Tag Archives: Brad Kay


I had heard a number of Janet Klein’s performances on CD and seen some videos on YouTube, but they hadn’t prepared me for her work in person.  Although she may be perfectly at ease in this century, someone who can use an ATM while drinking her latte, when she gets onstage, she seems to be absolutely from another world.  As someone once said of Max Morath, Janet is consciously out of touch with her environment, and that is a compliment.

Although her musicians may have iPhones in their pockets, Janet creates a small time-bubble that sits comfortably in some undefined realm between 1929 and 1936.  Mae Questel hangs out there, as do Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.  See for yourself.  Here are Janet (vocal and ukulele) and her Parlor Boys (Dan Weinstein on a variety of instruments, including violin, cornet, and trombone; Marquis Howell on string bass; our own John Reynolds on guitar and other things with strings; Brad Kay on piano as a guest star).

A LITTLE BIT INDEPENDENT was a very popular song in 1936, I believe, and it was recorded by Fats Waller and several of the pianist-singers who floated in his wake.  It’s not Porter, but you’ll find yourself humming it for some time:

MOUNTAIN GREENERY was a sweetly ironic commentary on the urban surroundings:

And a song recorded (as far as I know) only by Baby Rose Marie, who grew up to be a mainstay of the Dick Van Dyke television show — SAY THAT YOU WERE TEASING ME, its content more sad than frolicsome:

I’m glad that Janet and her Parlor Boys took us away from 2011 for a little while!


Repeat after me:

Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Molly Ryan, Brad Kay, Brian Nalepka, Kevin Dorn, Jeff Healey.  Joining forces for one time only as DAN LEVINSON’S LOST CHORD SEEKERS.  (The quest was a success, as you will hear.)

Performing BLUE RIVER (with an impassioned vocal by Healey, on guitar) and I NEVER KNEW (woth a touching episode by Molly Ryan, Healey on trumpet). 

I was in the second row, drinking it all in.  (You can see me obsessively taking notes.) 

I didn’t know that this would be the only time I would see and hear Jeff Healey, and I’m thrilled that the video has surfaced on YouTube (courtesy of “lindyhoppers,” whom I’d like to be able to thank in person). 

For the love of jazz, hot, blue, and sweet, and for the people who play it, some of them now gone:


That’s “My Blue Heaven,” played sweetly and almost lazily by Andy Schumm on cornet, Brad Kay on piano, Dave Bock on tuba, and Josh Duffee on drums.

It was recorded on March 14, 2008, at the Bix Beiderbecke Birthday Tribute in Racine, Wisconsin.

This foursome understands that capturing Bix’s essence — simultaneously sad and ebullient, musing and propulsive, has less to do with playing the notes and copying the familiar phrases than with understanding his spirit, which they do with reverence and affection.  All four of them have wonderful musical pedigrees, and I would call your attention to Brad’s winding, thoughtful piano — harmonically deep but always mobile.  Josh Duffee keeps splendid time in a timeless way.  Dave Bock I knew only as a trombonist, but here he wields his tuba with grace.  He and Andy impressed me tremendously at last year’s Jazz at Chautauqua, where they were billed as “the Bixians,” which they are.  And Andy?  Andy Schumm has got it.  No question there, and the music, thanks to Walter Donaldson and other gracious spirits, is as near to heavenly as we will get.


Melissa Collard sent me a copy of Brad Kay’s loving, funny, and beautifully-realized piece about the late Jeff Healey, and it is reprinted here with Brad’s permission.  If Brad’s name is not familiar to you, he is a wizard cornetist, pianist, jazz scholar and researcher, and composer — someone you should get to know!  It’s also obvious that he is a splendid writer, too.


I will miss Jeff Healey. He was as singular a human being as has ever lived. Our every encounter was, for me, an exercise in amazement. Others will speak of his great heart and humanity, his unique musicianship (with which I collaborated on several occasions), his modest, “just folks” demeanor, his dry, acerbic wit and sheer intelligence. I would like to speak mostly about his nervous system.

It took knowing Jeff only a short time (starting in the early ’90s) before I concluded that his blindness was not a handicap, but an enhancement, which endowed him with almost supernatural powers. Neurologists have shown that when a person is deprived of sight, the visual cortex – fully one-third of the brain – does not lie fallow, but its functions are redistributed to the other senses, especially hearing and touch. Nobody ever demonstrated this kind of synaptic recycling more convincingly than Jeff, whose remaining senses were heightened – and combined! – to a colossal degree. Coupled with his immense and unfailing memory, he seemed to be the very embodiment of human potential, a forerunner of how our species could evolve.

Ironically, he fueled these exotic sensibilities with the worst junk-food diet imaginable – McDonald’s, Pizza, Wonder Bread, Coke, Jo-Jo’s, Twinkies – a cornucopia of dreck. I witnessed this. In hindsight, I’m surprised he lasted as long as he did!

