Joe Sullivan

Michael Joseph "Joe" O'Sullivan (November 4, 1906 – October 13, 1971) was an American jazz pianist.

Sullivan was the ninth child of Irish immigrant parents. He studied classical piano for 12 years and at age 17, he began to play popular music in a club where he was exposed to jazz. He graduated from the Chicago Conservatory and was an important contributor to the Chicago jazz scene of the 1920s. Sullivan's recording career began towards the end of 1927 when he joined McKenzie and Condon's Chicagoans. Other musicians in his circle included Jimmy McPartland, Frank Teschemacher, Bud Freeman, Jim Lanigan and Gene Krupa. In 1933, he joined Bing Crosby as his accompanist, recording and making many radio broadcasts. After suffering for two years with tuberculosis, he briefly rejoined Bing Crosby in 1938 and the Bob Crosby Orchestra in 1939.

By the 1950s, Sullivan was largely forgotten, playing solo in San Francisco. Marital difficulties and excessive drinking caused Sullivan to become increasingly unreliable and unable to keep a steady job, either as band member or soloist.

The British poet (and jazz pianist) Roy Fisher celebrated Sullivan's playing with a poem, "The Thing About Joe Sullivan", regarded by some critics as one of the best poems about jazz. Fisher also used that title for a book of his selected poems, because (he said) he felt Sullivan was a neglected master who deserved to have his name on the cover of a book.

By Dean Hanley

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