John Keys was born and educated in Chester. On completion of his schooling, he was assistant organist at Chester Cathedral for 3 years, before becoming an organ scholar at New College, Oxford. There he was taught by Gillian Weir and Nicholas Danby.
After graduating, he studied for 3 years at Geneva Conservatoire with Lionel Rogg, and won the 1er Prix de Virtuosité and the Prix Barblan. He was also Organist of Eglise St Jean and then Holy Trinity Church.
Having been appointed Director of Music at St Mary’s Church, Nottingham, in 1984, in the same year John won First Prize at the 4th Manchester International Organ Competition. As well as having created a flourishing musical tradition at St Mary’s, he is the University Organist at the University of Nottingham, and plays the organ extensively in Britain and abroad, primarily as a solo recitalist, but also as an accompanist and continuo player.
John also teaches the organ, up to the highest levels, and has acted as tutor for an Oundle / RCO “Get Ahead” day in Nottingham.
John was the President of the Nottingham & District Society of Organists from July 2005 to July 2007.
In association with the best-selling popular science writer Brian Clegg, John has produced numerous CDs containing thousands of tracks of music for all church occasions, including organ accompaniments for hymns, voluntaries and Mass settings, as well as piano Worship Song accompaniments. These have received critical acclaim, and are all available from www.hymncds.com as well as from iTunes and Amazon.
In July/August 2006, John was a tutor at the Organ Summer School at St Andrews University.
In August 2006 and 2007 he was asked to take part in the final concert of the Gothenburg International Organ Academy.
In 2009, John was nominated as an Honorary Fellow of the Guild of Church Musicians.
John is one of the trustees for the Binns organ in the Albert Hall, Nottingham, and in April 2012 he was nominated as Vice Chair of the committee. Video clips of him playing a recital there can be found under the heading "John Keys organist" on www.YouTube.com
In 2014 an extract of John Keys' recording of "Abide with me" was used in a BBC Radio Berkshire programme on "How the Church responded to War", as part of the BBC "World War One at Home" series.
In 2015 some of his recordings were used in a short service at the end of a trip down the Thames by the ship Havengore, as part of the 50th anniversary commemorations of the death of Winston Churchill.
John was nominated Nottingham City Organist in 2016.
In 2016, Lionel Rogg, John's source of inspiration since his boyhood, wrote an organ piece, "Arborescence", especially for John's 60 birthday. After a presentation at St Mary's, Nottingham, the piece was played by Andrew Abbott, the organist of the church.
In 2017, John appeared in an East Midlands Today programme as part of the annual BBC "Children in Need" event.
In 2022, John took part in an organ marathon at St Mary's Church, Attleborough, Norfolk, when 29 organists played all of the hymns in the Ancient & Modern hymn book over a period of three days and nights to raise money for the church funds. John had previously recorded the entire hymn book.