Calvin Keys

Soul-jazz fans are familiar with Calvin Keys, a jazz guitarist who is well-known for his work as a session musician and the small number of albums he has released under his own name. Keys is well-known for his muscular, single-string solo style. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1943. Otis Keys, his father and a prominent drummer in the city’s music scene, was his first musical inspiration. Calvin was also influenced by Otis’s music talent and took up the guitar at an early age. Keys was 17 when he got his first gig as a member Eddie Vinson’s band. In the same year, he first went on the road with Little Walkin’ Williamie, a sax player. He then moved to Kansas City. His first gigs were with Preston Love (of The Count Basie Orchestra), and then the Frank Edwards Organ Trio. After woodshedding with Edwards he was offered a place in Jimmy Smith’s trio on the road. Keys spent the remainder of the 1960s working with Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff. Keys immigrated to Los Angeles in 1970. He signed to Gene Page’s Black Jazz label in 1971 and recorded his debut album, Shawn-Neeq. Before auditioning for Ray Charles Orchestra, he gigged alone. Keys’ distinctive phrasing, his ability to mix sophisticated jazz harmonics and tough R are a testament to Keys’s unique style.

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