Joel L. Kaye Sr.

August 20, 1940 – September 18, 2022

Joel Kaye speaking into the microphone in front of the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra

Joel Lewis Kaye Sr. was born August 20, 1940 to Sidney and Madaline Kaye in Miami Beach, Florida. His family moved to East Meadow Long Island when he was 7 years old. When he was 15 he suffered the tragic loss of his mother and two sisters, Gale and Meredith, from a house fire in which only he survived. His prodigious musical talent and the encouragement of his high school band teacher, Bill Katz, guided him out of this darkness into his great love and passion: Big Band Jazz.

He began his professional Jazz career performing with the Billy May Band, the Ralph Marterie Orchestra, and the Woody Herman Orchestra, all before the age of twenty. In 1961 he began a stint with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, after which he joined and toured with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Through 1963, he played baritone and bass saxophones for Kenton and recorded six albums. When the Kenton Orchestra disbanded, Kaye returned to NYC and began a career as a Broadway and studio musician, playing with the NBC Studio Orchestra, on the Jonathan Winters Show, on the Tonight Show with Doc Severinson, and on five Grammy Award-winning albums. Throughout this period he studied with one of his music idols, composer Johnny Richards.

In 1973, He started the New York Neophonic Orchestra, playing concert halls around NYC and recording four albums over the next fifteen years. Mr. Kaye relocated to Denver in 1988, where he created the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, performing at Vartan’s jazz club for seven years, and recording two CDs for the “Live at Vartan’s Jazz” series. During the Denver years, he began directing the music of Johnny Richards and Stan Kenton for the Los Angeles Jazz Institute symposiums, and also toured with the Kenton Alumni Band.

In 1988, tragedy heartbreak struck again when his only daughter was killed in an automobile accident.

In 2014, he relocated full-time to Madison, WI where he directed his final incarnation of the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, composed and arranged music, and maintained an extensive model railroad collection.

He touched many musicians and music-lovers throughout his life and leaves behind countless friends, students, and fans of the great music he loved so much.

He passed away at age 82 on September 18, 2022, from natural causes, at his home in Madison. He is lovingly survived by his son, daughter-in-law, two grandchildren, and many, many friends and colleagues, all of whom appreciated his passionate energy and candor.