Jay's musical journey began with the guitar at the age of eight. His interest stemmed from early exposure to vocal jazz, which caught his attention and propelled him toward the craft. He studied guitar with Ken Johnson at McMurray Music in St Louis and when the Beatles came on the scene, Jay's direction was focused, and he never looked back.
In sixth grade, Jay began studying string bass with Henry Lowe, then the principal bassist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. This proved extremely enjoyable for Jay, whose father played percussion in college. Jay soon added the trombone to his instrumental oeuvre, studying with Dorothy Ziegler, once again, a member of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
In middle school Jay added the electric bass to his arsenal out of necessity. His Beatles cover band, the Perspectives, had multiple guitar players, but no one to carry the low end. With Jay's past experience, he put the guitar aside, and strapped on an 8-string Hagstrom bass, from which he promptly removed four of the strings. During Jay's freshman year in high school, Mel Siener, the chairman of the music department at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale (SIUC) visited his high school, and as a result, Jay attended the music summer camps every year for several years. It was there that he fell in love with the sound of the big band.
Throughout high school, Jay retained the first bass chair in the orchestra, and, during his senior year, he was the president of the orchestra, under the direction of Robert Boedges. During his sophomore, junior, and senior year, he played trombone in the school concert band and marching band. He also played guitar in the pep band. During this time, Jay played in not only the school orchestra, but with various civic orchestras, including those in University City, Webster Groves, and the St. Louis Philharmonic.
Six Flags opened in 1969, and a year later, Jay became a member of the evening pit orchestra, playing variety shows, which became a summer job through college. After Jay's tenure, Six Flags switched to using prerecorded music, instead of the live experience.
Having spent his summers at the music camp at SIUC, Jay was offered a full scholarship to study music there. Jay immediately joined the tux-clad Marching Salukis reprising his former role as a trombonist. The Salukis, under the direction of Mike Hanes, were always known for incorporating a gimmick into their performances. Before Jay's arrival on the scene, the ensemble used a fake violin player. Since "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" had recently invaded the cinema, the popular song was B.J. Thomas' "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head". The Salukis' plan was to haul a baby grand piano (gutted but with an electric keyboard inside) rickshaw-style during the band's march. When he discovered the potential for fun during the upcoming season, Jay immediately hit the practice rooms, worked out an arrangement for the song, and landed the gig. Later in that season, when the Salukis played the halftime show at a Cardinals football game in St. Louis' Busch Stadium, Jay's likeness was captured by an Associated Press photographer, and distributed all over the country. In the weeks and months that followed, Jay received many clippings from friends and family throughout the nation who had seen him in their local paper.
During his time at SIUC, Jay studied bass under London Branch and Salvatore Macchia. It was during Macchia's tutelage that Jay purchased his John Juzek upright bass. Macchia now teaches at the University of Massachusetts, while Branch is the Associate Professor of Music/Strings at Jackson State University.
On The Road
After graduation and a year of graduate studies, Jay opted to leave SIU when he was asked to join a Las Vegas-based touring group, The Murphys. A four-piece rhythm section backed up the four members of the Murphy family. The group, which originated from Australia, featured Jim Murphy on guitar and vocals, his wife Julie Murphy, and their daughters Jamie and Samantha. Jay became the musical director, and began arranging for ensembles such as the Louisville Symphony and Eastman School of Music, who, on occasion, provided orchestral accompaniment for the group. Just recently, Jamie (now known as Jamie O'Neal) has had two Number One hits and a gold-certified album, "Shiver".
During this time, the Oak Ridge Boys heard Jay's arrangements at the State Fair in Bloomsburg, PA, where they and the Murphys were performing. Jay subsequently traveled to their Nashville studio, and they commissioned him to orchestrate and arrange for their debut as a country act in Las Vegas.
