Jimmy Keane

 Irish music’s accordion virtuoso Jimmy Keane was born in London to Irish-speaking parents from Connemara and Kerry who encouraged him to take up traditional Irish music.  His father Jimmy was a magnificent sean-nos (old style) singer. 


Jimmy’s accomplishments are far reaching. He has achieved astonishing and unprecedented success in competitive playing, having won five consecutive All-Ireland titles on the piano accordion.  He has always been an avid collector and arranger of old tunes and is becoming increasingly known for his original compositions, many of which have become part of the mainstream of traditional Irish music around the world.  He also has recorded and produced numerous albums


Jimmy’s early instrumental musical influences were local greats Joe Cooley, Kevin Keegan, Balbriggan’s Paddy Gavin (button accordion), Johnny McGreevy (fiddle), Kevin Henry (flute), Joe Shannon (uilleann pipes) and Eleanor Neary (piano) along with the many other fine Irish musicians in Chicago.


Many regard Keane as the premier exponent of traditional Irish music on the piano accordion. Noted University of Limerick Professor, composer, and musician Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin praised Keane as the “savior of the piano accordion.”  eMusic described him as “one of the true giants of Irish traditional music of the past fifty years,” and the voice of Ireland, singer-songwriter Christy Moore, described Jimmy’s playing as “wild and beautiful.”


In the early 1970s Jimmy began playing with his Chicago contemporaries, the brilliant fiddler Liz Carroll, and flute player and stepdancer Michael Flatley (of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance fame).


During those formative years, his playing took on a new dimension as he became exposed to the many styles of traditional music both in America and Ireland.  The style of piano accordion playing that Jimmy has developed is vastly different from other exponents of the instrument and it has caused many people to reexamine their attitude to the often-maligned accordion.  He has incorporated the techniques, ornamentation, and subtleties used by fiddlers, uilleann pipers, flute players, and button accordionists.  In the process, he has created a unique approach to the playing of traditional Irish music on his instrument.


He joined with banjoist and singer Mick Moloney and guitarist and singer-songwriter Robbie O’Connell in the early 1980s to form Moloney, O’Connell & Keane with whom he recorded two critically acclaimed albums:  “There Were Roses” and “Kilkelly.”  He was also featured in the highly acclaimed BBC TV series and recording, “Bringing It All Back Home,” and was featured on the soundtrack and recording for the award winning PBS documentary “Out Of Ireland.”


In the mid-1980’s he became part of the revamped Green Fields of America with Mick Moloney, Robbie O’Connell, fiddler Eileen Ivers (Riverdance), multi-instrumentalist Seamus Egan (Solas) and recorded an album called “The Green Fields of America: Live”.


During the late 1980s Jimmy began playing with internationally acclaimed guitarist Dennis Cahill (of Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill fame) and continues performing with Dennis whenever the opportunity presents itself.


In the mid-1990s Jimmy and Robbie O’Connell formed the group Aengus and recorded “All on a Christmas Morning” for the RCA Victor label.


Jimmy founded Bohola in 1999 with Pat Broaders (bouzouki and vocal) and recorded several albums on the Shanachie and Bohola Music labels.  The latest bohola release, “Jimmy Keane & Pat Broaders” was awarded “Celtic Album of the Year” from Just Plain Folks and “Vocal/Instrumental Album of the Year” from the Irish American News.


In 2010, Jimmy was named “Male Musician of the Year” by the Irish American News and co-wrote the soundtrack for the PBS documentary “Irish Chicago”.  In 2011, Jimmy was honored with the “Male Musician of the Decade” award by Live Ireland and by the Irish American News.


In addition to his solo work, Jimmy currently performs with Bohola and is part of Joanie Madden’s touring ensemble “An Irish Homecoming” along with Cherish the Ladies, Maura O’Connell, Liz Carroll, and Dermot Henry.  He also is performing once again as part of Moloney, O’Connell & Keane and also performing alongside Liz Carroll.


Bohola is featured on Folksongs of Illinois, vol. 4: Chicago Since 1945.