I first heard of drummer Kenny Hadley when my mother, who was working for the Marshfield Reporter newspaper at the time, interviewed him. she said he was an interesting guy and really down to earth. She had mentioned that I played saxophone, and Kenny said bring him by to check out the band. This was when I was 15. When I was 16, he put me on the gig to fill in.
I wasn’t scared, however I sure as hell didn’t want to be the one to make a mistake. I did feel some pressure. After all, I was the youngest person there…a kid really…and I now find myself surrounded by people that have played with Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich etc. There was so much experience on that stage, and all I was was the rookie, or grom as skateboarders say.I knew however that I was getting a great education in the music department at Marshfield High School. We were doing really tough music, and executing it well. That gave me some confidence going in.
I couldn’t tell you who was on the gig that day. My face was straight up buried in the charts. I was NOT going to F up. I might’ve gotten one solo but I didn’t even care to do that. Thank god I had legend Dave Chapman. He was the epitome of class, both on and off the horn. He lead the section effortlessly and intuitively. He made it easy. I must’ve done well, because he was happy and he never really looked my way the whole evening. Over the years I saw many people get “The elbow” along with “stop screwing around in the section” comments. I was never the receiver of such, either that night or the years to come. Thank god. I would’ve been mortified.
Over the next year me and my mother would go check out the band periodically. They were killing. So much talent there. if you ever went to those Sundays, you remember they were packed. Jammed. Standing room only. He had so many fans, yet every time he saw me and my mother he would come and sit down and spend time with us. Knowing what I know now after a million shows, that was special. Honestly, I meet less and less people with that kind of humility and grace.
A year later, I got the call to play again. I was Berklee at the time. I was playing in a couple of different big bands at school so I was even more comfortable this time around. I had a blast. Took a couple of solos, listened to a bunch of really wonderful players and went home. From that point on, I would get the call every couple of months to fill in. I always said yes. No way I was going to miss that hang. It wasn’t always easy though. To some of the players I was the “new kid”..the guy that played the wrong mouthpiece…the guy that played too much Brecker shit. But through it all, Kenny always looked out for me.
Two years into Berklee, my skills start fading. I would last one more semester. I could no longer produce a good sound. I was out of tune. My throat was trash. I would gag the second I tried to play. Years of practicing 10 hours a day had caught up to me. I went to the leading ENT and they couldn’t fix me. They didn’t know what was wrong. With a 4.0 GPA, and everything I’d worked for gone, I left school.
I moved back in with my mother and sister. I struggled and played gigs with a local band once every couple of weeks for about 6 months. I couldn’t practice though, and I would be sick the following days with swollen glands and such. The timing is foggy on this so I can’t for certain nail everything down, but t some point my sister got married, but then came back from her honeymoon, didn’t feel well, and in something like 5 weeks passed. Again, it’s all foggy to me.
After my sister died, my mother and I moved into Dorchester to live with my grandmother. After maybe about a year, my mother sat me down and said she was leaving. She could no longer just be here. She needed a change. A fresh start. I couldn’t blame her. Without her around I become a different person. I worked out, and played basketball 7 hours a day…sometimes more. I wanted nothing to do with jazz music really. I immersed myself into basketball, hip hop, and the local culture. I was violent. I fought pretty often. I also learned so much from the local kids about life, and what it looked like for kids that you knew were never going anywhere. I worried for them. I grew very attached to these kids. Some of them never even knew it. So many of them ended up in jail. They, along with basketball, got me through the next 4 years.
At some point I knew I could no longer live as I was living. It was a dead end. I started to pick the saxophone up again to relearn how to play…to confront this thing head on, by myself. Some guy had calling my for gigs, and I kept telling him I was done. Out of the business. God knows why, but he persisted. I eventually said yes. It changed my life. The whole experience of this small but uber popular cover band..the music, and the amazing fans..had reminded me what music felt like. I could only play once a week, but I started making progress and learning about saxophone gear. I then started working at Rayburn Music.
