Gerald L. “Jerry” Kelsey…an Appreciation

Posted on April 19th, 2023

It’s said that context is necessary for understanding a person’s life, and when Jerry Kelsey burst onto the Drum Corps scene, he brought with him his very own context. In the “Chariots of the Gods” era of the 1970’s, one could be forgiven for pondering whether Jerry was actually of this world. The limits that Newtonian calculus, Einsteinian physics, and the Earth itself had previously imposed didn’t seem to apply to our activity after he arrived.

To begin with, he could play anything, be it soprano, baritone or mellophone, as if, like blues legend Robert Johnson, he had made some pact with the devil in the Batavia woods. “Prodigy” doesn’t really cut it. The kid was flat out scary.

Naturally, this led to drum-majoring, instructing, and arranging and it didn’t hurt that he circled within the orbit of Corky Fabrizio, also a potential intergalactic visitor whose influence was, well, astronomical.

By the time Jerry graduated from Mighty St. Joe’s College, Purple Lancers University, and Fredonia, and was turned loose on the Tour de Drum Corps, all the rest of us could do was buckle up and hang on.

His arrangements and the sounds he extracted from his brass lines refreshed the musical landscape like a frozen margarita in the Sahara. His fluency in all genres and styles was remarkable: Russian Christmas Music (Crossmen), Cape Verdean Blues (Rochester Crusaders), Biebl’s Ave Maria (SF Renegades), Empire’s “Maynard” show, charts for Suncoast, Madison, Kilties, Boston, Reading Bucs, dozens of band shows…His wellspring seemed inexhaustible. This was not a new sheriff in town, it was a whole new town.

Yet, for all his impact and influence, Jerry maintained a remarkably balanced demeanor, promoting the accomplishments of his colleagues while underplaying his own.

A true polymath, he became an acclaimed music teacher, mentor, clinician, adjudicator, published arranger, and the founder of Custom Arranging Services, providing charts skillfully tailored for specific clients. These would be no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, mass marketed, off-the-shelf Kelsey music. Each work was unique, like the man himself. 

And then there was the brilliant visual artistry of his photography. He could play the camera, too.

And now he’s left us, after giving us all the spirit and energy he had, and the gift of a brand new context. Let’s make the most of it.

Details – Friends may call Saturday, May 13 from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Robinson & Hackemer Funeral Home, 246 North Main Street, Warsaw. A celebration of life will be held immediately following visitation and until 6 PM at the Warsaw Moose Lodge, North Main Street, Warsaw. Burial will be in Warsaw Cemetery at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to HomeCare & Hospice, 563 West Main Street, Arcade, NY 14009. Online condolences at

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