Clarinetist Kim Cusack has died at 84.

One of the great Chicago jazzmen, clarinetist Kim Cusack, died on June 2nd at 84 years old. Ten days earlier he appeared at the final meeting of the Madison Jazz Society in Wisconsin as part of Bob Schultz’ Frisco Jazz Band, closing out a career spanning seven decades.

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Cusack began playing in fifth grade band, learning clarinet because his arms weren’t long enough for trombone. His first paid gigs were playing sax at school dances just before jazz fell out of favor with his peers. He became friends with pianist James Dapogney since both lived in Chicago Suburbs. For their first band they joined with Mike Walbridge in a group called the Chicago Stompers that had a five night a week gig at the Blue Dahlia. After that group dissolved all three would join Wayne Jones in Ted Butterman’s band. They were competing for gigs with current star players, and playing the same venues as jazz legends of the 20s and 30s. It was a remarkable time to be in Chicago.

Kim Cusack became the regular clarinetist for the Salty Dogs’ Chicago area gigs in late 1957. He must be among the members with the longest tenure at over 65 years! Together they played all the major jazz festivals for decades and recorded a number of great albums.

While the Salty Dogs were his longest musical association he played with nearly everyone in the area and beyond. Other groups or musicians he appeared with include Mike Walbridge’s The Chicago Footwarmers, Will Bill Davison, Georg Brunies, Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings, Ernie Carson’s Original Cottonmouth Jazz Band and Castle Jazz Band, The Neo Passé Swing Quintette, The Jungle Crawlers, George Buck’s Jazzology All Stars, Red Rose Ragtime Band, James Dapogny’s Chicagoans, Andy’s Windy City All Stars, Carl Sonny Leyland, The New Valley Jazz Band, Petra van Nuis and Andy Brown, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, and many others. He was also a member of Ted Butterman’s Chicago Cubs Dixieland Band, playing in the stands between innings and at the 7th inning stretch.

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Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band
Photo by Bess Wade: Bob Schulz’s Frisco Jazz Band in Madison Wisconsin, 5/21/2023
Left to right: Ray Skjelbred, piano – Ray Templin, drums – Kim Cusack, clarinet – Dave Bock, tuba – Scott Anthony, banjo – Bob Schulz, cornet – Tom Bartlett, trombone

Kim Cusack was a close friend and mentor to many musicians in the Chicago area and around the country. There were many heartfelt remembrances shared after his passing. I recommend a three part tribute on Michael Steinman’s Jazz Lives blog which features select YouTube Videos, including clips from a longer 2018 interview.

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

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