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Nigel Kennedy
Born 28 December 1956 (1956-12-28) (age 53)
United Kingdom Brighton, England
Genres Jazz, Classical
Occupations Violinist, violist
Instruments Violin, viola
Years active 1966-present
Notable instruments
Guarneri del Gesu, 'La Fonte' c.1735, Stradivari, Scott Cao, Johannes Finkel bow, Violectra electric violin

Nigel Kennedy (born 28 December 1956) is an English violinist and violist.



Nigel Kennedy was born in Brighton, East Sussex, and comes from a musical lineage. His grandfather was Lauri Kennedy, a British-born musician and principal cellist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra[1] who played with Fritz Kreisler, Jascha Heifetz, Arthur Rubinstein and others. His grandmother was Dorothy Kennedy, a pianist, who accompanied John McCormack and taught Enrico Caruso's children. Lauri and Dorothy settled in Australia where their son, the cellist John Kennedy, was born. He was principal cellist of Sir Thomas Beecham's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. John had a relationship with an English piano teacher, Scylla Stoner. John left Scylla (they were unmarried) to return to Australia. He did not know she was pregnant by him at the time, and for many years was unaware of the existence of his son, Nigel Kennedy, whom he met for the first time when Nigel was 11.[2] Nigel Kennedy has about 30 close relatives in Australia, whom he visits whenever he tours Australia.[3]

A boy prodigy, as a 10-year-old Kennedy would pick out Fats Waller tunes on the piano after hearing his stepfather's jazz records.[4] A pupil at the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music himself, Kennedy later studied at the Juilliard School in New York with Dorothy DeLay.



At the age of 16, Kennedy was invited by Stéphane Grappelli to appear with him at New York's Carnegie Hall, under the threat from his teachers at the Juilliard that it would ruin his classical career.[5] He made his recording debut in 1984 with the Elgar Violin Concerto. Kennedy's recording ofVivaldi's The Four Seasons with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1989 sold over 2 million copies and earned a place as one of the best-selling classical works ever.[6] The album remained top of the UK classical charts for over a year with sales equivalent to one copy sold every 30 seconds of every day.[7] He has also performed and recorded most of the major violin concerti.

After numerous performances for The Prince's Trust, the Royal Variety Performance and private performances at St James Palace and Buckingham Palace, he released his biography Always Playing in 1991[8] He then took the controversial and highly publicised decision to withdraw completely from public performance, at which point he made the album Music In Color with Stephen Duffy. He made a triumphant return to the international concert platform to critical acclaim five years later.[7] In 1997, Kennedy received an award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music at the BRIT Awards, and in 2001 received the 'Male Artist of the Year' award.[7]

In 1999 Sony Classical released The Kennedy Experience, which featured improvisational recordings of Jimi Hendrix compositions. According to a BBC interview with Kennedy, the violinist stated that the recording is "an album of music inspired by Jimi Hendrix. It is an extended instrumental work in six movements, each movement a classical interpretation of a Hendrix song".[9] On the recording, Kennedy is accompanied by seven other musicians, and the lineup includes two cellos, an oboe, two guitars, a Dobro, flute, and double bass. With cellist Lynn Harrell, he has recorded an album of duets.

In late 2005, Kennedy went to New York to record his first album for the jazz label Blue Note Records. Other musicians on the album were Ron Carter on double bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums; and saxophonist Joe Lovano. Kennedy has since stated that "from now on, at least 50 per cent of my endeavour is going to be in the jazz field".[4] He has also recorded The Doors Concerto (with Jaz Coleman), a violin based orchestral version of many Doors songs, including Strange Days, LA Woman, The End, and Riders On The Storm.

He has been exploring Klezmer music with the Polish jazz band Kroke. The band consists of musicians "who have been knocking around with Kennedy for five years. ... [Kennedy explains], 'I met them all separately at jam sessions in the jazz club near where I live in Cracow, ... I thought: that’s the drummer I want, that’s the bass player, and so on. They’ve all got their own projects.'"[10]

On 27 November 2000, Kennedy joined rock group The Who at the Royal Albert Hall to play the violin solo on the song "Baba O'Riley", released three years latter on the album Live at the Royal Albert Hall. Kennedy has played on several tracks by British singer/songwriter Kate Bush, who was a guest on Kennedy's episode of This Is Your Life. He was featured on two of Sarah Brightman's songs for her 2003 album Harem.

Kennedy appointed a new manager, Terri Robson, and returned to the Proms after an absence of 21 years, performing Elgar's Violin Concerto and a late-night Prom with the Nigel Kennedy Quintet.

He also plays the viola, and has recorded Sir William Walton's Viola Concerto.[11]


Kennedy's carefully maintained loutish persona is seen by some as abrasive and limiting to his career,[12] citing as an example his use of a 'Mockney' accent instead of the Received Pronunciation he had when he was interviewed as a child in 1964 on the BBC's Town and Around.[13]

Kennedy was attacked for his approach to classical music by John Drummond in 1991, calling him "a Liberace for the Nineties" and criticised his "ludicrous clothes and grotesque, self-invented accent."[14][15]

Until 2006 he had expressed his intention of not appearing on the classical London concert scene with a London orchestra, seen by some as arrogance[5] and stated by Kennedy in terms of frustrated perfectionism: "It all comes down to the amount of rehearsal you get, or don't get, in this country. I insist on three or four sessions prior to a concert, and orchestral administrators won't accommodate that. If I didn't care about getting it right I could do three concerts in the same amount of time and earn three times the money. But you can't do something properly in less time than it takes."[5]

Kennedy expresses a preference[16] for the immediate appeal of live performance, and often records entire works or movements in single 'takes' to preserve this sense in his recordings. He also introduces improvisatory elements in his performances, as in his Jimi Hendrix-inspired cadenza to the Beethoven violin concerto and his jazz and fusion recordings.