Also during this tenure, Jay wrote the song "Dancin'", which was recorded and performed by the Murphys, and produced by Gary Paxton. "Dancin'" received attention from the office of Donny and Marie Osmond, as a potential title track to their debut film, "Goin' Coconuts".
During the last year on the road with the Murphys, Jay and his wife Susan welcomed their first child, Laren, into the musical world. As the demands of family life became apparent, a permanent place of residence was in order, and, after much deliberation, the young family chose St. Louis as their home.
The Return To St. Louis
Upon their return,
Steve Schenkel asked Jay to join Webster College (now Webster University) as a bass instructor and adjunct faculty member in the music department. While teaching part-time, working six nights a week, and performing regularly at Grace Church, Jay felt the inner desire to continue his songwriting efforts. Daily, Jay and fellow co-writer Ken Barken cranked out country songs. After hitting the streets of Nashville and getting publishing contracts on twelve songs, Jay and Ken struck country gold when their song "My Man Friday" was chosen to be recorded by Patti Page. Her recording landed on Billboard's Top 100 charts the day before Jay's birthday.
Also that year, Jay met Tom Brooks, who was working on a recording at Grace World Outreach, involving the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The project, "Glory To The Lamb", was produced by the church. Integrity Music then approached Tom, who proceeded to produce over 100 worship albums for the label. Jay's bass playing can be heard on over twenty eight of these recordings, before Tom relocated to southern California.
Other contemporary Christian recordings Jay has been involved with include Kent Henry, Charlie and Jill LeBlanc, Dale and Russ Kirkland (of the bands September and the Kirklands), a Maranatha! Family Christmas album, and other projects with Tom Brook.
Over the years Jay has had the opportunity to play with some incredible St. Louis musicians - including Eddie Fritz, Dave Venn, and Carolbeth True. They can be heard on his CD, "The Keys To The City" which features fourteen of St. Louis' finest jazz pianists in a piano/bass duo format.
On The Road Again
In 1995, Jay was asked to join a newly-formed traditional jazz touring band, the Draga/Vax Connection, which featured Bob Draga (clarinet), Mike Vax (trumpet), Steve Yocum (trombone), Jeff Barnhart (piano), and Joe Buerger (drums). Their performances included festivals all over the country, as well as several jazz cruises, and became very popular in the touring circuit.
Other festivals include performances with the Great River All-Stars featuring Eddie Higgins, Mike Vax's Great American Jazz Band, Ralph Sutton, Jay McShann, Jeff Barnhart, Tom Hook, Johnny Varro, Jake Hanna, Joe Ascione, Ed Metz, Jr., Butch Miles, Rebecca Kilgore, Dan Barrett, the Pieter Meijers Quartet, Paulette Pepper and Fine Thyme, Cornet Chop Suey, Tom Saunders, Chuck Hedges, and Lynn Zimmer's Jazz Band at the Lake of the Ozarks. Jay is often asked to accompany nationally-known artists. Concerts include performances with Herb Ellis, Mundell Lowe, Buddy Defranco, Richie Cole, Scott Hamilton, Chris Potter, Roger Williams, Vanessa Rubin, Maynard Ferguson, Nick Brignola, Bill Watrous, Eddie Higgins, Bill Charlap, Warren Vache, Howard Alden, Mundell Lowe, Carl Fontana, Bob Draga, Bobby Shew, The St Louis Symphony and others.
In addition to his jazz credits, Jay is often heard at St. Louis' popular Muny Theatre, the St. Louis Symphony's "Pops" summer concerts, and at Grace Church-St. Louis. He has been involved with St. Louis' Young Audiences for over 20 years. He continues teaching and has produced a variety of proteges who have since gone on to acclaim and notoriety, not limited to
Avishai Cohen (Chick Corea, International Vamp Band),
Neil Caine (Harry Connick, Jr.), and Steve Kirby (Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter). Jay just recently performed for President George W. Bush at the Missourians for Kit Bond dinner with the Steve Schenkman Orchestra.