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30 years live
Ken Kilian and his bands celebrate anniversary this year
Saxtet 2
Ken Kilian (right) is pictured with Chris Riddle (second from left), son of musician Nelson Riddle, and Harry Connick Sr. (second from right), father of Harry Connick Jr., after a performance with Riddle.

For 30 years, Ken Kilian and various iterations of his bands have been entertaining fans of big band music and jazz throughout the Tri-States, at concerts, wedding receptions and other events.

Ken Kilian Live Musical Services will celebrate its 30th anniversary at the Hotel Julien in Dubuque Sunday at 5 p.m.

The 30th anniversary party will be followed by an appearance by Kilian’s Classic Big Band at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa — the site of Buddy Holly’s last concert — Aug. 11, and a Veterans Day concert at the Platteville Municipal Building auditorium Nov. 10.

As far as Kilian is concerned, the word “live” in his business’ title is the key word.

“Seeing and hearing someone perform causes a connection between listener and performer that just doesn’t happen with recorded music,” he said. “There have been so many times after a wedding reception where people come up to the band and tell us how much they enjoyed having a live band perform for them. I’ve been very fortunate to have performed thousands of engagements all across the country and aboard cruise ships sailing to all parts of the world … opportunities that I would never have had if it weren’t for the ability to perform live music.”

Kilian, a former high school band instructor, has been playing a saxophone for more than 40 years. He listened to Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman while growing up.

“In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the Platteville area seemed to have more than its share of talented saxophonists, and many of them said, ‘we should put together a band that features a five-saxophone section with a rhythm section,” said Kilian. “This was mentioned many times, but no one actually assembled the players and music together to make it happen, so I finally decided to take the bull by the horns and make this group happen.”

The first group, the Saxtet, made its first performance at the University of Dubuque Quadrangle on June 23, 1983.

“Since that time, we have developed smaller musical groups for weddings and other parties along with a full big band to perform concerts and dance events,” said Kilian. “This diversity and versatility has helped to keep the musical services in business for the past 30 years.”

Kilian’s groups include the Classic Big Band, with five saxophones, “six to eight” brass players, a rhythm section and a vocalist; the Saxtet, with five saxophones added to a trumpet, trombone and rhythm section; the Swingtet, with a singer, two saxophones, a trumpet, a trombone and a rhythm section; and two combos — Satin Jazz, with a singer, piano player, and Kilian on “various implements”; and the Hot Six, a trumpet, trombone, sax and rhythm section that performs “anything from Dixieland to soft rock, big band, to straight ahead jazz.”

Kilian now listens to Gordon Goodwin, Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr. and Eddie Daniels. His favorite composers include “people like Bach, Beethovan, Mozart,” and “a lot of young composers who are giving the listeners plenty of new twists...people like Steven Hobert and his group Firefly Forest. I like to keep my ears open for new sounds in the world today, but my favorite style to play is still the swing and jazz that I’ve grown up with.”

Kilian has played with several other groups, and formerly was the River Ridge High School music instructor.
“I just like to make music; it’s as simple as that,” he said. “There’s something about taking a piece of pipe (instrument), and making some good sounds with other musicians that is very rewarding. It’s a team of sorts, and performing well is the victory.”