A Consequential Career

During his 28 years at Berklee, Jay Kennedy, who retires in December, revamped the Contemporary Writing and Production Department as chair, and as vice president for Academic Affairs/vice provost he helped launch the Valencia campus and update college facilities.

November 22, 2022

One could feel exhaustion just reading the long list of Jay Kennedy’s accomplishments during his 28 years of service to the college and the achievements of his pre-Berklee musical career. The indefatigable Kennedy will retire on December 5 after a consequential career as Berklee’s vice president for Academic Affairs and vice provost. “It’s been fun,” he says with characteristic understatement. “There has been a variety of things that have kept me interested and engaged that I hope have in some way benefited Berklee.” 

Kennedy’s expertise and labor on some of Berklee’s highest-profile initiatives have indeed been impactful. For the launch of the Valencia campus, he worked on space design, financial planning, and curriculum and policy development. He also oversaw academic space planning for the recording and technology facilities at 160 Massachusetts Avenue and the renovation and updating of Berklee’s other academic buildings as well as recording studios A and C. He has stewarded Berklee’s capital and academic equipment operating budgets, and managed the implementation of the laptop purchase program and a reorganization of the Academic Technology Division. He expanded internships and experiential-learning opportunities for students, and assisted with the integration of Boston Conservatory faculty members into the Berklee Faculty Union. These are only a few highlights.

Jay Kennedy

Additionally, Kennedy deployed his formidable musical skills at Berklee by arranging and conducting music for several concerts in the Great American Songbook series and by producing the 2018 commencement concert celebrating the music and lives of Nile Rodgers, Esperanza Spalding B.M. ’05, and Rosanne Cash, who all received honorary doctorates that year. 

Kennedy has also served outside of Berklee as an adjudicator for drum and bugle corps, marching bands, and indoor percussion ensembles, as well as a composer and arranger for drum and bugle corps, percussion ensembles, symphonic wind bands, and jazz acts. Notably, he penned arrangements for the Grammy-nominated Virtuosi album by vibraphonist Gary Burton ’62 ’89H and pianist Makoto Ozone ’83 ’03H.

“I love all kinds of music,” he says. “I am involved as a judge and administrator for Drum Corps International and have been judging for them since the mid-seventies. For 10 or 11 years I wrote for one of the groups and was the brass arranger and program coordinator for the Boston Crusaders.”

Kennedy, who spent his childhood in Franklin, Pennsylvania, and high school years in Kenosha, Wisconsin, left a successful career in Los Angeles as a jingle writer and orchestrator for movies and television to accept a post in 1994 as chair of Berklee’s Commercial Arranging Department. “The job description for the chair position described what I’d been doing every day: using technology to create tracks and combining acoustic instruments with electronic ones,” Kennedy recalls. “At that point, I had been doing jingles for almost 20 years, starting in Chicago and later founding my own jingle company in L.A.” During this time, Kennedy wrote commercials for such corporations as Coca-Cola, Pontiac, McDonald's, and Nike, working regularly with top L.A. studio musicians, including Berklee alumni, such as Vinnie Colaiuta ’75, Neil Stubenhaus ’75, and Abe Laboriel Sr. ’72 ’05H. For various reasons, Kennedy felt the time was right for a change of career and locale, and moved his family to Boston. 

"Keeping the student experience at the forefront has always been the guide in making these decisions."

— Jay Kennedy

“Berklee’s arranging curriculum hadn’t caught up with the technological tools arrangers were using,” he says. “I was charged by Joe Smith [Berklee’s Writing Division dean at the time] to bring things up to speed. With help from faculty members, we designed new courses, updated several, and eliminated a few. We also changed the department name to Contemporary Writing and Production to reflect changes that were happening in the music business.” Kennedy and his colleagues also added business courses to teach students about contracts, fee structures, and more. 

Incorporating new courses wasn’t hard, but eliminating some existing ones was, he says, adding, “There are so many choices for students, but you can’t do everything. We strive to maintain history and tradition in the curriculum while addressing how students are learning today and where they will be going in the industry.” The mixture he landed on paved the way for contemporary arranging and production to become the third most popular major at the college.

Jay Kennedy

In 2001, Kennedy became Berklee’s assistant vice president for Academic Affairs, and was later named vice president for Academic Affairs and vice provost. “I might be weird for saying this, but I’ve always enjoyed administrative work,” he says, laughing. “I like being involved in strategic conversations about the direction of a division or the whole institution and helping people do what they want to do and become more successful.” 

His favorite part of his job? “Of course, the people,” he says. “I enjoyed working with the students as a department chair and on the concerts I produced with student musicians. I enjoyed their energy and freshness. Working with faculty members has always been a highlight. They are creative and energetic and bring so much to the institution. It’s been great working with the upper administration and trying to determine where we go next and balance the desires with the pressures. Keeping the student experience at the forefront has always been the guide in making these decisions.” 

In retirement, he plans to dive deeper into writing music for winds and percussion, and to continue to judge in marching-arts activities. In July, a new piece by Kennedy was performed in Washington, D.C., by the U.S. Army Field Band “Pershing’s Own.” Kennedy has maintained ties to Northwestern University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in music education and master’s degree in percussion performance. (He later earned a Ph.D. in higher education administration from Boston College.) Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble has commissioned works from him and featured his music in performances earlier this year. His longtime friend and colleague (and now fiancée) from Northwestern, Mallory Thompson, is director of band programs and heads the conducting program at Northwestern, and champions symphonic wind music. This fall, Kennedy will marry Thompson in Evanston, Illinois.

As for the upcoming changes in his life, Kennedy says, “I look forward to not having to get up for 9 o’clock meetings! I anticipate staying busy doing the things I haven’t been able to get around to.”

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