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BIG JOE KENNEDY: Press

Totally unheard of

It's Friday around midnight at Pogo's Tavern and the classic jazz is at full tilt. Mustachioed band leader Red Michaels leads off the last set of the night with "Take the A Train," a 1941 Billy Strayhorn composition that, like all of its kind, lends itself to an infinity of interpretations. The regular Friday night combo addresses a few of those now, working in non-verbal concert to flesh out an infectious, rambling melody that somehow complements the bleary-eyed guy in the corner struggling with an ATM keypad.

A seated audience of all ages, from ancient to barely bar-legal, nods, taps feet and hoots to a noise made by drums, upright bass, trumpet, two saxophones and an electric piano. The keys are manned by Joe Kennedy. He might be one of the youngest among these veteran musicians of a 40-years-running Pogo's event that's seen hundreds of players come and go, but he's got to be one of the best this room's ever seen. When it's his turn to solo, he opens it up, playing something forceful, fun and completely fitting -- even if you won't find the notes he's playing or the shape he's giving to this beast outlined on paper anywhere in the world.

The rules he and his bandmates are following aren't quite as simple as the "Yes, and..." of improv comedy, but are the same in essence. In this case, the "yes" amounts to at least playing in the agreed-upon key, while the "and" means doing your part to propel this thing somewhere the thing itself feels like it wants to go, as any jazz player who listens to that ethereal voice can tell you. Kennedy's muse apparently just told him that a circus-y direction is the way to go, so he goes, descending for two bars in a series of notes that pump extra whimsy into the mix -- just before resolving in a stuttering, speech-inflected burst of dotted-eighth-notes. (Think of someone punctuating a spoken tirade with "and that ... is ... the ... truth!") A little later, it's Michaels' bass that gets in its two cents, from a very different but yet compatible perspective, delivered without stepping on Kennedy's or anyone else's toes. How do all these musicians let each other know when they're done "talking"?
Big Joe Kennedy is back in town. And while he's here, the blues/jazz pianist wants to share some of what he's been up to, musically, since leaving Racine.
The 2002 graduate of Walden III High School will do so in a free concert at his other alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, on Sunday, Feb. 12. The evening of music - which will also feature a six-piece band - is Kennedy's way of saying thank you to the communities of Racine and Kenosha that have supported him through the years. It will also serve as a benefit for the Racine County Food Bank and the Kenosha Food Pantry, as audience members are asked to bring a nonperishable food donation to the show.
"This event is all about giving back," said Kennedy, 28, who returned to Racine at the end of January, after performing jazz piano for more than a year aboard Holland America Line cruise ships.
Joining Kennedy on stage at UW-Parkside will be Mike Gudbaur on bass, Terry Peterson on guitar, Paul Griffin on drums, John Sorensen on trumpet, Ken Fabis on sax and Katie Poole on trombone. Together they will present a variety of music ranging from familiar tunes by Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra, and Billy Joel to both new and old originals by Kennedy.
"This will not be your everyday noise in the corner," said Kennedy, who earned his master's of music degree in jazz performance from the University of Las Vegas, where he studied with Dave Loeb, Bruce Paulson and Tom Warrington.
Varied influences
Kennedy's musical influences are many, from piano masters such as Gene Harris and Ramsey Lewis to classical composers Debussy and Satie. His style has been compared to that of Harry Connick Jr. and Ray Charles. And, when asked to give his own description, he'll tell you that his playing is "too jazzy for blues and too bluesy for jazz."
It was his love for the blues that led him to study jazz, and that passion was first cultivated at the Sunday Night Blues Jams at George's Tavern, 1201 N. Main St., according to Kennedy, who has been playing piano since he was seven.
A teenager back then, Kennedy attended the Blues Jams with his parents, Gary and Juley, and before long the musicians there - starting with Gary Lekas - invited him to sit in with them on occasion.
"Those guys really took me under their wing," Kennedy said. "It was one of the best musical experiences I had at that point in my life."
He also credits his longtime piano teacher, James Sodke of Racine's Lakeshore Conservatory of Music, with being very influential in his development, as well as Tim Bell, the now-retired director of jazz studies at UW-Parkside, where Kennedy earned degrees in both jazz studies and finance.
"I just can't give them enough accolades," Kennedy said.
The Big Easy and the big ship
The Joe Kennedy the audience will hear on Feb. 12 has also been influenced by his time living and teaching in New Orleans, which he did for two years after graduating from the University of Las Vegas in 2009. New Orleans, he said, is a great city for music not only because of the performers living there, but because of the people who come to hear them play.
Live music can be found every night of the week in New Orleans, often played in very basic, narrow establishments called "shotgun clubs."
"All you need is four walls, some bar stools and a band, and you will pack the place, every night," Kennedy said.
He has also enjoyed his cruise ship gig, where he performed classics with a jazz trio seven nights a week in a small lounge. "We played a lot of older stuff, from cha-chas to Cole Porter." And when he wasn't performing, Kennedy got to visit almost all of the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Alaska. "We have a real good time," he said.
Sunday's concert will be a family-friendly show, Kennedy said.
"Bring the kids, the grandkids and the neighbors," he said. "So many people have seen me grow up, musically, in this community. Now I need to take it one step further and give something back."
. . . In the print version of scene262 for February I wrote up Big Joe Kennedy’s show at The Rita at Parkside. Whether you saw/heard him Feb. 12, you should head out to the Yardarm on Wednesday, Feb. 22 to check him out. The piano player is a much sought after side man for both recordings and live shows. He also knows how to deliver the goods as a solo performer. Kennedy’s set list often includes the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Frank Sinatra along with the best in stride and other styles. Kennedy also has his own original material. If you need any more incentive to come out to the show, there will be a Guinness pint glass giveaway while supplies last.
More Music!
One of Racine's homegrown musicians ventured to Australia last week to take part in the "Fringe Festival," which takes place in Adelaide in February and March. Jazz and blues pianist Joe Kennedy is attending the festival as musical director of a show produced by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Kennedy, who graduated from Walden III High School in 2002, is finishing his Masters of Music degree in Jazz Performance at the university. His undergraduate degrees, in music and business management, were earned at the University of Wisconsin- Parkside.
Back in December, Kennedy released his second CD entitled "No Turning Back." Recorded at Jared Logan Recording Co. in Racine, "No Turning Back" contains all original compositions by Kennecy, one of which, called "The Days," talks of growing up here. To hear it, and other samples of Kennedy's music, go to http://www. bigjoekennedy. comhttp://www. myspace. com/bigjoekennedy
Copies of the CD are available at some local venues, including Copacetic, 409 Main St, and Gay's Music World, 1700 Main St.
UNLV JAZZ COMBOS: UNLV GRADUATE STUDENT COMBO: Does It All!
Leader/Acoustic Piano/Fender Rhodes Piano/Melodica: Joe Kennedy
Drums: Tim DeCillis
Bass: Alan Broome
Saxes: Brian Murphy

