A tribute to Kirby Jolly

Volume 122, No. 5May, 2022


Dr. Kirby Jolly, 91, a trumpeter, bandleader and conductor, died on Feb. 27, 2022, after being a member of Local 802 since 1947.

Dr. Jolly was a talented soloist who conducted orchestras at Lincoln Center, performed on Broadway, and played in top bands, including a long stint with the Goldman Band. But he found his true calling as a promoter, director and conductor of band music. In 1973, he founded the American Concert Band, which, at its peak, boasted a roster of 50 musicians. The band performed music by American composers and spawned many offshoots, including Civil War bands, a six-piece jazz ensemble, and other brass groups. Later, in 1977, Dr. Kirby took over the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band and coaxed it up to a professional level. The band was later featured on the soundtrack to Ken Burns’ 1990 miniseries “The Civil War.”

Dr. Jolly was also a gifted music educator who earned a Ph.D. from New York University, where he wrote a dissertation on the Goldman Band. He taught at all levels, from elementary school to college. The National Band Association awarded Dr. Jolly its “Citation of Excellence” for his outstanding contribution to bands and band music.

In 2020, Kirby Jolly participated in an interview with the Early American Brass Band Podcast, where Dr. Jolly spoke about his time in the Goldman Band and more. Dr. Jolly was also featured in a November 1981 issue of The Instrumentalist.

Dr. Jolly was predeceased by his wife Joan and sister Patricia, and is survived by his son David and many nieces and nephews. The family remembers that Dr. Jolly enjoyed sharing his musical talents at many family gatherings.

Anyone who has favorite memories of Kirby is invited to e-mail reminiscences to We’ll add them to the memories listed below. Also, scroll all the way down to enjoy a selection of photos of Kirby Jolly and ensembles, courtesy of Ed Stone.

Donations in Kirby’s memory may be given to Maryhaven:
Friday, May 13, at 10am
Wisdom Gardens Community Center
115 Terryville Road
Port Jefferson Station, NY 11776


(in alphabetical order)

Ed Albinski: “I was associated with Kirby Jolly for 50 years. His American Concert Band was where I first served as a substitute French hornist and later as a permanent member. Soon after, I played in the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band as a substitute. I remember being called for an evening job at Bethpage Village and found out when I got there that they were performing all-new music from their latest CD for an audience of donors. It was an 11-piece band and I had never seen the music until I got on stage. The solo moments went well, and Kirby continued using me! He was always loyal to the people who performed for him, and I only played regularly when one of the players left the group.  Eventually the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band became too much for him. Walking became more of a problem and the work involved became overwhelming. He asked me if I would consider taking over since I already had a nonprofit music organization set up that covered bands, orchestras and school summer programs. What I discovered when I took over was an extensive collection of instruments, uniforms and music that Kirby was responsible for collecting over his 39 years as director. Additionally, his research on the music of the Civil War period and his numerous contacts around the country were amazing. Almost every work contained written background notes, which were collected in the days before computers. This made things easier for me. We continued as friends up until his passing. I would visit him at home and help a little with hospital transportation and doctors’ visits. He would tell me how his practicing on the trumpet was progressing. Of course, by this time his solo career was over, but he still practiced the works he had famously done with the Goldman Band. Visiting him in the hospital would always cheer him up. His eyes would brighten and for me the memories of so many years of professional work and friendship came flooding back. His memory was still intact as we discussed friends and events, and I cherish the time I had with Kirby. Precious memories and a dear friend.”

John J. Immerso: “Along with his many other services to the music world, Dr. Kirby Jolly also served as the director of music in the Patchogue-Medford school district. Kirby hired me in 1987 as the middle school band director at Saxton Middle School. I had the honor of working for Kirby and and I witnessed what he accomplished every day as he supervised many music teachers. Over the years, Kirby asked me to play with the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band and the American Concert Band. I’ll never forget wearing those wool uniforms in the heat. When we performed at Pearl River, it was hard for everyone to fit on the bandstand and I had to be creative in setting up the percussion instruments with very little space. I enjoyed watching Kirby solo with his groups, too. I have many fond memories of Kirby, and I often had the chance to visit Kirby and his wife Joan at their home. Kirby, may you rest in peace forever.”