I moved out of the city because I knew I was no longer the same person I moved into Dorchester as. I moved in with a saxophone player that was playing 2nd tenor on Ken Hadley’s band. I could only practice about a half hour, and that was only if I hadn’t played in a day or two… but I managed to have enough residue from once having a tremendous amount of technique, so I could kind of coast on impulse power (pardon the Star Trek reference) and still be pretty good. I don’t know if it was because my roommate referred me, but it wasn’t long before Kenny called me to do the gig again. I didn’t realize how much I missed the experience….the players..the music..the fans. Between that little cover band and Kenny’s band, I felt true joy again. First time in years.
Unlike the cover band, Kennys gig was hard. The music wasn’t totally crazy, but there were some bangers in there. I slowly started getting my act together again. I don’t know how I was playing, but I’m sure it was nothing like I would end up being years later, and Kenny dealt with me. I got stronger and stronger from being around his band. I had nowhere to go but up. While I still couldn’t practice, the gigs were leveling me up. You can’t help but get better when surrounded by such amazing talent. I would love to list the players, but I’m sure I would forget some, because there was literally a plethora of amazing players.
The scene in general at Kenny’s shows was amazing. The energy and happiness that he and that band brought to myself and the fans was infectious. Those people became my extended family They treated me like a star honestly…far better than I deserved. I did that gig faithfully for years. While I still even after 8 years or so, couldn’t play more than once, maybe twice a week, I was getting better. I was using the time efficiently. I was also getting closer to the older players. I was getting respect from them. We all had sick cars. We would talk music or motors. I looked up to everyone there. I was happy playing music, something that still to this day eludes me at times.
Then suddenly, it was over. The venue had stopped having the band on Sundays. In one fell swoop that whole scene ended. Don’t get me wrong, he still played here and there, but I was never around for the work consistently, and the momentum of the every week thing had been broken, never to be regained.
I did play some amazing shows with Kenny after that. We played a what was once called Harborlights, in Boston Harbor. Actually, something special happened on that gig, Kenny gave me the last solo of the night. It was a shuffle blues. Kenny always had a sick shuffle. I went off. The band was killing and they pushed me. We finished the set, and as I was walking to the back of the stage to the stairs, I run straight into Chick Corea. No big deal, I’ve only bought every album you were on for the last decade. He sees my tenor and asks “Was that you on the last song?” I said yes. He says “That was a great solo. We were stuck at the gate because they wouldn’t let us in while you guys were playing. so I heard the whole thing. Great job”. The concept of Chick and the band being stuck at the gate while I play is hysterical to me.. That’s right Chick, you and your band can sit your asses down and wait your turn. LMFAO. Yeah right. Amazing. Too funny.
Over the next few years I would run into some of the fans on Facebook or ever out around town, but I would eventually lose touch with everyone, even most of the musicians. The joy and warmth of those years would hazily fade into memory. I often wonder if the other musicians on that gig felt that same as I did about it. A lot of them got to continue playing with Kenny still so I guess it wouldn’t be the same sense of loss fro them, but still…the one of gigs could never have been the same.
I don’t know…maybe it was more special to me because the gigs literally brought me back from the dead musically. I learned so much about music from those shows. So many different styles of players, some playing a ton of notes, some playing very few….all equally great. Getting to watch all these players build solos every week was literally like having a free masterclass. Hell, I even walked out with $20 every week. Let’s Go!
I probably would not be playing today, or at the very least be the player I am without all the opportunities Kenny gave me…and that’s just being real. He gave a wide eyed Tony Hawk hair cut having kid an opportunity that changed his life.
The years of the Quincy shows were some of the best years of my life in many ways. I was privileged and blessed to be included in such a project and meet all the people that came with it.
Thank you Kenny. You meant more to me than I ever told you. You will be missed by many.