Wynton Kelly: Kelly Great (1960) Vee-Jay Records

A while back a reader of LJC asked me what I thought of Vee-Jay. I didn’t know, so I thought I ought to check it out. I’m glad I did.


Selection 1: Sydney

Selection 2: Mama G


Paul Chambers (bass) Philly Joe Jones (drums) Wynton Kelly (piano) Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone) Lee Morgan (trumpet) recorded at Fine Sound Studios, NYC, August 12, 1959.


Vee-Jay put an A-list together and left them to figure out what to do.  Wynton’s playing is sparkling, swinging and melodic, Lee Morgan characteristically rapid-fire horn, and the rhythm section of choice, however the interesting thing here  is Wayne Shorter.

Kelly’s Great is Shorter’s first appearance on record,  age 26, just finding his feet. That embryonic sour tone, dissonant big notes for effect, weighty pauses, punctuated with bursts of speed, all the stylistic elements of Shorter are beginning to emerge, but a less comfortable fit with Kelly’s bluesy melodic/rhythmically dominated pieces. Shorter went on to record at least three titles as leader  for Vee-Jay, the last below in 1974 for the reborn Vee-Jay International label.


It was not until the mid-Sixties, after his stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, that Shorter found the true home for his darker post-bop voice, with his Blue Note debut album as leader, Night Dreamer (1964) and string of landmark albums that marked the changing direction of jazz.

Vinyl: Vee Jay original issue 1016, this  second issue 3004

 Great Jazz Miss-prints Hall of Fame:1st issue left, 2nd issue right. can you spot the difference?


Art department, my office, now!

VeeJay Records (1953-1966)

It is worth spending a moment on the Vee-Jay label.  VeeJay Records was founded in Indiana, 1953, by husband and wife team Vivian Carter and James Bracken (later that year, Mr and Mrs Bracken) and within a short time became “the most successful black-owned record company in the US”.(cited here, full story)

Vee-Jay Beatles A label  which initially specialised in rhythm and blues, a small portfolio of jazz and eventually, segued into  pop,  included early Beatles and The Four Seasons. The bulk of its activity was that elusive search for hit singles, like The Duke of Earl. (Duke,Duke,Duke,Duke of Earl…)

Vee-Jay recordings are a small oasis of jazz, existing between the big specialist jazz labels like Blue Note, Prestige and Riverside. Their  catalogue of jazz titles  revolved around a small nucleus of top names: Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers,  Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Bennie Green, Gene Ammons, Nat Adderley, Louis Hayes and Frank Strozier. Sidemen included the Adderleys, Freddie Hubbard and Yusef Lateef. The improbable availability of  all these artists was possibly a by-product of touring stop-overs in Chicago, and the talents of Vee-Jay’s wily A&R man. However this title was recorded in NYC, so who knows.

Vee=Jay-Louis-Hayes-cv-2000-LJC Even more interesting still, Vee Jay was among the very first record labels to release stereo, commencing in 1957. And stereo in the manner of Roy DuNann rather than hard-panning early Van Gelder.  Toot Toot!  No credits are given to the engineer. Perhaps someone knows?

Money problems eventually brought the  label down, companies demanding royalty payments, lawyers, telegrams like that below, the Beatles adventure was shut down pretty quick over licensing disagreements:


Eventually in 1966 the Brackens filled for bankruptcy . Vee-Jay assets subsequently passed through the hands of various owners under the revived label Vee-Jay International,  until today, the master catalogue is owned today by the eponymous Concord Music Group. At  a guess the Vee-Jay jazz recordings  are not first assets they value.

Vee-Jay:  Labels

Vee-Jay had a number of different labels, with the original 1000 series maroon silver wave,  shortly after, the  3000 series, black/oval logo (right). The time-lapse between them is brief –  Goldmine date both issues as “1960”. But you know what those first pressing fundamentalists are like, the first is first, and mine (on the right)  isn’t.


More observant among you will have noted something significant.  Both sides of my Kelly Great ( spelt correctly) have a side 2 label. . And to rub extra salt in the wound, the real Side 2 has carefully hand-written below the matrix code, the words  “SIDE 1”. It just rains and rains.


The run-out has the stamp “ARP” – I assume the mastering studio/ pressing plant. One for the etching-detectives, anyone any inside info on who are ARP?

