"You don't choose music, it chooses you. I know lots of people that choose music that are nuts about it, but it hasn't chosen them. I didn't care what I played when I started. I just wanted to play music. I didn't care 'cause I didn't have to get up early and I got to wear nice clothes."
Red Kelly

Red. For decades, he played in bands fronted by the likes of Claude Thornhill, Red Norvo, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Harry James, Buddy Rich, Doc Severinsen, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Billy Eckstine. He jammed with Charlie "Yardbird" Parker in New York City, "Parker came up and kissed me after we played together… I cried…. He was a legend."

Red Kelly recorded with the legendary Woody HermanRed. He spent three years with Woody Herman. "I went with Woody to Europe and realized that our one glaring contribution to the arts had respect in every other country but our own." Red adored Woody and they were good friends. Herman's Concord 50th Anniversary Album has 'Blues for Red,' where Woody's dedication says, 'He's done some weird things in his life… which puts him very close to me.' Red liked that.

Red Kelly with the Harry James Band @ the Newport Jazz FestivalRed. He played with the great Harry James. "To play bass with a big band was my meat. It was first class all the way…the easiest big band job in the world. We would do a month in Vegas, then Reno, then on the road touring, then start over. The band took in three million a year. Harry was the best musician I ever saw. Funny thing… when I would come back to Seattle my folks would always say 'When are you going to get a real job?' until I joined Harry James and they saw him in the movies. Then I was all right."

He campaigned to be Washington State's governor on his own OWL Party ticket (the acronym alternately stood for "Out With Logic" and "On With Lunacy"). Promising to "heal the Continental Divide'' and observing "unemployment isn't working,'' he garnered 8% of the overall vote. In 1989, he again ran for office - this time for the Mayor of Tacoma. From a profile in the News Tribune: "If Kelly were king, Tacoma would have an amusement park, a paddle-wheeler with gambling on board, a farmers market on the waterfront and cable cars clanging through downtown streets." Kelly came in fourth that year, receiving 10% of the vote.

Red Kelly performs at the dedication of Tacoma's Union StationRed. He and his wife Donna opened a club - the Tumwater Conservatory of Music in Olympia. Four years later, he opened Kelly's in Tacoma. "I have fun with it. I have no delusions. I'm as good on the bass as some and better than other players. I play with people I love and respect. My wife spoils me. I have great kids. I am surrounded by wonderful friends."

"What do I remember most? The two Carnegie Hall concerts with Woody and Harry; the first shot with Chubby Jackson when I was 20; those magic moments that happen once a year as a player when the entire group grooves and plays as one. For a high school drop out, I'm lucky!"

Red. He made music, terrific music… he kept jazz alive in Tacoma….and he made us laugh.

 

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