Lawrence Keyes

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This artist was active from the '30s through the '50s, providing a double nudge in his credits with not just a surname particularly suited to a keyboardist but the nickname of "88" as well. Lawrence Keyes…
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This artist was active from the '30s through the '50s, providing a double nudge in his credits with not just a surname particularly suited to a keyboardist but the nickname of "88" as well. Lawrence Keyes played both organ and piano in the decidedly mainstream jazz context of Budd Johnson's combo in the late '50s, a delicious scoop for each member of the rhythm section on the yummy Blues a la Mode LP. Prior to that Keyes was one of many rattling the piano keys in order to earn the keys to the boogie-woogie and ragtime kingdom. There much competition for said throne in the '40s; during the summer of 1946, Keyes inked a contract to make a minimum of 16 boogie-woogie sides. It is a rare thing getting to peruse an artist's enthusiastic memos to his producer, complete with spelling goofs and worse, a flagrant lapse of negotiating skills: "I am now willing to make your boogie-woogie album. I made a sign 30 by 40 with the name Lawrence "88" Keyes trio for the window display on the Broadway Music, 94th on Broadway....Please give me a chance to use my guitar and my base player. I am sure they will give the records more punchs, and I will pay my men the union scale myself."

He is trying to sell his trio with guitarist Josh Foster and the impeccable Al McClean on bass, based at swinging Newark venues such as the Downbeat Club and the Three Deuces. Keyes never had to dip into his pocket to record this combo because the producer who had signed him turned a cold shoulder, reneging on the deal and moving to competitor Frank Signorelli in order to make the ultimate boogie-woogie album. A dispute with Chicago, another record label and not the name of a rival jazz scene in the Midwest, may have caused the shift. On the subject of rival jazz scenes, Keyes can be traced back even further to the Kansas City jazz scene of the second half of the '30s. His name comes up in historic accounts of Charlie Parker, barely out of his eggshell, seeking the wisdom of veteran bandleaders. Veteran may not be the best choice of word considering that there was only a five-year age difference between Keyes and Parker. At any rate, the former man was the leader of several combos in which Parker was a sideman. There was a club combo known as the Ten Keys, another with presumably an equal number of members called the Ten Chords of Rhythm, and the Deans of Swing prior to either.