He grew up with parents and family who not only endorsed the musical charisma young Delaney evidently possessed from toddler-hood, but also fostered the ingenuity that career musicians thrive upon. “The piano was downstairs and a stack of records, and that’s how I got into Brazilian music, we didn’t have Elvis Presley records around. I remember Cannonball Adderley and the Bossa Rio Sextet. My uncle John played bass, and my dad played piano. We played, every family holiday. Even though, my dad and uncle were professional musicians, they were very democratic with all the kids, letting them see how they could fit in with what they were doing. It was family, and the kids ended up being smart enough, I learned thoroughly by ear. I took lessons, but little.”
Delaney’s father spent the work week in New York, while the family remained in their hometown of Whitman, Massachusetts, a smaller town about twenty five miles southeast of Boston. “He was really an advertising man, music never captured him like it captured me. He loved jazz music all his life, he was a piano player and a trumpeter.” Born in 1960, Delaney, along with his parents and sister, spent weekend evenings in cellar bars, where the bands would play, and as he remembers from youth, the men would brawl. “I’d sit in the rocking chair and stay still. My father, he’d point to my sister and say ‘up one flight’ when the guys would start up, but I knew if I was quiet I could stay, and I could listen.”
Delaney regards his heaviest influences to be the stylings of the genres Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican Salsa, Bebop Jazz, Caribbean, and modern day Funk. Around age twenty, Delaney set course for St. Thomas with his cousin. By submersing himself in the culture of Brazil, he claims he gained greater depth in understanding jazz, and music as a whole. “I studied music first-hand by hanging out, and merging in with the communities of central and southern America. There’s a difference between vacationing there, and actually living there.”
While he visited his Cape Cod home often, after the birth of his son, in his wife’s home country Sweden, Delaney moved back to the states full time. Though apparently genetic in musical aptitude, his son steered towards a less melodic career, focusing on design for cinematography instead. “I want him to work with me…he’s really basically into every aspect, he’s into cinematography and how it relates to music, I’m glad he’s not fighting the jazz wars like his dad, I’ll tell you, because it’s not easy.”
For Delaney, a career in music was never so much an option, as it was a given. “Well, I didn’t choose music, it chose me. I came from a musical family. I used to watch the guys, from the time I was three years old. It took me all of about ten seconds to get the music thing. I picked it up on my own. I’d ask my dad when he was shaving, about some tune, and he’d say ‘well, you need to know the melodic chords,’ or ‘this is a C chord,’ whatever it was, I was learning, and I loved it.”
Through his childhood Delaney brushed shoulders with rather impressive musicians, and indulged in the joy of playing alongside, and perhaps even impressing, them. “I came down to Florida with a trumpeter, Lou Colombo, who’s like a god to me. Our families go back to the forties. I first met Lou when I was about eleven or twelve years old. And, their whole family lived on Cape Cod. He was renowned, you know, its like, ‘wow, I’m meeting a real jazz player!’ He’d come over, he had his trumpet in the trunk, and he’d see I was playing, and he’d play with me. I idolized the guy, and then we got to be great friends, and we worked together quite frequently for thirty years.”
Colombo was more than an adequate acquaintance for Delaney, occasionally acting in the role of father figure, and growing as close to Delaney as a brother.
“One of my favorite human beings, I really learned the music business from him. You know, how to always keep busy, no matter what…he watched my back, took an interest in me. He made sure I didn’t get into too much trouble, back in the days when I could’ve.”
At 35, Delaney began working with the Artie Shaw Orchestra. At the time Shaw himself was conducting, while Delaney’s lifelong friend, Dick Johnson, led the orchestra. Through all the major U.S. cities and across the five continents this globe trotter has performed in, his favorite venue would be the seven year span he spent performing with the Joe Delaney Trio in the Black Cat Tavern set on the New England coast. This time, so enjoyed by the three men, was commemorated with a recording of their most cherished pieces of the time. The trio, comprised of himself, bassist Laird Boles, and drummer Steve Langone, agreed that the music they performed and composed was some of the best in their careers.
Now, at age 55, Delaney finds himself at an almost Phoenix-like tipping point; the point of adapting to changing standards and methods in the music industry, as well as truly comprising and composing music that express his journey and zeal. That is, the rebirth, or even reintroduction, of his already established career, a gentle reminder of the past as well as salutation to the future.
“I’m working on a new CD right now, my own compositions, that’s 100% unique to what I do. Any time I record, I might think, or be in the mind set of ‘what am I doing?’ When you’re young the most rewarding experience you get is to be able to please other musicians, who are older than you, that you idolize, one of the highest degree of accolades you can get. This time I’m playing music that’s not sell out, it’s authentic based on me and my personal influences; I’m finding my work comes out and all those influences come into it, so I got five strong influences and what I’m writing is, I don’t want to write stuff that’s accessible to only musicians. I want to write stuff that’s accessible and enjoyable for everyone, but I don’t, uh, prostitute my art, if you will. I still have top quality musicianship. And I want to reach the people.”
With roots planted in earliest jazz, he still views the advancement in digital musical production as a natural progression, and something he strives to incorporate into his own music. “I see it as a good thing. I have recordings I would never release. I can play a forty minute album, but just because I hit one wrong key, that nobody else would notice, it’s not good enough. I have the perfectionist bug. Anybody who’s got a good heart and who’s sincere about their music, I like. I like everything. I appreciate everybody who succeeded and most of the jazz pianist who are recognized? Ninety nine percent of them are sincere, and that’s what it’s about.”
By Emily Morauski