Red Kelly

Jazz bassist

Lounging in his bath in an Amsterdam hotel after playing a concert with Woody Herman, Red Kelly fell asleep. As a bassist he didn't want the skin on his fingers to get soft, so he had left his arms dangling outside the bath. He had been reading the Sunday paper at the time and during the night the colours seeped out of the comic section and dyed the bath water a murky red. The maid came in to clean up next morning, found Kelly and thought he was dead. She ran from the room screaming.



Thomas Raymond "Red" Kelly, bassist and club owner: born Shelby, Montana 29 August 1927; married 1973 Donna Griswold (died 1999); died Tacoma, Washington 9 June 2004.



Lounging in his bath in an Amsterdam hotel after playing a concert with Woody Herman, Red Kelly fell asleep. As a bassist he didn't want the skin on his fingers to get soft, so he had left his arms dangling outside the bath. He had been reading the Sunday paper at the time and during the night the colours seeped out of the comic section and dyed the bath water a murky red. The maid came in to clean up next morning, found Kelly and thought he was dead. She ran from the room screaming.

Red Kelly worked for a huge number of jazz groups including for the bandleaders Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, two men who didn't trust each other. "Woody didn't trust anything that didn't swing. Stan didn't trust anything that did," said Kelly.

Kelly could swing a big band, but also had a fine instinct for supporting soloists in small groups. He had begun on drums but, as a result of having suffered from polio when he was two, he found that he couldn't operate the hi-hat cymbal pedal with his foot. He switched to bass and began working professionally at 16.

He spent most of his life touring and the list of the name bands that he worked with is incredible. It included those of Ted Fio Rito, Randy Brooks, Sam Donahue, Chubby Jackson, Herbie Fields, Charlie Barnet, Claude Thornhill, Jimmy Dorsey, Lennie Niehaus, Maynard Ferguson, Les Brown and Harry James. He was with the Woody Herman band, enjoying a particular friendship with the leader, from January 1952 to the summer of 1955. He joined Stan Kenton in 1957 and stayed until 1959.

Kelly established a special rapport and another friendship with the drummer Buddy Rich when they played together in the Harry James band throughout most of the Sixties.

When Kelly retired, he and his wife Donna ran a restaurant and night-club in Tacoma, Washington. On the club's bandstand Kelly put a notice that read, "Go some place else and get discovered, and then come here."

Intrigued by the state elections of 1976, Kelly created the most elaborate joke of his life when he decided to run for state governor with the slogan "Unemployment is Not Working". He enlisted several of his friends for office including his mother-in-law, who campaigned to become Secretary of State under the name "Fast Lucy". Kelly's Owl party (Out With Logic, On With Lunacy) delighted the electorate but infuriated the politicians.

"Everyone we ran came in third," said Kelly.

Steve Voce

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living