Burt Klayman: “I joined the American Concert Bank in the early 1970s as a trombonist.  Kirby Jolly was always determined to have a truly professional-sounding band of the highest caliber, and I was honored to be a part of that organization. Over the many years I spent in the band, I grew under his inspiring leadership.  He would never accept anything but the highest professional standards from any of us. ”

Don Larsen: “I played in Kirby’s groups as a percussionist, first as accessories (bass drum, cymbals, etc.) and, later on, timpani. The American Concert Band had extensive work back in the day, especially during the summer. While I wasn’t a regular with the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band, I played with that group at the New York Brass Conference and the NYSSMA Winter All-State Conference. In 1989, Kirby managed to get the Bethpage band a gig at the Upper Canada Village on the St. Laurence on Memorial Day…a most memorable experience! I recall having to open up the period-accurate rope tension bass drum to get through customs. I’m still not sure what they thought they would find inside the drum, but it took quite a while to put the head back on the drum. Kirby was very loyal to his musicians. This sometimes created space problems for the percussion section on stages that were less than accommodating, but Kirby always used as many musicians who were available for the gig. Kirby never played down to an audience. He always chose challenging works and demanded the band’s best efforts, both in rehearsal and on stage. Rest in peace, Kirby.”

Rodger Lee: “My favorite memory of Kirby is going to Ireland with the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band. We had many warm Guiness Stout beers together, and playing the St. Patrick’s Day parade was a great memory as well.”

Scott Melamerson: “Dr. Jolly was my high school band director and trumpet teacher from 1971 to 1974. I am sad that he passed away. I never got to thank him personally for what he did for me as a trumpet player. Thank you, Dr. J, for everything!”

Frank Pedulla: “Kirby was a serious music researcher and was proud of bringing to light many band arrangements that otherwise would have been lost to history. Kirby traveled to New Hampshire each summer to play with the Yankee Brass Band, where he read through Civil War band music, and brought some back for us to rehearse and perform. This helped us develop an expansive library, including many arrangements by a tuba player friend of his, Paul Maybury. He also obtained arrangements from the Library of Congress as well as Europe. Many of these were written by hand and were nearly illegible, but we figured them out. Kirby told us of one in particular that he was proud of salvaging: an arrangement of the ‘Carnival of Venice’ in Eb for solo cornet. In addition to playing band music from history, Kirby also performed the latest pieces, including premieres by composer Douglas Townsend, who attended these debut performances with his wife. I have many other great memories of Kirby, some of them funny. Kirby had some kind of ‘magic oil’ that he would use to seal up the leaks of the historic Civil War-era instruments so we could play them in his band. Another thing I remember about Kirby is that liked to chew gum when he played; in fact, he claimed that he couldn’t play unless he was chewing gum. Another thing I remember: we were required to wear historically accurate uniforms, which meant no zippers! Because of this, it was common for Kirby to help with the difficult buttons and suspenders, realigning as necessary, in his fatherly way.  I remember playing at one of the annual Fourth of July concerts with the American Concert Band in front of thousands of people in Pearl River, New York. We had just finished the Star Spangled Banner and were about to start our program. Suddenly, a ‘celebrity’ leaned over the bandshell railing behind me. It was Joe Alessi, the principal trombonist with the New York Philharmonic, who happened to live in Pearl River. ‘Hi Frank!’ he said to me, and I started to talk to him, but all of I sudden, I saw Kirby look at me in from the podium his stern way. Kirby was always strictly business when he was conducting, and he was worried that I might not make the next downbeat. I abruptly said goodbye to Joe and got ready to play. I never told Kirby who visited me that day. Lastly, I want to add that Kirby played the solo cornet parts for years in a Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Band I contracted and led in my Sunnyside neighborhood, where Bix lived his last months. (There’s a plaque that was dedicated at Bix’s residence.) In later years, Kirby would stay for the candlelit vigil that we held after the performances.”

Ed Stone: “Kirby was my trumpet teacher when I was in high school (1961-64). I would walk the two blocks to his house and have my trumpet lesson in his music studio. I found out later that Kirby was the official bugler at Belmont Park to start the horse races. Some other memories of Kirby: the American Concert Band (which he founded) would sometimes play at the New York Brass Conference for Scholarships. I remember getting on the elevator in the Roosevelt Hotel and meeting members of The Canadian Brass, who told me, ‘We came here to listen to The American Concert Band’! When Kirby and the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band recorded the music for ‘The Civil War’ series by Ken Burns, the band was offered an all-expense paid trip to Ireland. (We traveled there with The Irish Brigade, but I have no idea who funded the trip.) We went to Dublin, the Cliffs of Mohr, Waterford, Donnybrook and the Wicklow Mountains, where our bus actually caught on fire. Frank Pedulla first discovered smoke coming from below his seat, and immediately informed me. I helped everyone get off the bus. One of our instrument cases was actually smoking! We were all safe in the end, but the bus burned to a crisp. Luckily, there are many happy memories from that trip, including a medieval dinner at Bunratty Castle. While in Dublin, we marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade and won a trophy for first place. That evening, we performed at the Grand Ball, where the French Army Band applauded us for our performances.”

