Jul 02, 2012 - Pat Kelley Returns Home for Jazz Depot Show

A week or so ago, Tulsa native and Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Famer Pat Kelley went from a job with a 65-piece symphony orchestra to playing in a duo at rest stops beside the interstate highway—all in the space of a weekend. Just about any musician would see this as a precipitous drop. For the veteran jazz guitarist, however, it’s hardly that.

“I’m playing with the Asia America Symphony Orchestra, which is conducted by [pianist-composer] David Benoit, on Friday,” says Kelley. “The concert is at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. I’m on electric and acoustic guitar and banjo. I’ve got another gig on Saturday, and then on Sunday I’m leaving to head toward Oklahoma. Monte Byrd’s coming with me. We’ve been best friends since grade school; he was in [Kelley’s high school rock ‘n’ roll band] Pat and the Panthers. He lives out here [in Southern California] too, and we’ve got a gig together in Oklahoma. 

“Whenever we travel together, we’ve started filming ourselves at rest stops along the highway,” adds Kelley with a laugh. “We’ll pull up and set up – I’ll plug into a little amp, and he’ll take out his sax – and then we’ll just start playing. When we get a few more of those videos, we’re going to start posting them online. It’s great – we’re out there playing, and trucks are going by in the background.”         

Once the two get to Oklahoma, they’ll be performing together onanother video – this time, indoors. “We’ll be working with a very cool guitar player from Oklahoma City named Don Jutenan on the old Jimmy Smith blues song, `Back at the Chicken Shack,’” says Kelley. “I’ve been doing some blues stuff, a bluesy project, on my own, too. Almost everybody in Tulsa thinks I’m a jazz guy but, honestly, I’ve got a lot of blues roots from Tulsa.”
Indeed, his ‘50s and ‘60s T-Town upbringing provided plenty of fertile musical soil for those roots. He had it in the home, where his guitar-playing father exposed him to lots of different sounds. As Kelley notes on his website,, “Dad’s old five-tube Bendis radio constantly played the hits of the country and early pop
hit parade.”    
As the home of bandleaders Bob and Johnnie Lee Wills and Leon McAuliffe, among others, Tulsa was also the hotbed of the musical style known as western swing, which incorporated a lot of blues and jazz elements. Young Kelley absorbed it all, whether he heard it on record, or the radio, or live.
“[T]here were friends of my dad that he played with, mostly at home,” Kelley told interviewer Joe Barth in the Feb. 2004 issue of Jazz Guitar magazine. “They inspired me when I was very young. Later, as a teenager, I remember certain players in Tulsa who left a profound image in my mind about guitar playing and music. One of my all-time favorite blues guitar players is a Tulsa guitarist, Steve Hickerson. His feel is it. And Tommy Crook is an amazing solo guitarist in Tulsa. And of course, Eldon Shamblin, the king of western swing.”
As a high schooler, Kelley studied with Shamblin, the brilliant arranger and guitarist who was equally at home in both western swing and jazz. From there, he went to the University of Tulsa, where he was part of a group of up-and-coming jazz players that included trombonist Vernon Howard, now TU’s director of jazz studies, and vocalist Andrea
Baker and saxophonist Steve Wilkerson, who married and, like Kelley, have been long established on the West Coast music scene.
For his Sunday concert, Kelley will be joined by a couple of former TU students – and Jazz Depot favorites -- pianist Steven Schrag and bassist Jordan Hehl. Completing Pat Kelley's quartet is drummer George Toumayan, a jazz instructor at the TU school of music who’s on the faculty, with Kelley, at this year’s Jazz Camp, the week-long camp presented by the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the University of Tulsa.
“ We’ll mostly be doing standards at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall,” he says. “There’ll be some swinging tunes, a couple of Latin-influenced numbers and some jazz-blues. We'll even throw in one or two originals.”
Pat Kelley and the group are set to begin Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets for the event can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase. The show is part of the Jazz Hall’s 2012 Summer Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through the preservation, education, and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.