Veteran jazz performer Rickey Kelly is enjoying a career renaissance and appears to still be at the top of his game with the upcoming release of his new album \"A Man of Distinction.\" It\'s been several years since his last new recording, but this one was worth the wait. Kelly, a vibraphonist, brought back some familiar faces for the recording sessions including drummer Ralph Penland, bassist Robert Hurst, pianist Patrice Rushen, and violinist Michael White, and added renowned session flautist Hubert Laws to the mix this time around.
Kelly, 58, has been playing music for almost an entire lifetime. Born and raised in San Francisco, Kelly served a four-year stint in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War before quickly embarking on his musical career. One of his early inspirations and a pivotal event for Kelly was a chance to jam in the same club as the pioneering jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. That experience led Kelly to move from San Fransisco to Los Angeles, where he enrolled in L.A. City College for its first-rate music program. Among his fellow students was the famous jazz singer Diane Reeves.
It was shortly after finishing the City College program that Kelly founded the African Roots of Jazz band, a group that featured drummer E.W. Wainwright Jr. of McCoy Tyner\'s band. African Roots of Jazz enjoyed quite a following in the Los Angeles area but around 1974, Kelly moved to Amsterdam, where there were more and more lucrative opportunities for a young jazz musician.
Upon returning to the states, Kelly released his first solo recording in 1979, \"My Kind of Music,\" on the Los Angeles Phonograph Records label. The album was quite well-received: Billboard Magazine made it one of its \'recommended\' jazz recordings for the year. Another one of his albums during that period was the classic \"Limited Stops Only.\" released on the Nimbus Records label.
The only thing to have sidetracked Kelly\'s musical career through the years has been another passion of his - SCUBA diving. Kelly most literally immersed himself in diving, so much that it turned into a job for him - he dropped out of the music scene for a time to work as a dive instructor.
Somehow, in between dives, Kelly managed to pop out another album in 1995, a fantastic quintet recording called \"Here\'s To Good People.\" Complementing Kelly\'s vibes on that album are the adept drum work of Ralph Penland; the nimble bass lines of Robert Hurst; the outstanding pianist Patrice Rushen; and the masterful and expressive violinist Michael White. The songs on \"Here\'s To Good People\" include the frenetic, kinetic \"New Samba\"; the eclectic, avant-garde leaning \"Inner Madness\"; and the introspective, mellow \"Somewhere I\'ve Never Been.\"
For \"A Man of Distinction,\" adding Laws to the recording sessions was something of a stroke of luck. As Kelly recalls it, Laws was also working with Kelly\'s drummer Ralph Penland and stopped by the studio to check out what Kelly\'s band was doing. After hearing a couple takes, Laws asked if he could add a flute part to a track or two, much to the group\'s delight.
\"After he heard what we were doing, he just asked to play on them,\" said Kelly.