Personal life

When not touring, Kennedy divides his time between residences in Malvern, Worcestershire (where his ex-partner and son Sark live); and London and Kraków where he lives with his Polish second wife, Agnieszka.[5][4][17][18]

In the late 80s, Kennedy was romantically involved with singer/guitarist Brix Smith.

Away from his musical career, Kennedy jogs and is a passionate English Premiership football club Aston Villa supporter. As well as being a season ticket holder he can frequently be seen at away matches sitting with fans. Kennedy frequently displays his love for the club as can be seen in all his public appearances, which will see him wearing replica shirts or scarves. He once painted his then Jaguar motor car in their colours, claret & blue, with the words 'Villa Rule' sprayed on the bonnet - a treatment also meted out to various other possessions such as his electric violin.

Whilst living and recording in Poland he took an active interest in Cracovia, in whose 100th anniversary club replica kit he appeared.

On 24 October 2006, Kennedy broke his arm in a cycling accident, confirmed in an interview on BBC Radio 3 on 20 April 2007.[19]

On 18 April 2008, Kennedy appeared on ITV lunchtime show Loose Women to promote his new album.


Kennedy supported David Davis's campaign when he quit his shadow home secretary post to force a by election in protest over proposals to allow terrorist suspects to be locked up for 42 days without charge.

The musician is a vocal opponent of Israel's policies in the West Bank, and, in the summer of 2007, he told a Ha'aretz reporter:

"I was shocked to see these walls, it's a new apartheid, barbaric behaviour: How can you impose such a collective punishment and separate people? After all, we are all living on the same planet. It seems to me the world should have already learned from what happened in South Africa. And a country that hasn't learned should be boycotted, so that's why I don't perform in your country."[20]


Year Album Notes
2008 A Very Nice Album Nigel Kennedy Quintet (Nigel Kennedy, electric violin; Adam Kowalewski, bass; Paweł Dobrowolski, drums; Tomasz Grzegorski, tenor sax; Piotr Wyleżoł, piano) with vocals by Xantoné Blacq; Sylwia Wójcik, cello; Suzy Willison-Kawalec, harp;
Beethoven & Mozart Violin Concertos Polish Chamber Orchestra
2007 Polish Spirit Polish Chamber Orchestra, Jacek Kaspszyk
The Platinum Collection
2006 The Bluenote Sessions
Kennedy, Live at La Citadelle (DVD) Polish Chamber Orchestra
Inner Thoughts
Nigel Kennedy Plays Bach Irish Chamber Orchestra
2005 Legend: Beethoven and Bruch (CD+DVD) NDR Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt / English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
2004 Vivaldi II Berliner Philharmoniker
2003 Vivaldi Berliner Philharmoniker
East Meets East with Kroke
2002 Greatest Hits
2000 Kennedy Plays Bach (as Kennedy)
The Doors Concerto (as Kennedy)
Duos for Violin & Cello as Kennedy with Lynn Harrell
1999 Classic Kennedy (as Kennedy)
1999 The Kennedy Experience (as Kennedy)
1998 Kreisler (as Kennedy)
1997 Elgar & Vaughan Williams (as Kennedy), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
1996 Kafka
1993 Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
1992 Beethoven: Violin Concerto NDR Symphony Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
Sibelius: Violin Concerto / Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle / London Philharmonic Orchestra, Okko Kamu
1991 Brahms: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 77 London Philharmonic Orchestra, Klaus Tennstedt
1989 Vivaldi: The Four Seasons English Chamber Orchestra
1988 Sibelius: Violin Concerto City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
Bruch, Schubert & Mendelssohn English Chamber Orchestra, Jeffrey Tate
1987 Let Loose
Walton: Viola Concerto City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Sir Simon Rattle
1986 Bartók & Duke Ellington with Alec Dankworth
Tchaikovsky & Chausson
1984 Elgar: Violin Concerto in B minor, Op. 61 London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vernon Handley
Salut d'Amour & Other Elgar Favourites
Nigel Kennedy Plays Jazz


Nigel Kennedy has owned or used violins by:


  1. ^ John White, Lionel Tertis
  2. ^ NSW HSC online
  3. ^ Limelight, February 2008
  4. ^ a b c Nigel Kennedy: All jazzed up The Independent - 5 December 2007
  5. ^ a b c d "If you need a pillock, call me", The Guardian, 29 September 2006
  6. ^ Not quite Vivaldi: Nigel Kennedy remembers Hendrix - 23 August 1999.
  7. ^ a b c "We may play dead composers' works, but we don't have to look as if we're still at the funeral", - Nigel Kennedy ClassicFM
  8. ^ Always Playing - Nigel Kennedy Pub - Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1 Jan 1991. ISBN 0-2978-1209-2
  9. ^ Interview with Nigel Kennedy on his album of Jimi Hendrix compositions from the BBC News website
  10. ^ Richard Morrison "Nigel Kennedy returns to the BBC Proms", The Times, 11 July 2008.
  11. ^ Nigel Kennedy and the viola
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Nigel Kennedy: All jazzed up The Independent - 2 April 2007
  15. ^
  16. ^ booklet Beethoven violin concerto (1992)
  17. ^ "Nigel Kennedy tries less spit, more Polish", The Times, 26 October 2007.
  18. ^ "Nigel Kennedy is back. Nigel Kennedy is back from the Polish wilderness with a fine new album."
  19. ^ (registration required)
  20. ^ "First violin / Prelude to dialogue". Noam Ben Zeev . Ha'aretz, 24 December 2007.

External links


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