(UPDATE: “Based in Owosso in Michigan, American Record Pressing with ARPinitials stamped in italics” – thanks to Aaron)

Vee-Jay-ARP-etchingWho ever was responsible for the engineering did a great job. Bright and punchy, full dynamic range, an exciting sound. Shame they could not match the correct label or identify which side is which. Whatever the good and the great do, it’s the grunts on the ground who decide how things work out.

Liner Notes

Cannonball Adderley writes very sympathetic liner notes, full of praise for the artists and their talents. Like his playing, he is compulsively positive, swinging and upbeat,  which is quite nice in a world so often preoccupied with doom and negativity.


Collectors Corner

LJC-Michael-Caine- Professor Jazz fastshow30A reader suggested a post on Vee Jay: who am I to argue? I knew little of this label. It has, at best, a couple of dozen compelling titles, but they are up there with the big boys in terms of artist roster. Two superb Paul Chambers albums, some great Lee Morgan titles, bags of Wynton Kelly,  and a star-studded list of sidemen –  Yusef Lateef, Cannonball Adderley, Freddie Hubbard,  it’s a great niche label.

Look at all these lovely titles. By chance, I acquired the Louis Hayes (end, below) last week at a bric-a-brac stall in northern Italy. Insane, but these things happen when you least expect them. Topic for a future post, I think.


More discoveries. Many Vee-Jay titles are found as Japanese reissues, clearly a big thing for our friends in Tokyo. In the UK some of these were issued on the Top Rank label active between 1959 and 1962.  Maintaining the Vee Jay tradition of miss-spelling names, the Top Rank label lists pianist Wynton Kelley with the “e” and a new variant for Cannonball, Julian Addersley. (As well they didn’t spell Top Rank the way we did as naughty schoolboys, just couldn’t pronounce our R’s.)Paul-Chambers-Go-Rank-labels-1000-s1--LJC

Another UK label which licensed Vee-Jay recordings was the short-live ’60s Joy label, another example of vintage pressings that are undervalued by the collector market. There are “modern reissues” and then there are “vintage reissues”. Below, Lee Morgan Quintet, “A Vee-Jay Recording, Hollywood, California” ® 1965.


At the core there is a unique set of recordings by artists we know and love. An addition the label-guides for Vee-Jay is long overdue. (UPDATE August 1st: Vee-Jay Reecords with Cheatsheet added to LJC Guide to Record Labels)

If you have some Vee-Jay stories, I think you should tell.

UPDATE (August 11, 2015)


Essential Guide for the First Pressing Fundamentalist and collector of original pressings

The Vee-Jay maroon/script label established in the 1000 series gave way to the black/rainbow rim/oval logo early into the 3000 series, commencing with 3004.  However 3005 and 3006 are found on maroon script, with the last maroon/script label found is on 3008, and from 3009 onwards the first edition is on black/rainbow. Those few 3000 series found with maroon label are also  commonly found with the black/rainbow label, which remained in use until 1963 when the logo changed to  the VJ bracket.

During the early days of the 1000 series the second maroon variant, with REG TRADE MARK  below the logo and wide silver band, appears on 1007 -1012, following which the label reverts to the original maroon with the thinner silver band and  REG TRADE MARK disappears. Significance unknown.


UPDATE (August 2) Vee-Jay Modern Jazz Catalogue (selected titles only)

Vee-Jay 1000 Series Jazz issues


LP/SR-1005 – The Swingin’estBennie Green & Gene Ammons [1959]

LP/SR-1013 – Walter Perkins’ MJT+IIIMJT+III [1959]

1014cvLP/SR-1014 – GoPaul Chambers [1959]

1016cvLP/SR-1016 – Kelly GreatWynton Kelly [1960]

Vee-Jay LP/SR-3000 Jazz Series

3004cv stLP/SR-3004 – Kelly GreatWynton Kelly [1960] previously issued as VJLP-1016.

3005cv stereo cropLP/SR-3005 – Fantastic Frank StrozierFrank Strozier [1960]

3006cv--intro-wayne-shorterLP/SR-3006 – Introducing Wayne Shorter [1960]

3007cvLP/SR-3007 – Here’s Lee MorganLee Morgan [1960]

3008cvLP/SR-3008 – Make Everybody HappyMJT+3 [1960]

3010cvLP/SR-3010 – Louis HayesLouis Hayes featuring Yusef Lateef & Nat Addereley [1960]

3011cvLP/SR-3011 – Kelly at MidnightWynton Kelly [1960]

3012cvLP/SR-3012 – 1st BassmanPaul Chambers [1960]

3013LP/SR-3013 – The Young LionsYoung Lions [1960]

