Joe Kennedy, Jr. Tribute
(b.1923 – d.2004)
On November 21st, 1995 Julie conducted this interview for the National Public Radio series Jazz Profiles: Jazz Violin, a two-part series hosted by jazz singer Nancy Wilson. (Written and organized by Julie Lyonn Lieberman and Steve Rathe, Murray Street Enterprise)
Topic: The Four Strings and Historic Jazz Violinists
“Jazz history during the decade of the forties was very interesting. We had a portion of the big band era still represented, plus the indentation of WW2 was also prevalent and the latter forties presented the emphasis on the beginning stages of the be-bop era.
I’m from Pittsburg, PA, and during the latter forties I formed a group that was called The Four Strings. In this group we had Ray Crawford on guitar, Edgar Willis on bass, Sam Johnson on piano, later replaced by Ahmad Jamal, I was leader and took care of the arranging chores and played violin. During the bebop era itself there weren’t too many things that included jazz violin, but the repertoire of The Four Strings did. That’s why, to me, this was very, very important. Mary Lou Williams was responsible for our recording opportunities during this time. We recorded an album entitled Trends and this was very unusual. Mary Lou liked the group very much and did many things to help us.
I’m always so impressed with the work that some of our historical jazz violinists have done. Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, Eddie South, Stephane Grappelli. I had the pleasure of appearing with Stephane Grappelli on a concert we both did back in ’82. It was a concert that was held at Wolftrap and it was termed the International Jazz Festival: Jazz violinists. This man is still amazing as far as technique, as far as creativity is concerned. I never had the good fortune to play with Stuff Smith, or Joe Venuti or Eddie South. But I did quite a bit of playing with Claude Williams. Claude and I did the Monterey Jazz Festival together back in ’86. We also did something that was very, very memorable. We did a film together in ’88 in England. It was entitled Fiddler Three and it profiled Claude’s career and my career, so that was tremendous as far as the interplay and the ideas that we had a chance to express together. So historical violinists, we certainly wouldn’t know how to do without them because they have influenced our life, our way of thinking, and the more respect and acknowledgement that we give them, the better.
Some people may wonder how jazz violin is different from classical violin as far as orchestra is concerned and my observation would be that when you are a classical violinist, you play specifically what the printed page indicates. When you are a jazz violinist, you create what you have to say. And in reality I have always felt very good in saying that a whole note composed by Beethoven is tremendously important and a whole note composed by Duke Ellington is tremendously important. The two are wonderful.”
Joe Kennedy, Jr.
A Slice of History: Joe talks about historic jazz violinists, his early days playing bebop, and more.
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