Jay Kennedy: Composer, Educator, and Architect of Musical Excellence

Jay Kennedy’s career has followed a unique trajectory initially encompassing highly successful experiences as an entrepreneur and composer, arranger, producer of music for commercials, television, and motion pictures. Subsequently, he transitioned to Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, one of the world’s leading music schools, becoming a widely respected educator and administrative leader.

Jay’s career underscores his life-long commitment to music education. “I grew up taking piano lessons and playing in many ensembles throughout middle school, high school, and college. Those musical and educational experiences, especially at earlier ages, affected me profoundly about the value of music in a person’s life.” While working in the music industry in Chicago and LA, Jay remembered how music and his teachers positively impacted him and he committed to try to pass those experiences along to others, continuing to write for high school and college ensembles, conduct master classes and workshops for students, and frequently being an adjudicator and clinician for high school ensembles.

Kennedy has always been an active composer and arranger for a wide variety of genres. He is the composer or arranger of more than 200 works for concert band, marching band, jazz ensemble, percussion ensemble, and symphony orchestra. In the world of concert music, his commissioned compositions have been premiered by many college and high school ensembles, as well community bands. His works have been heard in a broad array of media and venues, including television and radio, feature films, high school and college concert halls and marching band productions, drum and bugle corps competitions, Radio City Music Hall, the Playboy Jazz Festival, the Tournament of Roses Parade and Rose Bowl, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

From Commercials to Classics:
Jay Kennedy’s Award-Winning Journey in Music Composition

During the first segment of Jay’s career which spanned about 20 years, he composed, arranged, and produced music for hundreds of television and radio commercials in Chicago, and subsequently for 17 years in Los Angeles, where he was co-owner and President of LA/NY Music, a jingle company that specialized in creating music for commercials.

The company received numerous awards, including the Mercury Awards Gold Triode (Grand Prize), 5 Clio Awards, and 38 Clio Finalists. In the early 1990s, LA/NY Music was selected as one of the six “hottest” music houses in a poll of advertising creative directors and producers.

LA/NY Music’s work was voted in the Top 10 Jingles of the 1980’s by advertising agencies for Pontiac – Get on Your Pontiac and Ride and McDonalds – Mac Tonight (moon head playing piano) and in the Top 10 Jingles of the 1992 for a series of Levi’s Buttonfly 501 Jeans, Levi’s Loose Fit Jeans – A Loose Interpretation of the Original, and Levi’s 501 Jeans – “Got to be Real.” Other national and regional campaigns Jay co-produced in LA and Chicago included Coca Cola, Friskies (What’s Got into that Cat?), Seagram’s Golden Wine Cooler (with Bruce Willis), Kentucky Fried Chicken, Lubriderm, Nike Barcelona Olympics Dream Team, Kellogg’s Raisin Squares, Taco Bell (Make a Run for the Border), Cool Mint Listerine (Tarzan), former Western Airlines (w/Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly), Peter Pan Peanut Butter, and others, including Prudential Insurance, Coors Light, Mattel, Acura, Budweiser, Michelob, Dodge, and Burger King.

Jay’s music has also been heard in feature films, including Wayne’s World, Electric Horsemen, Fast Break, and Lethal Weapon 2.  His television credits include writing for episodic series, such as past TV classics, Judging Amy, One Tree Hill, Felicity, and All My Children, as well as shorter, but loved series, Switch and Class of ’65.

Music Industry Veteran, Percussionist, Grammy-Nominated Arranger

In addition to writing music for visual media, his other writing projects include two summer musical theater shows at Radio City Music Hall, artist performances on The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson), and the main title themes for Drum Corps International Championship television and theatre broadcasts and videos.

As a veteran of the recording industry, some of the artists for whom Jay has written, produced, or recorded include Little Richard, James Ingram, Sheryl Crow, Siedah Garrett (co-wrote Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror and other MJ songs), Paula Cole, Patti Austin, Stanley Clarke, Brenda Russell, and Dave Grusin.  

As a percussionist, he performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, on numerous television and radio commercials, television, and motion picture soundtracks, and was the house band drummer/percussionist at Wisconsin State Fair for three years, performing with a variety of artists, including Johnny Mathis, Louie Bellson and Pearl Bailey, and others.

He was a Grammy Award finalist in 2002 for arrangements on the recording, Virtuosi, by Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone.

Orchestrating Success: Leadership in Music Education

During his tenure as Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost at Berklee College of Music, Kennedy was responsible for overseeing virtually every area of academic affairs. 

He capitalized on his vast experience in Chicago and LA recording studios in managing space planning and design for fifteen new recording and technology facilities in Boston. He applied his experience gained in starting and successfully running a company by assisting with the integration of Boston Conservatory faculty members into the Berklee Faculty Union in 2017, stewarding Berklee’s capital and operating academic equipment budgets, expanding internships and experiential learning opportunities for students, and serving on the administration’s collective bargaining team for many years.

He helped elevate Berklee’s presence globally and enhance its status as one of the leading music schools in the world. He managed some of Berklee’s highest-profile initiatives, including space design, financial planning, and curriculum and policy development for the launch of Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain in 2012.

Additionally, Kennedy deployed his formidable musical skills by arranging and conducting music for many Berklee College concerts in its annual Great American Songbook series and producing the 2018 commencement concert that featured the music of and performances by honorary doctorate recipients, Esperanza Spalding, Rosanne Cash, and Nile Rodgers.

He retired from Berklee College of Music at the end of 2022 as Vice President for Academic Affairs/Vice Provost after 28 years in which he held several administrative positions, including department chair, dean, and vice president.

He has also been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Program, conducted master classes at University of Kentucky, Northwestern University, Duquesne University, and early in his career, held the positions of Assistant Director of the Marching Band and co-director of the Jazz Ensemble at Northwestern University.

Jay received the Doctor of Philosophy in higher education administration from Boston College and a Bachelor of Music Education degree and a Master of Music degree from Northwestern University. At Northwestern, he studied percussion with Terry Applebaum and conducting with John P. Paynter.

From the Field to the Hall of Fame:
Jay Kennedy’s Storied Career
in the Marching Arts

For over 40 years, in addition to his ongoing work as a composer and educator, Kennedy has been involved in marching arts activities in a variety of capacities. He is an active adjudicator in the marching arts activities. He has judged 16 Drum Corps International world championship final contests, many Bands of America championship week competitions, 14 World Guard International percussion championship finals, numerous state marching band competitions, as well as concert band and jazz ensemble festivals. His judging opportunities have encompassed 45 of the United States, four Canadian provinces, and England.

Kennedy has written for Santa Clara Vanguard drum and bugle corps, been a percussion and brass instructor with the Cavaliers, and from 2002-2011, was the brass arranger for the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, serving also as program coordinator for the last four of those years.  For five years prior to that, he also served as judge administrator/chief judge for Drum Corps International.

He composed the theme used on Drum Corps International broadcasts, and in former days, on the DCI DVDs and videos.

In recognition of his longtime contributions as an adjudicator, judge administrator, educator, arranger, and composer, he was elected to the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame in 2007.

An Ensemble of Achievements Across Music and Education

He has also been an instructor in the UCLA Extension Program, percussionist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, arranger for Santa Clara Vanguard drum and bugle corps, and at the start of his career, held the positions of Assistant Director of the Marching Band and co-director of the Jazz Ensemble at Northwestern University.

Jay received the Doctor of Philosophy in higher education administration from Boston College and a Bachelor of Music Education degree and a Master of Music degree from Northwestern University. He now lives in Chicago.