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Cultural Percussionist

Wynton Kelly Day

Wynton Charles Kelly (December 2, 1931 – April 12, 1971) was an American jazz pianist and composer. He is known for his lively, blues-based playing and as one of the finest accompanists in jazz. He began playing professionally at the age of 12, and was pianist on a No. 1 R&B hit at the age of 16. His recording debut as leader occurred three years later, around the time he started to become better known as accompanist to singer Dinah Washington, and as a member of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie‘s band. This progress was interrupted by two years in the United States Army, after which Kelly returned to Washington and Gillespie, and played with other leaders. Over the next few years, these included instrumentalists Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Wes Montgomery, and Sonny Rollins, and vocalists Betty Carter, Billie Holiday, and Abbey Lincoln.

Kelly attracted the most attention as part of Miles Davis‘ band from 1959, including an appearance on the trumpeter’s Kind of Blue, often mentioned as the best-selling jazz album ever. After leaving Davis in 1963, Kelly played with his own trio, which recorded for several labels and toured the United States and internationally. His career did not develop much further, and he had difficulty finding enough work late in his career. Kelly, who was prone to epilepsy, died in a hotel room in Canada following a seizure, aged 39.

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