-63. Kelly was present on some of the sessions for Kind Of Blue (playing on Freddie Freeloader). He also led his own trio, using the bass (Paul Chambers) and drums (Jimmy Cobb) from Davis band and later with Ron McLure. The superlative Kelly Blue was recorded in 1959 and featured Chambers, Cobb, Nat Adderley, Benny Golson and Bobby Jaspar (on flute). One of the great records of the era and one that still remains painfully neglected. Kelly also later recorded successfully with a variety of artists such as Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard and George Coleman. For many years he suffered from epilepsy and yet he worked hard not let it affect his work.
A subtle, wonderfully delicate and inventive player, Kellys style was individual even if his work denotes his awareness both of his contemporaries and the piano masters of an earlier generation. Throughout his records there is a constant sense of freshness and an expanding maturity of talent, which made his death, in 1971, following an epileptic fit, all the more tragic. A greatly underrated artist, much deserving greater attention. Kelly Blue is an essential record for any follower of jazz.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.