PITTSFIELD -- In addition to being the driving force behind the Sister City Jazz Ambassadors, Andy Kelly is a versatile musician with a long musical resume. Kelly and the Ambassadors will play with Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Charles Neville at Pittsfield's First Friday event at Mission on Aug. 2.
Kelly is the subject of this week's artist Q&A, and he talks about growing up with music, his influences and his rock first favorite band, The Monkees.
Berkshires Week: Before we get to The Monkees, talk a little bit about your earliest musical experiences.
Andy Kelly: I started playing piano in kindergarten. My mother was a choir director and she was probably my first musical influence. She still plays to this day.
BW: Any other early influences?
AK: Yes. I took guitar lessons from a guy named Dave Huxtable, who used to work at Wood Brothers Music [in Pittsfield]. He was a huge influence, not just on me, but on a lot of the guitar players in the area.
I think another influence in my early years was the Blarney Room. My family, as you know, owned Brodie Mountain [in New Ashford]. And my brothers and I used to go to the Blarney Room on weekends and listen to all the bands there when we were growing up in the 1970s.
BW: What was on your record player growing up?
AK: The first artist that influenced me in a major way was Steely Dan. The guys they had playing guitar were fantastic. Obviously, as a young boy, the Beatles were big also. But one of the bands I really enjoyed listening to were the Monkees. Initially, I thought they were better than The Beatles.
BW: Which is not hard to see. The Monkees may not have played their own instruments, but you can't deny the hits they produced.
AK: They were a hit machine. Obviously, as I grew older, I understood the impact of The Beatles a little better.
BW: We're talking about rock and pop. But the Sister City Jazz Ambassadors play a wide variety of music, from swing to pop to Irish music to jazz. Where did all that come from?
AK: Well, I think I took a different direction from a lot of musicians in my generation. I started out in rock bands, but after a while, playing a guitar and using a lot of distortion, it just wasn't something I was interested in. I was classically trained, and I eventually I moved away from three-chord song because I wanted to play something a little more intricate.
BW: I've always thought The Sister CityJazz Ambassadors were sort of a part-time gig. But you guys play a ton of dates every year. How many?
AK: Anywhere from 100 to 150, but I think closer to 150.
BW: You've already played a few times with Charles Neville. How has that been for you and your band?
AK: Well, Charles is a Grammy winner and a fantastic performer. We've played a few times, as you said, and we've hit it off. The thing I like about him is that he always makes himself available. He's very open to being accessible. He's spoken at the Berkshire Museum about growing up in the South as a musician, and all the crazy things that happened to him and his brothers. It's an amazing story, and I want more people to hear it.