3014cvLP/SR-3014 – MJT+3MJT+3 [1961]

3015cv-LP/SR-3015 – ExpoobidentLee Morgan [1961]

Vee-Jay-Kelly-ST-5--cvLP/SR-3022 – Wynton Kelly!Wynton Kelly [1961]

LP/SR-3024 – Juggin’ AroundGene Ammons with Bennie Green [1961]

LP/SR-3026 – Summit MeetingVarious Artists [1961]

3029cv-Vee-Jay-Shorter-wayning-momentsLP/SR-3029 – Wayning MomentsWayne Shorter [1962]


LP/SR-3033 – Bird Lives!Ira Sullivan & Chicago Jazz Quintet [1963]

Vee-Jay LP/SR-2500 Jazz Series:

VJLP*-2501 – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz: Jazz of the 60s, Volume One: Giants Of The SaxophoneVarious Artists [1964]

VJLPS-2502 – Jazz’s Great WalkerLeroy Vinnegar [1964]

VJLPS-2503 – The Eric Dolphy Memorial AlbumEric Dolphy [1964]

VJLPS-2506 – Leonard Feather’s Encyclopedia of Jazz: Jazz of the ‘60s, Volume 2: Blues BagBuddy Defranco [1964]

VJLPS-2507 – It’s a Wonderful WorldVictor Feldman [1965]

VJLP-2508 – Lee Morgan QuintetLee Morgan Quintet [1965]

VJS-3000 Jazz Series (continued in 1970s)

VJS-3038 – Someday My Prince Will ComeWynton Kelly [1977]

VJS-3052 – ContemplationYusef Lateef [1974] Reissue of Vee-Jay SR-3010

VJS-3057 – Second GenesisWayne Shorter [1974]

VJS-3061 – Love You MadlyDuke Ellington [1974]

VJS-3062 – Gettin’ TogetherMel Lewis [1974]

VJS-3066 – Bag of BluesArt Blakey featuring Buddy De Franco [1977]

VJS-3068 – Love SongGary Bartz [1977]

VJS-3071 – Wynton Kelly in ConcertWynton Kelly [1977]

VJS-3072-2 – Final NotesWynton Kelly [1977]

Special Issues

VJSP 400 – Various ArtistsLeonard Feather’s Encyclopedia Of Jazz [1977] 3xLP

31 thoughts on “Wynton Kelly: Kelly Great (1960) Vee-Jay Records

  1. Folks, i doubt the session men listed playing on Bill Henderon’s wonderful Bill Henderson sings VeeJay 1015.
    the web says it is Bill Henderson (voc); Booker Little (tpt); Bernard McKinney (trb); Yusef Lateef (ts); Wynton Kelly (pno); Paul Chambers (b); Jimmy Cobb (dr).

    i dont hear any Chambers licks in any of the the tunes. similarly i dont hear any of Wyntons kelly’s licks either.
    there is no personnel listed on the rear side of the LP (as seen on ebay postings).

    what is the evidence that these are the rhythm players?


  2. Also had Wayne Shorter – Introducing original on my turntable, but decided to sell it – it wasn’t as striking as his later classic Blue Note albums are, looked like he hadn’t found his own style yet, alike John C. on early 50s recordings.

  3. May I add one of my favorites to this great Vee-Jay obcure list?
    This one is LP 1015, Bill Henderson – Sings, which was issued on red label with deep-deep groove. It features strong, appealing and easily recognized vocals by Mr. Henderson, who is backed up by the great team of Vee-Jay jazzmen of the time – Yusef Lateef, Booker Little, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and more…arrangements are made by Benny Golson

    The record was made in different sessions, some not previously issued material was published in 70s on LP-3055 entitled Please Send Me Someone To Love.

    Bill was the only jazz vocalist on Vee-Jay, but unfortunately wasn’t so successful afterwards, as other members of the band were. That’s strange, especially if to list the titles – guys play great versions of Moanin’, Bye Bye Blackbird, My Funny Valentine and more. The recording is made wonderfully – Bill’s voice easily fulfills my cozy room.

    I seriously recommend this record to all the jazzators, who are not only after great instrumentals, but after jazz vocals also.

  4. When I started searching for Lee Morgan and Wayne Shorter records in the late 90’s you could find their Vee Jay sessions for almost nothing. Everyone was searching for Blue Note titles (myself included) and with only the Goldmine Jazz Price guide as a reference dealers would put these tiles out for $20 or less(usually less). I never understood why?? These are Wayne Shorter’s first recordings and he hits the ground running. His ballads are deeply felt and cut right to your core. If you don’t know these sessions you can find them on Youtube. One listen and you’ll curse me out having to lengthen your “Must have it on vinyl” wish-list.

