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Joe Kelly (musician)

Joe Kelly is an American Jazz musician.

Joe Kelly was a successful jazz musician in Chicago during the 1970s , frequently playing to a full room five nights a week. He headlined the band along with Barrett Deems, Quinn Wilson, Johnny Board, Mike Huniford, Paul Quinn and Larry Barr. Joe semi-retired from Jazz in the 1980s.

He began a second career playing post call[1] at some of the bigger horse races around the country. However, his main post with the post call was at Arlington Park Race Track in Illinois.[2] It is the brief "Boots and Saddles" tune and a little bit of jazz that has made bugler Joe Kelly a legend[3][4] among horse racing fans across the country for more than twenty years.


Early life

As an orphan, he joined the ranks of St. Mary's Training School for Boys at age six in 1946. The northwest suburban facility changed its name to Maryville Academy three years later. Seven years after arriving at Maryville, Kelly met a 12-year-old female student there named Maxine. She would later become his wife. He also met his musical destiny there.

"They made us take music classes and by the time I was 11, I was on the trumpet," recalls Kelly. "By 13, I was in the Academy Jazz Band."

After four years in the U.S. Air Force Band, Kelly sold insurance and played music on the side, until 1969. At a time when the turbulent 1960s were coming to a close, Joe Kelly's Four-Plus-One Band won an audition to play regularly at the once famous Gaslight Lounge at 13 E. Huron St. in downtown Chicago.

Jazz musician

The live jazz and laid-back dance and dining rooms were still cool then, and so was the little gregarious trumpet player who fronted the band that later grew to six musicians and three female singers. He would become music director at the Gaslight for nearly twenty years.

"Joe was a great entertainer and a great personality on stage", recalls Bill Thayer, longtime Arlington Park official and member of the Gaslight Lounge. "His music and personality kept the Gaslight going. They came to see Joe Kelly." After a break from one show downtown, Thayer, upon the suggestion of friend Ted Kowolski, asked Kelly if he'd come out to Arlington to call the horses to the post with his trumpet for the inaugural Arlington Million in 1981.

Post call

Thayer brought Arlington Park owner Joe Joyce to see Kelly play and they signed him up. "I started the '81 meet there in May, and they told me they wanted me all the time", Kelly states with a humorous shrug. "At $100 a day, six-days-a-week back then, well, I couldn't turn it down. I was out of there by 5 pm and didn't play at the club until 9 pm."

Following one too many late nights after the music gig and long days at the track, Kelly got impatient with the traditional call to the post. So rebelliously he added a long jazzy finish one day in June 1981. He didn't care if he got fired. He was miserable, tired and just wanted to go home and sleep. "Thayer called me into his office and said, 'Joyce called asking what the heck was you playing?' "

Kelly tells it. "Joyce liked it and so did the crowd. So instead of firing me, they gave me a $25 raise and told me to jazz it up like that a couple times a day." That is how Kelly's "signature" playing of the call to the post came to be. Since then, he's been entertaining fans with his music and outgoing personality at over 13 tracks throughout the country.

Tom Carey, Jr. hired Kelly to call the horses to the post at Hawthorne in 1986 when they stepped in for Arlington while the big track was rebuilt. Sportsman's Park asked for his services that same year and like Hawthorne, has ever since. He has even performed the past seven years for harness fans on Super Night at Balmoral Park.


How Kelly began a string of 15-straight years calling the horses to the post for The Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Maryland is one of those "horse stories."

Pimlico Race Course General Manager Chick Lang, Jr. called Thayer requesting Kelly trumpet the horses to The Preakness for the second leg of racing's Triple Crown, but Kelly says Thayer told him, "you send me two $5,000 claimers and I'll give you Joe!"

That's their story anyway, and they're sticking to it.

"He's the end of another era," says Thayer. "He was the first to ever 'jazz up" the call to the post. Other's have tried to imitate him, but Joe's an original."

What music and horse racing lovers in the crowd always saw in Kelly was the upbeat, positive fun-loving performer, whose sincere chatter with fans from every stage was part of the scenery. Without him putting smiles on a fan who lost a close one, or a jockey who worked a long one, the scenery would be a less creative one.


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