piano and jazz composition

Joseph Sheehan is a composer, pianist, and educator immersed in classical, jazz, and world musics. In his music Sheehan aims to share joy, depth, and beauty, connecting with artists and audiences from diverse musical communities.

Sheehan’s music is rooted in folk song and dance rhythms, both at the heart of music cultures throughout the world. Especially influential is music from Ghana, West Africa, encountered during several extended trips studying its traditional music and dance. West African music, as well as jazz, has informed recent pieces such as A Sincere Sigh of Readiness for choir, setting text of spoken word artist Leslie “Ezra” Smith; Vibraphone Loops, written for percussionist Lisa Pegher, presenting soulful and syncopated lines on vibraphone that interact with an electronic accompaniment of synth loops; and Dances from Afar, a suite of three dances for violin and piano inspired by locations in Ghana. Current projects include commissions from the Stamford Young Artists Philharmonic and trumpeter Timothy Altman.

Sheehan also writes songs for the ensemble Kinetic, a sextet of musicians fluent in a diversity of styles, which he founded in 2012. Kinetic’s debut album, World of Wonder, was released in 2014, and received positive reviews from the website AllAboutJazz.com, as well as radioplay from several Pittsburgh stations. Kinetic has performed at the 2014 Three Rivers Arts Festival, the 2012 African Arts Festival in the Park, and in 2015 toured with performances in NYC and Philadelphia. Sheehan is currently working on Songs of Lake Volta, an extended song cycle for Kinetic and the Afadjato String Quartet that incorporates Ghanaian folk songs. The composition and planned recording is supported by two grants from Duquesne University.

Sheehan’s music has been performed by percussionist Lisa Pegher, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Alea III Ensemble, Ovrearts, and the Kuttner Quartet. In the summer of 2016, Cultures in Harmony will perform Song for Peace in the Philippines. In 2007 the Indiana University New Music Ensemble performed Suspended in Perpetual Ascent in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City as part of an East Coast tour; and the American Composers Orchestra read Sail Away to Soft, Sweet Bells at the 2005 Underwood New Music Readings. Sheehan has won top composition prizes from BMI, NFMC, and Indiana University, and was a composition fellow at the 2008 Aspen Summer Music Festival.

As a pianist Sheehan performs jazz and other musics with many outstanding musicians throughout Pittsburgh, including the Pittsburgh International JazzLive Festival Gallery Crawl, Mellon BNY JazzLive Series, First Night New Years Eve Festival, and many other music venues. He regularly performs with Trio+, a trio that imaginatively blends hip-hop, pop, and R&B with jazz, often in collaboration with rappers and vocalists. He is the music director of Groove Aesthetic, an artist collective producing innovative genre-bending concerts; and for over three years played with Cross Currents, which hosts a weekly jazz fusion jam session. In 2011 Sheehan was a Jazzspace resident artist, receiving funding and performing at a showcase concert.

Dr. Sheehan is a part of Duquesne University’s innovative Musicianship department, teaching aural and written skills, critical thinking, and historical and social context in an integrated, experiential environment.