Connie Kay; Longtime Drummer With Modern Jazz Quartet

From Associated Press

Drummer Connie Kay, who joined the Modern Jazz Quartet in 1955 as Kenny Clarke’s replacement, has died at age 67.

He died in his sleep Wednesday night, a family spokesman said. Kay had a stroke in 1992 but had recovered enough to work.

Kay performed with the quartet during a “floating jazz festival” in the Caribbean in October.

He played triangle, chimes, timpani and finger cymbals in addition to standard drums. John Lewis used Kay’s mastery of those instruments in his composing for the MJQ, and other drummers in the 1950s were inspired to enlarge their drum kits.


Conrad Henry Kirnon was born April 27, 1927, in Tuckahoe, N.Y. He studied piano with his mother and taught himself to play drums. Among his first engagements were appearances in 1944 and 1945 with Miles Davis in Harlem. After touring the South, he joined Lester Young’s group in 1949. He sometimes played in small groups led by Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker.

He also performed and recorded with Chet Baker, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Heath, Paul Desmond, Tommy Flanagan and Benny Goodman.

Kay played on several early Van Morrison albums. According to The Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Kay’s “delicacy and precision . . . confirmed him as a first-class all-arounder.”

He is survived by his wife, Addie Kirnon, two sons and a grandson.