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Tom Kennedy: In A New York Minute

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: Once again, the preeminent rhythm section with you and Dave Weckl onboard. I know it has been a very long time, but just how long have you and Weckl been playing together? How many records do you think the two of you have played on together?

TK: I think we have done thirty or forty projects over the years. Dave was so heavily into the Chick Corea thing for several years and touring a lot that I didn't see him much during that time. If not for that time, I'm sure we would have done even more. We met at a Stan Kenton music camp in Springfield, Missouri in 1975.

AAJ: That's just a few years ago.

TK: It was funny because my brother...I don't know how much you know about my brother, or if you are familiar with him.

AAJ: Of course. Ray Kennedy was a very accomplished jazz pianist.

TK: Ray was incredible and played with John Pizzarelli for many years. He and I went to the camp as kids. We were looking around and trying to play with as many kids as we could. We were in rehearsal bands most of the day but after that always looking for other kids to play with. Dave was at one of the jam sessions and the three of us got a chance to play together. Immediately it was, "Oh man this is great!" But you always found someone who could really play, and that you got along with, but who lived in another state. As it turned out, Dave lived only about fifteen miles from us. We became a trio kind of quickly. Dave used to bring his drums over to my parents' house. We would set up in the living room and just go nuts.

AAJ: Finding a kindred musical spirit so early in life had to be special .

TK: Yes, that was the thing. It was uncommon, especially at our age. There were many great players at the time that were older. We were just kids in our mid-teens trying to get started and play as much as we could. Dave and I are only six months apart in age.

It happened naturally. When we played together it was the most natural thing of all. The chemistry was there, and it was just so easy to play. We were dumbfounded, really, even at that age, at how it came together. It was a defining moment. Finding a drummer was always hard enough anyway. It was difficult to find someone into jazz who could play at our level at the time.

AAJ: Maybe some rock drummers?

TK: That's it. People would ask if we listened to rock growing up, if we were Zeppelin heads, and no, we weren't. We were listening to Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bill Evans. That is how Ray and I came up. We loved big bands as well and Dave loved big bands too. That's one of the ways we really connected. It's funny: there are these Buddy Rich things on YouTube now and I will send them to Dave, not knowing whether he has seen them or not. So far, he has seen everything I have sent him, but it's fun because I feel like we are back to being kids again. We still have that kind of energy together.

AAJ: You also did a couple of shows recently with Dennis Chambers and Leni Stern in Baltimore. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for those performances. How were those received?

TK: Well it was great. It was a small club, An die Musik LIVE, in Baltimore that has really been promoting jazz. It's a small community place that is bringing in some major people. We had well educated jazz crowds there to hear music. It was a cool old room in a cool old building. It might have been a library at one time. They had chairs but no tables. Definitely a listening place. People were really into the best place to sit and really listen. There were quite a few musicians in the crowd as well.

AAJ: I know you have played with Chambers quite a bit. How did you enjoy playing with Leni Stern?

TK: She is wonderful. Her music is wonderful. To me, that's the thing. It was a different kind of scene because we were mostly playing Leni's music. I hadn't really played it before. I had heard it for years, but this was the first time we had ever played a gig together. When the music is beautiful, and the person is beautiful, then it's going to be a great experience. It can sometimes be one or the other. I have played with fabulous musicians who are, let's say, not nice people. And vice-versa. But Leni is the whole package. She is the real deal. She has a real musical sensitivity. We also had the surprise of Mike Stern coming down and sitting in. He was kind of in the background, as much as Mike can be in the background [laughs]. He was standing behind Leni playing rhythm guitar. Then we ended up playing some of his music as well.

Leni and Mike have this unbelievable love for each other. There is such support. After everything they have been through over the years, they just want to be together. They want to share things, and it is really beautiful. I kept looking over at them and thinking how sweet it was to see them both on stage together. They were both rocking out and it's just a wonderful feeling. Then DC [Dennis Chambers] is there playing drums and everyone is wailing and having a good time. I thought "These really are the times of your life."

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