“The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway” infuses wit with jazz and style


The year 2019 marks pianist Roger Kellaway’s 80th birthday. The musician released “The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway” Nov. 1, 2019. The album brims with new approaches to songs jazz fans know and love. A veteran of jazz’s Golden Age, Kellaway brings a wry humor to his work (hence the title of the album, for instance). There is an air of studied spontaneity guided by the wisdom of Kellaway’s experience.

Songs such as “Take the A Train,” “Night and Day,” and “Take Five” round out the recording. Kellaway is joined by Bruce Forman on guitar and Dan Lutz on bass. The trio makes a full sound that shows off Kellaway’s piano skills that are well-supported by the work of Forman and Lutz.

“The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway” was recorded live at the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles. The audience’s appreciation for the group’s approaches to jazz classics can be heard and it gives the recording a “you-are-there” feel.

Kellaway and his group can sometimes be compared to the King Cole Trio. There is a tightness of arrangement and the same instrumentation. However, because Kellaway’s instrument often comes to the front of the soundscape, the trio retains its unique stamp.

About Roger Kellaway

Kellaway’s recording debut took place 57 years ago. He moved to New York in 1960 after becoming a professional musician in high school. He played piano and bass. Along the way, he worked in Dixieland bands and has retained a busy schedule that includes having played on 250 jazz recordings, composed commissioned pieces for leading classical orchestras, written 29 film scores, composed the theme song for “All In The Family,” and served as musical director for Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, Barbara Streisand, and Van Morrison.

With a resume such as Kellaway’s, it is no surprise that “The Open Minds of Roger Kellaway” sounds as innovative as it does smooth. It is as if Kellaway and company are a step or two ahead of audiences’ predictions, especially since the songs presented are so well known. That ability to preempt audiences’ expectations is what keeps the vibe fun even when serious jazz is being played.

“Take Five” by Roger Kellaway

The familiar Dave Brubeck bones are there, but Kellaway spins the song into something a little bit different. There is almost a call and response relationship between bass and piano. Then, the piano plays into its own orbit, seemingly, and just when listeners think they know where things are headed, the entire trio jumps in to make the piece spry and new.

Kellaway’s ability to expand ideas from a song’s bones is remarkable. The trilling notes that he uses to punctuate the phrasing in “Take Five” sound as though they could have come from his Dixieland days.

But the song is not all piano. The bass and guitar get their turns to expand ideas and all of the showcases add to the song’s overall style, which does not often happen. The bass here is deep and nimble and it keeps up with the lighter instruments, no plodding here.

After awhile, smart listeners will figure out that Kellaway and his trio mates have their own agenda and will stop trying to guess where they are taking the song.

Kellaway’s longevity has had no negative impact on his ability to engage audiences. “The Many Open Minds of Roger Kellaway,” audiences will find, are places full of wonderful ideas about jazz.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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