  5. Nice posting Andy, which reminds me that I have just a couple of Vee-Jays in my collection: The Young Lions LP and Here’s Lee Morgan. I haven’t listened to either of them for a very long time so this serves as a good prompt to correct that oversight.

    Terrible “T” on the Morgan LP is one that that I remember being a favourite of mine in years gone by. I first encountered it as the stand-out track on a cheap re-issue compilation in the 1980s and that led to me track down the original LP. It took quite a bit of detective work back then: the sleeve notes on the compilation were practically non-existent and there wasn’t the wealth of online information available either.

  6. All this – and still time to trawl bric-a-brac sales in Northern Italy… Well, well, well, the life of the leisured classes, eh 🙂

    That first track was most enjoyable – and, unless my memory is serving me especially poorly, quite unusual to hear Morgan playing with Harmon mute.

    • Leisured class, indeed – “self-unemployed” as I call it.

      As a resident of South London and the South of France, it is my duty and burden to sample fine north Italian Prosecco and La Cucina Italiana. Someone has to do it. I volunteered.

      Having no expectation, I rummaged through a bric-a-brac stall in the weekly Saturday market at border town Ventimiglia , to find a treasure trove of vintage jazz. The stall-holder spoke passable English, and turned out to be a long term jazz fan, who was dripping some of his jazz titles into his rock and pop staple stock.

      Not only was I not expecting to find such things, he was not expecting to find such a customer. The most unexpected things happen, when you least expect them. Isn’t that how it should be?

      • Another valiant jazz fan and collector doing the dirty, soul destroying work that no one else will step up and do… Serendipity: how things should be but never are…

  7. Thanks for a fantastic overview of the Vee-Jay label. I’ve got one Vee-Jay jazz in my collection – “Wynton Kelly” (SR3022). Plucked it out of the used bins a few years back – don’t recall where. It was a sealed copy and I’ve never opened it. Apparently my inner collector is dominating my inner listener.

    • The LondonJazzPsychiatrist is now in session.

      Why buy a sealed record? A sealed record can really only be sold to someone who also intends to keep it sealed, the mystery value is passed on. The only “sealed” record I ever bought I opened and it had been damaged and resealed to hide the damage. I sent it back immediately after I opened it, refund no question. Experience trumps hope.

      My advice – not that you have asked for it – is break the seal, play, and know what is within. The true inner collector strategy is to own three copies of everything. One sealed mint copy for investment, one everyday play copy, and one back-up play copy.

      • Typically when I purchase sealed vinyl, I immediately open and play it. Not sure why the VeeJay was different. The record cost $20, so it would have been silly to pass it up. Ever get the feeling that you acquire new music faster than you can listen to it? I imagine most of us have a sizable backlog of records to listen to.

  8. No jazz on Vee-Jay for me, but I do have some blues albums. I’ve always associated them more with blues/R&B, but I’ve been trying to track down a few of their jazz releases (including the one here). One day…

    How’s the vinyl? If i remember correctly it almost felt like it was made of styrene? Perhaps my memory is lying to me.

  9. Hello.

    I remember having post a question about Vee-Jay somewhere in the blog a long time ago. I don’t know if I am the reader you are talking about but I am very happy about this very complete article.

    Vee-Jay jazz catalog is very interessant. One of my favorites is Wayne Shorter Wayning Moments.

    I suggest you to have a look on the three MJT + 3 records. Very good material.

    I had two

    Thanks a lot !

    • Yes I seem to recall it was your good self, Manu. We now have an official LJC Guide with cheatsheet up on Vee-Jay.

      It’s a bit bare-bones, label pictures are in many cases still internet sourced and not very good quality. If any readers have any better information or better label shots send me and improve The Guide.

      • Thanks for the guide LJC, very helpful !

        Manu, seems that both of us were curious about Vee Jay 🙂

        skunkride on June 10, 2015 at 21:56 said:
        Hi LJC – listening to Lee Morgan’s magnificent “Here’s Lee Morgan” on Vee Jay i became curious about other Vee Jay titles – did a search here (where else ?) but to my surprise it seems there was never any post regarding any Vee Jay release. So, just an idea for future posts, i think thats quite an interesting label & worth some investigation. Cheers & keep on the good works !

        on June 11, 2015 at 10:28 said:
        Hi and thanks for the suggestion. I have only one Vee Jay US original – they seem to have been released here in UK under license to an obscure and shortlived label JOY, of which I have two, and in Japan one from Teichiku Corp, 1977 release of 1967 recordings with Hank Mobley!. I just dug out the Wynton, and hot damn why haven’t I been playing this? Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe.. they both go on the TT today. Could well be an item…

        I need to take a break from Prestige.

