Composer/pianist Daniel Kelly transforms the stories of everyday people into dramatic and compelling music that blends jazz, classical and folk music into a signature sound.

Through a series of eleven commissioned works, Kelly traveled throughout the United States collecting stories from farmers, immigrants, hurricane survivors, teachers, students, seniors and many others of all backgrounds from ages 4 to 94.

Audiences around the country have been deeply moved by his innovative joining of journalism and music that seamlessly blends recorded interviews with stunning, original compositions performed by Kelly’s band of world-class musicians.

Daniel has performed with many important artists who are world-famous in the fields of jazz (Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Don Byron), classical (The Bang on a Can All-Stars) and pop (Lauryn Hill), to name a few -  but the experience of meeting with everyday people and creating music inspired by their individual lives has brought him the most personal sense of meaning.

“The goal of my project Listening to America is to honor the stories of each unique individual, while at the same time celebrating our similarities through music. I see my mission in this project as fostering compassion between us as citizens. That by hearing someone’s life story and point of view, we may all be more understanding with one another.”

In addition to his Listening to America projects (formerly called Rakonto), Kelly has composed for several jazz ensembles, chamber orchestra, string quartet, multi-media theater works & film.

An artist who has been called, “stunningly original” with “a visionary imagination”, Kelly has created works that engage audiences of all ages like All the World’s a Song: Jazz Vocalists Sing Shakespeare, his interpretation of Shakespeare’s works into fresh and dynamic jazz songs and Blind Visionaries, his multi-media collaboration with the pioneering group of visually-impaired photographers, the Seeing with Photography Collective.

Daniel toured throughout Southeast Asia and India as a part of the Kennedy Center and US State department-sponsored Jazz Ambassador program. Other notable international performances include benefit concerts for orphan children in the Kangemi slums of Nairobi, Kenya and a concert for the president of Costa Rica.

(Photo credit: Seeing with Photography Collective)

(Photo credit: Seeing with Photography Collective)

Daniel is the recipient numerous grants including the Chamber Music America/ASCAP Adventurous Programming Award, the Chamber Music America Residency Partnership Grant & New York State Arts Council Individual Artist Grant and the Aaron Copland Fund.

Daniel has released five CDs of original compositions, including World, which blends Afro-Cuban and Brazilian music and features guest DJ, RJD2; Duets with Ghosts, which combines samples of voices from old archival recordings with a hard-edged Downtown New York electric quartet; Portal, an improvised solo piano suite that arose from his continuing series of improvised solo piano concerts; Emerge, a new take on the jazz piano trio, infusing it with the energy and drive of rock music; and Rakonto: A Sounding of Community Voices which features the voices and stories of immigrants living in one of New York City’s most ethnically diverse communities. 

I remain convinced that Daniel Kelly is one of the most stunningly original talents both as an improviser and a leader that I have known in a long career of promoting this art form. His musical ideas spring naturally from a visionary imagination.
— Paul Pines, Artistic Director, Lake George Jazz Festival

Daniel has exhibited his commitment to arts education and young audiences by performing in schools and in artistic multi-media works for family audiences.  His most notable collaborator is storyteller David Gonzalez. In addition to performing in hundreds of schools, they have toured to scores of performing art centers throughout the US and Canada and the Royal National Theatre in London. They developed several multi-media theatrical works, including The Frog Bride, the Drama Desk-nominated work that premiered at the New Victory Theater on Broadway and incorporated Daniel’s music with the music of Russian composer Prokofiev and video images of paintings by Kandinsky. Their collaborations Sleeping Beauty and Man of the House both enjoyed sold-out runs at the Kennedy Center. David and Daniel have been featured repertory artists at Lincoln Center Education since 2002.

Daniel's Student Songwriting Project was awarded a Chamber Music America Residency Partnership Grant to work with middle school students in the classroom, setting their lyrics to music. These were performed at the Queens Jazz Overground Jazz Festival and recorded on CDs that were distributed to the participating students.

Daniel is a co-founder and co-artistic director of Connection Works, one of the leading artist-run music organizations on the forefront of the thriving Brooklyn jazz scene. Since 2007, he has organized and presented over 200 concerts featuring world-renowned jazz artists such as NEA Jazz Masters Dave Liebman and Shelia Jordan and MacArthur "Genius" Grant awardees Dafnis Prieto, Steve Coleman and John Hollenbeck. Connection Works has been supported by several grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Cary Fund, the Aaron Copland Fund, Meet the Composer and the New York Department of Cultural Affairs.