Conrad Henry Kirnon (April 27, 1927 – November 30, 1994) known professionally as Connie Kay, was an American jazz and R&B drummer, who was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Self-taught on drums, he began performing in Los Angeles in the mid-1940s. His drumming is recorded in The Hunt, the recording of a famous Los Angeles jam session featuring the dueling tenors of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray on July 6, 1947. He recorded with Lester Young‘s quintet from 1949 to 1955 and with Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis.
Kay did R&B sessions for Atlantic Records in the early to mid-1950s, and he was featured on hit records such as Shake, Rattle and Roll by Big Joe Turner and Ruth Brown‘s (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.
Kay joined the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1955, replacing original drummer Kenny Clarke. He remained through the group’s dissolution in 1974 and occasional reunions into the 1990s. In addition to his MJQ compatriots, he had an enduring partnership with cool jazz altoist Paul Desmond through the first half of the 1960s. He played drums on several of Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison‘s albums: Astral Weeks, one song on Saint Dominic’s Preview, and four songs on Tupelo Honey.
Kay was known for incorporating percussion instruments alongside his drum kit, such as timpani, small cymbals, triangle, bell tree, and darbukas, the latter referred to as “exotic-looking” drums in a 2006 article.
In 1989, Kay received an honorary doctorate of music from Berklee College of Music.
Kay had a stroke in 1992, but recovered enough to resume performing. He died of cardiac arrest in Manhattan in 1994 at the age of 67. He was survived by his wife, Addie, and two sons. He also played with Benny Goodman’ Orchestra at the Carnegie Hall 40th. Anniversary Concert on January 17, 1978. Kay never recorded as a session leader.
Leave a Comment