An enthusiastic audience heard a wonderful night of jazz performed by UNLV's Graduate Student Combo at the Flamingo Library on November 12, 2008 at 7 PM. Ten well arranged and brilliantly performed tunes were played by the quartet.
1. Rhythm-A-Ning (Thelonious Monk/ Fast Swing) A great bebop style piano solo with good use of block chords was played by Joe Kennedy. The introduction and head were played by Brian Murphy, followed by a nice tenor sax solo. Next, a bass solo was provided by Alan Broome with artful, chromatic comping and some Monkish chords by Joe Kennedy. Trading of fours occurred, with Monkish phrases from piano. The out head was tight with Monkish runs on piano. Overall the soloists played off each other over a solid, tight rhythm section.
2. Brian's Ballad (Brian Murphy/ Slow Ballad) This piece featred a slow, rich sounding tenor sax introduction and solo which created a lush night club scene aura. A bop style piano solo followed with dazzling runs, a bluesy feeling and driving, harmonically rich left hand comping.
3. Jent-Lee (Joe Kennedy/Waltz) The tune began with a nice tenor sax solo followed by a rocking, bluesy piano solo with great lines and nice sequences. Next the piano went to a boogie-woogie style. There was a nice interaction between piano, bass and drums, with the rhythm section echoing and expanding on each other's ideas. Tasteful bass and drum solos were rendered.
4. Cedar's Blues (Cedar Walton/ Blues) This piece featured an opening tenor solo. Joe Kennedy then provided a further display of his talent when he simultaneously played the acoustic grand with his left hand and the Fender Rhodes with his right hand. This provided a nice effect and tasty soloing. There followed a bas solo and great ending.
5. Stella by Starlight (Victor Young/ Jazz Standard) This standard began with tenor melody and accompanied by lush piano comping. The tenor solo was initially backed by bass and drums only; then, to provide additional interest the Fender was added. A great Fender solo followed with lots of nice licks and quotations. A bass solo was supported by fine Fender comping. The out head was tastefully played by Rhodes and tenor sax.
6. My Romance (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart/ Slow Ballad) This ballad started with a lush, artistic, very accomplished piano solo. There followed a bass accompaniment, a bass solo and a melodically and harmonically fine out head with final piano #4 chord. 7. Isfahan (Billy Strayorn/ Waltz) This tune was played by tenor and bass only with nice interaction between the musicians, including interesting melodic lines and phrasing. Good tenor dynamics were used.
8. My Little Suede Shoes (Charlie Parker/ Latin) Interest was provided by a latin "A" section and swing bridge. The tenor solo featured lots of tempo changes. Joe Kennedy provided a solo on melodica (a handheld, wind driven keyboard). There followed a bass solo, and drum solo in which the melody was quoted. Fours were traded. The tenor featured quotes from St. Thomas.
9. The Kicker (Joe Henderson/ Fast Swing) This selection featured energetic tenor and piano solos with some Coltrane-like and quartal piano runs, ending with a great finish. 10. Freedom Jazz Dance (Eddie Harris/ Funk) The final piece featured a tenor sax solo in the spirit of an Eddia Harris tune, followed by a tasteful bass solo by Alan Broome. Next was a free form section with Fender, drums and bass. Joe Kennedy finished with his left hand on the acoustic piano and a simultaneous, fantastic right hand Fender solo. Tim DeCillis provided tasteful drumming.