  10. Thanks LJC, excellent writing as usual & some very interesting info on this obscure label (for me anyway), great to see Vee Jay getting the LJC treatment !
    Have a later pressing of this Louis Hayes album which is titled as a Yusef Lateef date, very nice LP.
    Funny to notice that the typo on Kelly’s name also exists on the “hand written” part of the sleeve which supposed to look like his signature…fun stuff.

  11. Three of my favorite records are on Vee Jay:

    (1) Frank Strozier – The Fantastic Frank Strozier, VJ LP 3005 (1960) – Frank Strozier, Booker Little, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, and Jimmy Cobb. Booker is in amazing form. “Waltz of the Demons” is a classic.
    (2) Lee Morgan – Expoobident, VJ LP 3015 (1960) – Lee Morgan, Clifford Jordan, Eddie Higgins, Art Blakey, Art Davis. Young Lee just killing it. In fact, we listened to this last night.
    (3) The Young Lions, VJ LP 3013 (1960) – Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Frank Strozier, Bobby Timmons, Bob Cranshaw, Louis Hayes (and Albert Heath). Tremendous stuff, Shorter and Strozier in particularly fine form.

    There is no difference sonically between the maroon and rainbow label pressings (on my system, anyway). Both sound great.

    Another benefit, aside from the quality of the music, is the relative affordability of Vee Jay titles. If Fantastic Frank Strozier had been released on Blue Note under Paul Chambers’ name and titled “Waltz of the Demons,” it would now cost >$1,000. The Fantastic Frank Strozier on Vee Jay costs $25. Same with The Young Lions – call it “The Young Lion” with Lee Morgan as leader on Blue Note, and it’s also >$1,000. Without a named leader, I’ve seen the Vee Jay LP in the “Various” jazz section of more than one record shop for under $30. Awesome!

    • Not to forget “Here’s Lee Morgan”. They’re all in very good sound, better to my ears than most late-fifties Blue Notes. We may never know the sound engineer’s name, though. I don’t think Bernie Clapper was involved, he only seems to have been responsible for Vee Jay’s Universal Recording Corporation dates.

        • Great list, will just add Wayne Shorter ‘Wayning Moments’ which is a fantastic album imho. Just upgraded from a 90s reissue to original stereo copy, the sound on the original is a bit thin to my ears & lacks some weight (ok, i’m a bass player), wondering if the mono is better…?

          • On the other hand, Skunkride, I really like the bass sound on the Lee Morgan VeeJays. Paul Chambers was never captured so beautifully on any other label, be it Prestige, Blue Note or even Columbia. I wonder if the Wayne Shorter disc was done by the same sound engineer.

            • Eduard, just played the Wayne Shorter yesterday followed by a Japanese copy of Heres Lee Morgan – the bass response on the Morgan was much better indeed. Waiting for the postman to drop an original copy of this one as well…

    • Thanks for that JoeL. just bagged the only copy I could find of Frank Strozier title, bit of a price premium, but beggars can’t be choosers. Let’s hope it lives up to your billing. Watch this space, but after the Summer break.

  12. A record dealer friend of mine sold me Kelly Great back in the mid 80s when I was just getting into Lee Morgan and all the others, so I was glad to grab it, it was on the maroon label and was spelled “Kelley” but I didn’t think too much of it, I just figured the record labels were more into getting the music out there rather than being so nitpicky about spelling and they overlooked it.. I had a Savoy 10″ LP by Fats Navarro where the label listed the drummer as Arthur Blarkely, so I was used to such typos.. But I love the VeeJay stuff, it is more obscure that then Blue Notes which were specifically a jazz label, but VeeJay was an R&B label which had just started a jazz line (thanks to Sid McCoy), but I remember seeing Lee Morgan’s name on early ’60s Blue Note records whose notes stated “Lee Morgan, courtesy of VeeJay Records” so I was glad when I finally heard this stuff. His playing had become more subtle and sparce than his “Blue Train” period but I dug it all just the same.

  13. Spell-checking in word processing applications in 1960 always skipped over capitalized words like last names, etc. as a default setting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s