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Tom Kennedy: In A New York Minute

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: Somewhere in there, you started a band together.

TK: What happened was that, before we even met Dave, we were playing with some other kids. We found a little drummer that just basically played brushes on the snare drum. He was good and we ended up playing a lot. We were playing all the time at little parties and stuff. The funny story is that one day my dad gets a call from the local musicians' union. They said "We need to talk to you about the boys. We keep hearing their names and know that they are playing around a bit. We think that they need to join the union so that they will be protected." Mind you, I was twelve at this point. They set up a 2:00 PM meeting on a Saturday for us to bring our instruments and audition for the union. We started playing, and pretty soon we see people coming in with paper cups and paper plates with cake on them. They had punch and coffee. It turns out that they just wanted to hear us play.

AAJ: They just wanted a free band for their office party.

TK: That's exactly right. It was hilarious. They told my mom later that we were already in but, yes, they thought they would get a little free concert out of it.

AAJ: They got one great deal that day.

TK: They sure did. Looking back, I think they might owe me fifty bucks. [laughing throughout] So now we had the union on our side, and they would recommend us for gigs. Here we are, just kids, and we started playing with Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, Sonny Stitt, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel, and guys like that.

AAJ: These cats must have fallen over when they walked in and saw a group of kids as their back up band.

TK: Yeah, pretty much. I remember Sonny Stitt looking at us and kicking into "Cherokee" at breakneck speed. It was kind of sink or swim. After the first tune he was smiling and asking if we knew "April In Paris" and some other tunes. We ended up playing with him for about ten days. This is back when gigs were more like two weeks. That is now a thing of the past.

AAJ: That had to be a great learning experience.

TK: Oh, it was wonderful. We just caught the tail end of that. What an education, to be able to play with all those guys that early in life. You learn a lot of the subtleties not just about the music, but about personalities and all that. We knew we had hit the big time when they would call us back. They would come to town again and call us. We knew we were doing something right.

AAJ: What can you tell us about your late brother? [Ray Kennedy passed away in 2015 due to complications with multiple sclerosis.]

TK: There was nobody in music that I respected more than my brother. He was the most incredible musician that I have ever met to this day. The thing about Ray, in a general sense, was that he was a fan of music. He was always learning and never had the sense that he was better than the situation that he was in. To give you an idea, Ray was playing "A Night in Tunisia" with Dizzy Gillespie, and he was ready to play his solo when Dizzy—as, of course, he generally did—went up for a high note. As soon as that happened, Ray just froze. He sat out about a chorus because he just was in awe of the moment. It struck him that he was actually onstage playing with the great Dizzy Gillespie. For me, that moment really encompasses Ray's love and appreciation of it all. He was like an encyclopedia of jazz. He was a humble guy who just happened to be an immensely talented musician.

AAJ: What bass players or other musicians did you listen to growing up? Who would you consider to be influences?

TK: I referenced Oscar Peterson earlier, so Ray Brown was huge. Jerry Cherry was a St. Louis bassist that was also my mentor. The young drummer on the brushes I mentioned before was Jerry's son. Jerry had thousand of albums and we listened to a lot of music. He was a great teacher. But again, Ray Brown was the big influence on me. During that time, I heard Ron Carter, Leroy Vinnegar, and Eddie Gomez. Overall, it opened up when I heard Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Bill Evans. That led to Dave Liebman and Steve Grossman and other modern players. It happened pretty quickly starting with Oscar Peterson. Within two or three years we heard Chick Corea. Light as A Feather (Polydor Records, 1973) came out and Stanley Clarke just blew me away. I had just never heard an upright played that way before. We were really into horn players and along came Brecker Brothers. The first time I ever heard Michael Brecker play I was like, "Whoa. Now, this is where it's going. This is the new thing." We were still very young and just absorbing all of this stuff. There were endless possibilities. We got in on the ground floor.

AAJ: You came along at just the right time.

TK: We really did. All that stuff was just starting to blossom and so were we. Then we got into Herbie Hancock and I wanted to do that whole Paul Jackson thing on the bass. We were just hungry for it.

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