BIG JOE KENNEDY UW-Parkside’s music department has produced an impressive number of successful musicians, including Joe Kennedy – a.k.a. Big Joe Kennedy. A talented performer, Big Joe Kennedy plays jazz, blues, or whatever style provides the right music for the atmosphere. Big Joe lives and performs in New Orleans with the DUKES of Dixieland, with Burgundy Burlesque every Friday night at the Saint Hotel, solo piano every Saturday afternoon at 21st Amendment la Louisiane, and Saturday nights at Fritzel's Jazz Club on Bourbon Street with the Fritzel's All-Stars. Kennedy is a native of Racine, a 2002 graduate of Walden III High School, and a 2007 graduate of UW-Parkside. Kennedy has played piano since he was eight years old, and has been performing in public since the age of 15. He started at UW-Parkdside in fall 2002 as a business major and music minor. Despite his lifelong love of music, Kennedy felt that a business degree would be more stable and job oriented. After his first semester, Kennedy realized his desire for more musical training and declared a second major. During his senior year, he was informed that double majors only received one degree but transcripts stated a double major was achieved. Kennedy wanted his years of hard work and academic achievement to be properly acknowledged and petitioned the UW Board of Regents to review his case. Kennedy completed 187 credits and all requirements for a B.A. in music with a jazz studies concentration, as well as a B.S. in business management with a finance concentration. After review, the Regents granted Kennedy’s request and in the spring of '07 he received his B.S. and B.A. degrees. Big Joe reflects on his time and UW-Parkside and the influence it has had on his life and career. How did UW-Parkside help set you up for your future success? Parkside made me work hard and fight for what I believe in. What is the most important or valuable lesson you learned while at UW-Parkside? As the leader of the jazz combo (he also led the pep band for home basketball games during the 2003-04 season), I was able to figure out how to communicate with an ensemble as a leader. I had not been in charge of a band/group before. Tim Bell really coached me my first year as combo leader in how to communicate with the other personalities in the group and get a positive response out of them. What advice would you give to your past-self (while you were at student at UW-Parkside)? Lighten up, you're doing fine, but practice more. What was your favorite part of your UW-Parkside experience? Having my toes in the water in two completely different educational paths. I was hanging out with accounting students and marketing majors in my business classes, and with a bunch of musicians who spent their time locked in the practice rooms all day in my music classes. Where did you think your career would go when you were a student? How have your career goals changed over the years? I honestly just wanted to make a living playing piano. The specific job has changed many times since finishing my studies at UWP, but I have been in the music field since I left. I have taught private lessons, been a band leader on cruise ships, been a MD (musical director) and arranger for a musical that toured, arranger and MD for a Louis Armstrong impersonator, dueling pianos, and now the pianist and vocalist for the Dukes of Dixieland in New Orleans. How have your UW-Parkside influences (Tim Bell, Jim Sodke, etc.) guided and affected you throughout your career? I began piano lessons with Sodke when I was 15 and continued with him through my time at UW-Parkside. He has always been supportive, known his craft and was willing to hassle me enough to make me do the work. I needed someone who would push back a bit and be willing to help guide my energy. Jim did that, and called me out on things that I needed to work on. From Jim, one of my big learning moments was when he hired me to play second keyboard in a musical for which he was the musical director. On one of the first performances, he reached over and turned down my keyboard without saying a word. It stuck with me, and I tried to make a mental note of the volume he turned it to so I could find my balance in the ensemble and blend with the other performers. It wasn't about me in that show, I was one of the pieces to the puzzle. Tim Bell was the best thing for me at UWP. His skills were top notch, his personality was huge, his love for his job was ever present, his passion for the music was undeniable. I kept in contact with him every year. I'd call him up just to say hey, and chat a minute. He always made time, and I let him call me Joey. I hope to one day be an educator that has the fire and passion that Tim did, and can find a way to inspire the students to generate a real appreciation for the music. I have met musicians in the jazz world that knew Tim, and I always get the same response. They all smile and have a joyful recollection about that man. I always will as well. Have you stayed in contact with any of the other musicians who performing professionally and/or teach music who you knew during your time here? Josh Sherman was a music education major the same time I was there. Josh and I went to middle school, high school and UW-Parkside together. I received a text from him last weekend saying he had his high school group in New Orleans for a performance. Ken Fabis was a music education major and I talk to him as well and have visited him when I return home. Jack Plavonich visited New Orleans last year and I met up with him and showed him some clubs. I enjoy keeping in contact with people I shared my experience at UW-Parkside with because it keeps me connected to home. What have been some highlights of your career so far? The last almost six years have been spent performing in New Orleans and touring with the Dukes of Dixieland. It's a six-piece jazz group. I am the pianist, vocalist, and do some arranging for the ensemble. Another highlight was touring Australia with a musical in 2009. We performed at the second-largest Fringe Fest in the world in Adelaide, South Australia. I was the musical director, arranger, and pianist. I feel lucky to have been invited by Tim Bell to perform at the Alpine Resort in Door County each summer during my time at UWP and after. I learned so much from him, and having that experience on a real gig, for two weeks each summer to hang with a real professional, play songs I had never played or heard of, and learn. It was undeniably a great learning experience and nothing beats real world application of skills learned in a classroom. ”

UW Parkside News

BJK is one of NOLA’s better-kept secrets. He’s got a strong pianistic touch, immersed in the NOLA tradition of Dr. John and James Booker. In addition he’s a booming, bluesy singer who can turn sly quickly. 504-Tified is an aggressive mix of NOLA R&B (“Junco Partner,” “Let’s Make a Better World,””Sea Cruise”), trad standards (“Sugar Blues,” “Doctor Jazz”) and lesser-known trad (“Tain’t No Sin”). Big Joe has something of Harry Connick Jr.’s energy and brio. He delivers a fine cover of Connick’s “Come by Me” and plays “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” with a slow swing that’s a nice pace from the usual hecticity. There are, as well, crazy outliers like “Stayin’ Alive” (yes, ha ha ha ha, “Stayin’ Alive,” that one), and a slow, gospelly “Runnin’ Wild.” You can catch Big Joe on the Natchez playing with the Dukes of Dixieland, or on weekends at his regular solo gig at the 21st Amendment. Or check out this disc, a fine outing from one of our city’s emerging piano talents.” - Tom McDermott


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"?” - Dave Surratt

Las Vegas CityLife

. . . 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.” - Paddy Fineran

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.” - Lee Roberts

— The Journal Times

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.” - Paddy Fineran

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.” - Lee Roberts

The Journal Times

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

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.” - Jerry Fink

Las Vegas Sun

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