The Graduate Combo provided the audience with an eclectic variety of tunes, arrangements, solos and changes of pace. These consummate musicians dazzled the audience with an accomplished, professional level of jazz musicianship.
Jospeh P Klein, Sr. - JazzNotes! The Newsletter of the Las Vegas Jazz Society (Jan 1, 2009)
There's no doubt about it. A lot of cats can play the piano around here. Some are pretty damn good in fact. However, Big Joe Kennedy is the Piano MAN around these parts. High in demand, chill in attitude and above the cherry with chops, Kennedy is a local treasure while he's here. Check him out.
"Joe Kennedy will fill in for Fazio. Now 24, Kennedy was a toddler when some of the musicians who perform regularly at Pogo’s started drawing Social Security."
A lot of really good jazz musicians have studied their craft at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. None more talented than Joe Kennedy ('07) or as he is known in the jazz and blues world, "Big Joe Kennedy." After graduation, Kennedy headed west and earned a master of music degree in jazz performance at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. . .
- UW Parkside News (Aug 1, 2011)
Joe Kennedy’s sensational combination of ripe jazz riffs and catchy melodic lines make his refreshing musicality irresistible. If you like upbeat Jazz and fusion you will find Kennedy’s tunes intoxicating. If there is one thing the music world needs it is a step back to when popular musicians were also talented musicians. Joe Kennedy is without a doubt a talented virtuoso with limitless marketing potential. I would not be surprised if Kennedy found his way into the mainstream, even while staying true to his jazz roots. . . . he has by far been one of the most musical artists that I have reviewed this year. His vocals are great for the songs, his melodies are catchy, and his grooves are, well, groovy. Kennedy is truly a musician that can be looked up to, learned from, and enjoyed. We can’t wait to see what he does next.
"Joel,...You already play your instrument well and have great ideas, very creative too..."
Rich Perry - Tenor Sax - Village Vanguard Big Band, Maria Schneider (Jul 7, 2006)
"I'm very impressed by the slow, steady way you build up the piece and keep the pulse going so consistently. Kudos to the drummer as well. The approach here almost seems like 'Peace Piece' meets 'Bolero'. In any event, I think the voicings and rhythmic approach are appealing... ...I like the initial phrases..." - In review of Kennedy's composition Submerged.
TAXI (Jul 30, 2006)
Radio Station in Denmark contacted Kennedy and asked for a copy of his cd Submerged to broadcast. The first broadcast of Kennedy's music was Shake That Thing on Sept. 26, 2006
Kjell Andreassen - RADIO HOLSTEBRO (Sep 26, 2006)