Jeff Kaye — The Music Man

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By: Diane Feen Contributing Writer

Jeff Kaye is a musician – principal trumpeter, teacher and Artistic Director of the Symphonia.

But there is a lot more to this rather towering figure who has lived in the Boca Raton area for the past 29 years.

You wouldn’t know it if you saw him on the street. And you wouldn’t know it if you heard him on stage at Mizner Park, or at the Symphonia Connoisseur Concert Series at St. Andrews School.

The reason is simply that Kaye flies under the radar quite often. Even when doing an interview, he is quick to change the subject after mentioning he played with Leonard Bernstein as a fellow at Tanglewood Music Festival. He also won’t tell you he played with Pavarotti when he was a trumpeter with the Florida Philharmonic.

“I’m not a name dropper,” said the New Jersey native. “I never even got an autograph from the famous musicians I have met.”

And, Kaye has met a lot of famous musicians. But it’s his normal family upbringing that rooted him firmly in reality away from the bright lights. Though his great-grandfather – Bundles Jablonsky – played the trumpet with the Ziegfeld Follies and his grandfather Milton played the piano at the Catskills, Kaye remains humble and dedicated – normal and grounded.

He got a Bachelor of Arts in performance and a Bachelor of Science in Music Management from the Hartt School of Music.  He also won a talent scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music earning a Masters’ Degree in Music Performance.

Kaye played for an award-winning Florida Philharmonic CD recording of Gustav Mahler’s First Symphony that received critical acclaim. “The Blumine is especially welcome for the ineffably cool, poised tones of principal trumpeter Jeffrey Kaye,” it said in BBC Music Magazine.

Kaye’s first musical instrument was a conch shell he found in Key West when on vacation with his family at the age of eight. “I made loud noises by blowing in the shell. The next year I used a Charles Chips aluminum can as a drum.”

By the fourth grade Kaye saw a trumpet at school and decided he wanted to play one. But his efforts were almost thwarted by happenstance and physicality. “When we went to rent a trumpet, the salesman said I had buck teeth and I should play the clarinet or saxophone. I insisted on playing the trumpet – I took to it right away.”

He started with a music book, “Hits from the 70’s” and quickly began picking up songs like “Hello Dolly” and “Hawaii Five-0” just by hearing them. “My grandparents had a place in Hollywood, Fla. and my grandfather would play piano and I picked it up by ear. My mother Francis loved music and sang in a choir.”

But unlike some musical prodigies Kaye has a myriad of interests. He loves snow skiing and tennis and is as understated and friendly as one might be, given his great musical talent.

He was a Principal Trumpet of the Florida Grand Opera, the Florida Philharmonic Pops Orchestra and the Miami Chamber Orchestra. He played at the Aspen Music Festival, Waterloo Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival (and taught at both University of Nevada and Louisiana State University).

When the Florida Philharmonic went bust in 2003 musical legend Marshall Turkin asked Kaye to put together an orchestra in a few months. Kaye accomplished this feat (for the first Edith and Martin Stein Connoisseur Concert Series). “I got 34 players, 22 strings, two flutes and double woodwinds,” said Kaye as if all the world was a musical score.

That’s the charm of Kaye, he rolls off names of concertos and musical scores with the ease of an Olympic skier headed downhill. Things roll off his tongue that would make non-musical folks think their IQ had dissipated in a storm.

It is because of his knowledge, experience and talent that he started Jeff Kaye Music. In this venture Kaye supplies musicians for producers and top-level music venues. But his newest business is JK Productions. Kaye teamed up with wife Joanna Marie (Director of Festival of the Arts Boca) and is providing quality orchestras, artist management and production services.

It’s been a long and fruitful career – 46 years as a trumpeter – and Kaye is still hitting his stride. But if his legacy is anything, it’s more honorable than self-contained. “I want to provide great performing opportunities in quality productions for musicians. Then the next generation can make a living as a musician.”

If you want to hear the Symphonia catch their upcoming winter Marleen Forkas Connoisseur Concert Series in Boca Raton. For information – thesymphonia.org or call 561-376-3848.