Charlie Kennedy dies at 81; alto saxophonist played in Gene Krupa’s big band

Charlie Kennedy, a talented alto saxophonist who was best known for his association with Gene Krupa’s big band in the 1940s, has died. He was 81.

Kennedy died April 3 of pulmonary disease at his home in Ventura, according to his daughter Lorraine Sutton.

The best years of Kennedy’s career were the 1940s, when he played with Louis Prima’s big band. His fine tenor solo can be heard on Prima’s 1943 version of “The White Cliffs of Dover.”

He moved on to lead his own quartet before joining Krupa’s big band from 1945 to 1948 and was the featured soloist on a number of recordings, including “How High the Moon,” “Disc Jockey Jump” and “I Should Have Kept on Dreaming.”

While living in the East, Kennedy also played with a number of other leading bands, including groups led by Charlie Ventura, Flip Phillips and Chico O’Farrill.


After moving to the West Coast in 1950, he played with Med Flory, Bill Holman’s orchestra and, most notably, Terry Gibbs’ Dream Band from 1959 to 1962.

He was also an active studio musician, playing on popular movies, including “My Fair Lady” and “West Side Story.”

But by the early 1970s, Kennedy basically gave up his alto career for a more traditional full-time job to support his family, which by then included six children. By day he ran the shipping department at Federal Stamping in Van Nuys, but in the evenings he sometimes sat in on jazz gigs around town.

He retired from Federal Stamping in 1994 and moved to Ventura in 2004 to be closer to his daughter.

A native of Staten Island, N.Y., he was born Charles Sumner Kennedy on July 2, 1927.

He grew up in Weehawken, N.J., and started playing clarinet at age 8.

He played in school bands and orchestras and by the age of 18 had his first professional appearance when he joined Prima’s band. Prima hired him right out of high school.

Kennedy’s wife, Ellen, died in 1980.

In addition to Sutton, he is survived by his children Glen Kennedy of Woodland Hills; Joan Tiearney of Carson City, Nev.; Edward Kennedy of Simi Valley; Michael Kennedy of Canoga Park; and John Kennedy of Simi Valley. He is also survived by his sister Joan Dyer of Redondo Beach, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life is being planned.