Dublin native and current New York resident James Keane is a true virtuoso, ranking among the greatest traditional musicians to emerge from Ireland in the past 30 years. The only accordionist ever to win three consecutive senior open All-Ireland championships, and a former member of the le...more
Button accordion master James Keane was born in Drimnagh, Dublin, in 1948 into an intensely musical family. He began playing the box at the age of six, and by the time he was ten, he was an active musician in the Dublin traditional music scene alongside greats such as Seamus Ennis and Sonny Brogan.
As a young teenager, Keane co-founded the Castle Ceili Band, which would go on win the All-Ireland Ceili Band Championship in 1965. Keane also won All-Irelands in soloist categories, including three consecutive wins in the senior division (a record that still stands unbroken).
As an adult, Keane and his brother, fiddler Seán Keane teamed up with flautist Mick O’Connor to assemble a group of musicians that would become the musical “melting pot from which the Chieftans would emerge.” The gentlemen included Joe Ryan, John Dwyer, Liam Rowsome, Michael Tubridy, Bridie Lafferty, John Kelly, and were drawn from both the Castle Ceili Band as well as Sean O’Riada’s legendary Ceoltoiri Cualann (the first Irish band ever assembled for the purpose of the music only, without regard to dancers).
During the Dublin folk-revival during the mid-1960s, Keane became a powerful mentor for many of Irish Trad music’s most well known musicians, including singer/guitarist/composer Paul Brady and multi-instrumentalist-turned-musicologist Dr. Mick Moloney.
1967 brought Keane to America for a tour with accordionist Joe Burke, flautist Paddy Carty, and the Loughrea Ceili Band. Keane felt the palpable opportunity America had to offer Irish music, and moved to New York in 1968. Once established in the city, Keane was invited to play everywhere from Madison Square Garden to Carnegie Hall, and was hailed as "the accordionist, who swung through reels with such exciting drive that he virtually lifted the audience out of their seats,” (music critic John S Wilson).
During his first years in New York, Keane recorded his first solo albums for Rex Records, 1980 brought a move to Nova Scotia to become a member of the band Ryan’s Fancy, with whom he performed on television, toured, and recorded three records. His next solo endeavor united he and his brother Sean for the first time since the latter was recruited by the Chieftains in 1968, titled Roll Away The Reel World, and produced by Mick Moloney.
Keane moved back to New York when Ryan’s Fancy broke up, and made his US Network TV debut on NBC’s The Today Show. The rest of the 1980s were full of solo performances, duo tours with Seamus Connelly and a stint with the All-Star touring act The Green Fields of America.
1991 brought Keane a homecoming, and he played his first public performance in 23 years for the Dublin Traditional Music Festival with Chieftan’s singer Kevin Conneff and former student Paul Brady. Afterward, he starred in the New York Public Television’s weekly music program Irish Eyes and Erin Focus. In 1993, Keane recorded That’s the Spirit with John Doyle (1994) and in 1996, Keane and Doyle were joined by Solas’s Seamus Egan and Winifred Horan to record The Irish Isle for a companion cookbook called "New Irish Cuisine."
In 1997, Keane moved back to Ireland and recorded With Friends Like These (Shanachie Records) with Bothy Band members Paddy Glackin and Tommy Peoples, Chieftans’ Kevin Conneff, Liam O’Flynn of Planxty, and Matt Molloy. This all-star effort was the perfect way to celebrate and honor a lifetime of music and friendship.