The Neophonic Jazz Orchestra was founded in 2010 as the Madison Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra by longtime Madison drummer Rand Moore and Stan Kenton alumnus Joel Kaye. The NJO has a unique instrumental makeup derived from the great Stan Kenton Orchestra of the 1960s. In addition to the saxophone, trombone, trumpet and rhythm sections typical of big band Jazz, the Neophonic also features a section of mellophones, as the Stan Kenton Orchestra did, giving the group a richness and fullness that is unparalleled among big bands today.
Musical Director Joel Kaye 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! After his stint with Woody’s band, Mr. Kaye joined the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, bringing him back to his native New York City in the fall of 1961. Later Kaye joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra and toured through 1963 playing baritone and bass saxophones, and recording 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, the Jonathan Winters Show, on the Tonight Show with Doc Severinson, and on five Grammy Award winning albums. During this time, he began compositional studies with Johnny Richards.
In 1973, Joel 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 first incarnation of 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, Kaye began directing the music of Johnny Richards and Stan Kenton for the Los Angeles Jazz Institute symposiums, and also toured with the newly formed Kenton Alumni Band.
In 2014, Joel relocated full-time to Madison where he directs the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, composes and arranges music and builds model railroads.
The seeds of cofounder Rand Moore’s professional career were planted in junior high school when he played with the world famous Madison Scouts. During his school years, he attended four Stan Kenton Clinics before earning a music performance degree at the Berklee College of Music on a Buddy Rich scholarship. His professional touring experience includes stints at Disney World, and with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
When he returned to Madison, Moore created and managed a drum shop at Ward Brodt Music Mall. Later he founded Drums-n-Moore School of Music and retail store, which he continues to operate today while performing continuously around Madison and the surrounding area. Moore always had a dream of playing the music of Johnny Richards and the Stan Kenton Mellophonium Band, which he finally realized in 2010 when he cofounded the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra.
Betsy Ezell is an accomplished jazz singer and composer from Madison, Wisconsin. She often performs with her small group Jazz ensemble, showcasing both her singing and her original compositions. Her work provide a window into her life and values with a special effort to highlight the talents of women musicians in the community. With this ensemble, she performs a combination of vocals classics from the Neophonic library and her own compositions arranged for the 24-piece group.
Nicholas Bartell has been performing with the Neophonic since 2013. Since 2018, he also manages the booking, personnel, logistics, and finances of the ensemble. He also performs regularly with Panchromatic Steel, Primitive Culture, The Ben Ferris Octet, the Paul Dietrich Jazz Ensemble, and others.