Meet Robert Kennedy!
Question: When did you start playing jazz? Why?
Robert Kennedy: In my late teens and early 20s I had been playing classical, pop, and rock for years and I felt stuck in a rut, having a hard time growing my musical vocabulary. I noticed the players who seemed to have much richer vocabularies than mine had all studied jazz, so it seemed clear I should study jazz, too. I tried listening to jazz records recommended by friends, but the struggle to appreciate them was too much for me. I liked some fusion but I just couldn't develop a taste nor an emotional appreciation for what I was hearing in jazz.
Finally when I came to the Bay Area for grad school -- this was in 1988 -- I signed up for Jim Nadel's jazz theory class at Stanford not for the music theory nor the ear training but because I had heard, rightly, it turned out, that its weekly listening assignments were killer. At the same time I auditioned for the Stanford Jazz Band. Bill Bell was directing the band at the time and he told me I was in, but only if I would get some private instruction to catch up on the jazz idiom. One option he offered was for me to be his private student at a very low rate that I now realize was an incredible deal. Luckily for me, I took him up on it. My other good fortune, as I've already mentioned, was that Jim Nadel's listening assignments were masterfully laid out, starting with music that was at once accessible and very substantial (like Kind of Blue) and branching out from there in many directions. Finally, with all that help, I was able to begin understanding and appreciating jazz at an emotional level that would motivate me to work at learning to play it.
Q: Who do you look up to as an artist?
RK: What an incredibly long list this would be! I have no idea how to answer, except to list a few of the myriad players that I try explicitly to steal from whenever I can: Larry Goldings, George Cables, Tony Monaco, Clifford Brown, Hank Mobley, Hampton Hawes, and many, many more.
Q: What inspires you? What was it like to work with Adam Theis?
RK: Surprises that stay within the idiom, striking just the right balance between the expected and the unexpected. Being a small part of something really big. Feeling relaxed on the bandstand and knowing I'm helping make a good noise. Being part of a tight rhythm section. Seeing and hearing truly great players. Meeting and hearing great players who are under-appreciated. Seeing time and again how much more music is out there than I ever could have imagined.
Working with Adam is a pleasure. He brings in great arrangements, he's personable, he gives praise whenever he can and gives criticism -- always gentle and constructive -- most of the times it's needed.
Q: Besides music, what are your other passions and how do they inform your art?
RK: Deep, confident craftsmanship in just about any form. I appreciate good writing, good photography, skillful surgery, sewing, painting stripes on a motorcycle gas tank, piano tuning, watchmaking. And on and on. I'm not sure how this passion for craftsmanship informs what I do except as something to aspire to.
Q: What is your day job?
RK: I'm a computer programmer for an internet search company.
Q: How did it feel to play in Miner Auditorium?
RK: It's the best-sounding room I've ever played in, so of course it was great!
If you are interested in auditioning for this year's Monday Night Band, register here!
The new Monday Night Band at SFJAZZ provides aspiring jazz musicians of all ages (older teens through seasoned adults) with a structured approach to learning and interpreting diverse repertoire in a hip community band setting. Open to intermediate-advanced level instrumentalists and vocalists – from high school age hotshots to retired pros and everyone in between (by audition) – this ensemble will introduce participants to various styles and genres of jazz with the primary goal to develop a performance-ready program. The band will be directed by acclaimed Bay Area musician, composer and bandleader Adam Theis. The series will culminate in a final public performance on Monday, December 9th in Miner Auditorium.