Jeff and I encountered each other most frequently on the bandstand playing jazz, and in various listening rooms, with our venerable 78-rpm records.

He could identify records by touch alone, abetted by his immaculate, eidetic memory. One night, on a visit to Los Angeles, he flabbergasted Steven Lasker and me with his shellac-detecting prowess. When I handed him a certain 78, he palmed it, probed its edge and surfaces with his fingertips, and said, “Hmm. It’s an acoustic Victor – Let’s see… number 18457. It’s the ODJB – ‘Ostrich Walk.’ Nice condition, too.” A distinct hurl of the gauntlet, this. Steven and I took turns at this new game of “Stump Jeff,” pulling increasingly obscure and anomalous records off the shelf. Nothing fazed him. “Well … this is obviously a Columbia product… about 1930, I reckon – but with this matrix — it’s got to be a Clarion. It’s “Blue Again” by Ben Selvin, as ‘Ford Britten and his Blue Comets’.” … “Hmmm – Nice late Paramount – lousy condition – you sonuvabitch! When did you get a Charley Patton?” It went like this for over an hour, until, in a final spasm of esoteric perversity, I pulled out a fabulously rare, freak Gennett Champion release of a Brunswick master, “Cho-King” by the Dixie Serenaders. Jeff palpated the shellac, and cogitated. “Must be a Brunswick.” “It’s NOT! I crowed, exchanging evil grins with Steven. “Not a Brunswick? This is odd indeed… Are you sure??” “Yep!” More evil grins. A pause. Finally: “Hmmm… Okay. I’m licked. What label is it?” “It’s a CHAMPION!” “Oh, of course,” said Jeff, not losing a beat. “It’s the Dixie Serenaders doing ‘Cho-King.'” He retired undefeated, leaving Steven and me blubbering incoherently.

The speed of his thinking kept me in stitches. Another 78 story: Once on eBay, I scored the jazz record find of a lifetime. It was a copy of the incredibly rare 1924 “Naughty Man,” by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra, featuring Louis Armstrong, on the scarce Oriole label. To boot, it was a different take from the three other known copies, making it unique. Of course, I had to phone and tell Jeff, who had just co-produced a three-CD set of the “Complete Louis Armstrong with Fletcher Henderson.” The finding of this record “un-completed” it. I craved to keep Jeff dangling on tenterhooks, to savor stretching out the story in excruciating detail. Our actual conversation was:

Me: (excited) “Hey Jeff! Guess what? I won this album of Oriole records on eBay, and…”

Jeff: (instantly) “You’re going to tell me you got a copy of ‘Naughty Man.'”

Me: (rattled) “Er, well …yes.”

Jeff: (half a beat pause) “You sonuvabitch.”

Me: (deflated) “Uh, there’s more…”

Jeff: (annoyed)What!?

Me: (sighing) “It’s take 2.”

Jeff: (another half-beat) “You sonuvabitch.”

End of story.

I visited Jeff in his Mississauga home in 1999 and we spent several days bumming around together. Walking the streets of Toronto with him exploded any idea I had of mincing my steps to match the pace of a blind man. I had to run to keep up with him! He barely touched his cane to the pavement as he hurtled ahead. He even warned me of an oncoming truck, which might have flattened me otherwise. Fame pursued him everywhere we walked. Person after person, on foot and from cars, greeted him as if he were an especially benevolent mayor, who had recently distributed free money. “Hey JEFF!” “We love you, Jeff Healey!!” “Yo, HEALEY!! You RULE, Man!!” The air was thick with goodwill.

One night, there was a gathering of the Toronto 78-collecting Mafia in his basement, with its thirty thousand records. Jeff’s records were not kept in sleeves – there were five shelves of naked 78s stretching thirty feet from wall to wall, looking like five branches of the Trans-Canadian oil pipeline running through his basement. When you requested a tune, Jeff would go to a section of pipeline, and in a fluid motion, run his hand across it, and yank out the precise record.

There were nine of us in the basement that night, but only eight chairs. After almost everyone had settled in, Jeff blinked quizzically and said, “Somebody doesn’t have a place to sit. Just a minute…” He bounded up the stairs and returned a moment later, brandishing a metal folding chair. Without breaking stride, with inches to spare either way, he marched between the two rows of us who were seated, and placed the chair directly in front of the lone standee. Nobody (but me!) was even slightly alarmed about possibly being clobbered by this reckless blind guy. They had seen Jeff in action too many times to be concerned, or even vaguely impressed, by this demonstration of borderline ESP.

Our last encounter was in September, 2006, when, with Dan Levinson, we played in a benefit concert for the ailing Richard Sudhalter, in New York. Though Jeff was now in treatment for cancer, he was the same fun-loving, serene, brilliant, unflappable guy. He was in great musical form that night, playing hot trumpet and his unique “piano style” guitar. I felt sure this disease was a temporary annoyance and he’d be around forever. At this juncture, I’m glad he was around at all. I will miss Jeff Healey.

Brad Kay