Photo courtesy Dr. Steven E. Schopp

Dr. Steven E. Schopp: “It’s hard to overstate Dr. Kirby Jolly’s influence on concert band music on Long Island. The creation of the American Concert Band in the early 1970s provided Long Island musicians a professional outlet to play year-round band music. Many of us were music educators, and this gave us a way to practice our craft, as well as teach it. For euphonium players like me, this was especially important. In its early years, I was a junior high school band director and the band rehearsed in my band room at the H.B. Thompson Jr. High School in Syosset. We played many concerts in schools and regularly gave outstanding high school students the opportunity to solo with the band. We often did theme concerts (‘Broadway,’ for example), and occasionally had guest composers or arrangers such as Robert Russell Bennett. During the summer, we played in parks and bandshells all over Long Island, in some seasons with as many as 16 concerts! The band also had some offshoots such as the Tuba Ensemble of the American Concert Band that performed at the All Eastern conferences of the New York State School Music Association and the Music Educators National Conference. (I later served as executive director of NYSSMA.) Kirby’s work with the Old Bethpage Village Brass Band was a labor of love and a real contribution to the history of band music. He loved to try new music and explain the vintage instruments to visitors at the Village. These could be challenging to play as they weren’t a matched set, so intonation couldn’t be taken for granted. The band made a vinyl recording of Civil War music, and recorded music for the Ken Burns ‘Civil War’ series. I actually got to play the melody on ‘Ashokan Farewell,’ the documentary’s theme song, although for some strange reason they went with the violin rather than my tenor saxhorn! Oh well! During my two decades with the Village Brass Band, Kirby led us on many a march, sometimes in 90-degree weather with wool uniforms! But it was an experience I will always treasure. Kirby Jolly’s contribution to band music on Long Island and New York will resonate through our area for decades to come, thanks to the many musicians and students he served. I was proud to be a small part of what he did, and will always cherish the memories!

Photo courtesy Bill Troiano

Bill Troiano: “I first met Kirby when I was in 9th grade at Plainview/Old Bethpage Junior High School. I remember that he liked to show (off) what he could do on the trumpet. I thought he was showing off, so in band rehearsals I started to show off on the tuba, or goof off maybe, by playing things that weren’t written in the music. The following year, I moved onto Plainview/Old Bethpage High School. Dr. Jolly moved onto Kennedy High School in Plainview. Although I had a different band teacher at my high school, we would sometimes combine bands with Kennedy HS and Dr. Jolly would conduct the massed band for the rehearsals and concerts. I continued my tradition with him of showing off in rehearsals. At one point, he became annoyed, stopped the band, and yelled, ‘Troiano, you could’ve been a heck of a tuba player, but you stink.’ After high school, I moved on to major in music ed at SUNY Fredonia. When I was a junior there, my dad mailed me a newspaper article about Kirby Jolly starting the American Concert Band. I thought that I would love to play in that band when I was home, so I wrote to Dr. Jolly telling him what I was doing in college and saying that I would love to be able to play in his band when I was home. I also included a P.S., saying that I was sorry for goofing off in band in high school. He responded by letter saying that he would like for me to sub in his band when I was home, when needed, and that my past goofing off in rehearsals was no problem and actually amusing to him. So, I began by subbing in the band when I was home. Then after being with the Guy Lombardo Band for three years, I returned to Long Island, got a teaching job and began to play regularly in Dr. Jolly’s American Concert Band, his Old Bethpage Brass Band and his jazz band. I spent 30+ years playing with Kirby. He was always polite and respectful to everyone he dealt with. He was the consummate professional as a trumpet player, teacher and conductor. He was also very keen with his organizational skills and attention to detail for performances. He gave me a lot of work playing tuba on Long Island for all of those years. After spending 60+ years of my life as a Long Islander, my wife and I moved to the Austin area to be close to our kids and grandkids who settled there. Although we’ve only been back to Long Island a handful of times, whenever we were, I always went to visit Kirby in his home and hang with him for a little while. I even had a gathering at a bar in Patchogue one time and Kirby drove out to see us. He was a great man and I’m happy that, after my being a goof off in our early relationship, that we became good friends over the years. I will miss him and all of the great times we shared together.”


photos courtesy of Ed Stone