A tribute to Joel Kaye Sr

Volume 122, No. 10November, 2022

Joel Lewis Kaye Sr., a Local 802 member for over three decades, died on Sept. 18, 2022 from natural causes at his home in Madison, Wisconsin.

He 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 . When he was 15m 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, Ralph Marterie Orchestra and Woody Herman Orchestra, all before the age of 20. 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-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 15 years. Mr. Kaye relocated to Denver in 1988, where he created a new version 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 his 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 and heartbreak struck again when his only daughter was killed in an automobile accident.

In 2014, he relocated full-time to Madison, 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.

Mr. Kaye is lovingly survived by his son Joel Kaye Jr, daughter-in-law Samantha Honig, grandchildren Jacob & Rumi Kaye, and many friends and colleagues, all of whom appreciated his passionate energy and candor.

— Obituary from