'Dr. Joe' helps bring jazz to Branford

Radiation oncologist Dr. Joe Cardinale has a second career as a jazz musician, a passion he’s helping to share through the Branford Jazz on the Green series. 

Radiation oncologist Dr. Joe Cardinale has a second career as a jazz musician, a passion he’s helping to share through the Branford Jazz on the Green series. 

The Shore Newspaper | Published July 12, 2017
By Jen Matteris, Editorial Assistant - Content Reporter

Most towns have a summer concert series. So, too, did Branford—until it swapped to a weeknight Jazz on the Green series in 2009. But that doesn’t mean the music is the same each night.

“Jazz is a very broad type of music—there’s many different types of jazz,” says Joseph Cardinale, M.D., who’s helped organize Branford Jazz on the Green for the past five years. “For instance, this year we have some groups playing jazz standards, we have a Latin jazz group, we have jazz fusion, and we have several smooth jazz performances—the crowd seems to enjoy that a lot. And this year we’re also having a gypsy jazz band. I’m really looking forward to that particular performance.”

The series runs on Thursdays through Aug. 24, starting at 6:30 p.m. Although the concerts only take place during the summer, the committee behind the series works year-round, meeting once each month.

“We start meeting very shortly after the last concert of the season to start planning the next season,” says Joe.

It’s a lot of work, especially for those like Joe with a full-time job and then some. A cancer specialist at the Yale University School of Medicine, “Dr. Joe” also plays guitar with his own jazz band: Dr. Joe & Friends. As the only musician on the committee, it’s Joe’s job to decide which bands will perform on the Green each year.

“There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s really a labor of love for all of us,” says Joe.

He emphasized that his fellow committee members give their all, too—he gave a special shout-out to one of the series’ founders, Charlotte Mattei.

“It’s a great group of people and we all do it because we love music and to give back to the community, too.”

In Joe’s eyes, the payoff is well worth it.

“People love them,” he says of the concerts. “We estimate we get between two and three thousand people per performance. It’s a really wonderful thing.”

Joe first became involved with the jazz series as a performer. Today, he performs on Sundays at the Thai restaurant Ayuthai—a favorite restaurant of his in his hometown, Guilford, that he decided could use a musical boost. He also performs at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center in Old Saybrook with his six-piece band: sax, piano, drums, bass, guitar, and vocals. His daughter, Elise, fills the latter role.

“She started singing with me in high school or even before then, she pursued a similar path to me,” Joe says. “She sings for the love of it. The two of us have that in common.”

They are also both doctors. Elise has a PhD in neuroscience and is currently working at the National Institute of Health.

Joe has lived for 35 years in Guilford with his wife, Filomena. Beyond music and his family, community is one of the most important things in his life. Working on Branford’s jazz committee is one way for him to fulfill that interest.

“Everybody’s in it for the right reasons,” he says of the committee. “It’s really great working with a bunch of people like that.”

As a final note, Joe pointed out that Jimmy Cobb will perform at the July 27 concert on the Green. Fans will recognize him as a legendary jazz drummer who played with Miles Davis; his work includes Kind of Blue, the number one best-selling jazz album of all time.

“We try to keep it fresh and new,” he says. “We have professional sound, it’s a great venue.”

The Branford Jazz on the Green series runs on Thursdays through Aug. 24, with shows starting at 6:30 p.m. on the Branford Green. Dr. Joe & Friends features a variety of artists every Sunday night at Ayuthai, 2279 Boston Post Road, Guilford. For more information, visit www.branfordjazz.com or www.drjoeandfriends.com.

Through Jazz, ‘Dr. Joe’ Gives Back

The Shoreline Times | Published May 22, 2017
By Pam Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

As a dedicated cancer specialist at Yale University School of Medicine, Joseph G. Cardinale, M.D. cares for many patients in our community. But, as many of his patients and many in our community also know, as a man with a passion for jazz, “Dr. Joe” can also play guitar.

Performing as Dr. Joe & Friends, he’s joined by a network of jazz musicians for shows that have a dedicated following.

Although Dr. Joe & Friends are sought for gigs around the state and beyond, the Guilford resident, joined by an ever-evolving roster of professional jazz musicians, can also can be found playing in his hometown of 31 years every Sunday night. For nearly seven years now, Dr. Joe & Friends plays a standing Sunday Night Jazz gig at Ayuthai in Guilford—and the band packs the house.

On Saturday, June 3, for the sixth year in a row, Dr. Joe & Friends and some special guests will be performing at another regular gig: the annual Dr. Joe & Friends show at The Kate in Old Saybrook. The night is a huge hit with fans including many of those with lives saved by Joe’s caring medical work. Continuing another tradition, once again, Smilow Cancer Hospital will sponsor a free cocktail reception prior to the show.

Of course, Joe’s biggest fan—his wife of 37 years, Filomena—will be in the audience. Among those joining Dr. Joe and some of the area’s top professional musicians on stage will once again be the Cardinales’ daughter, Dr. Elise Cardinale, a singer who grew up loving jazz.

“It is a really wonderful event, as many of my patients attend and have the opportunity to see their doctor play music, and to see my daughter Elise sing for them. It really is very heartwarming,” says Joe. “It’s an opportunity for [them] to socialize, share stories and celebrate cancer survivorship.”

Elise and her dad will perform at The Kate with Darren Litzie, Fred Haas, Jeff Fuller, Ben Bilello, and special guests Donn Trenner and Gene Bertoncini. Video from a past show can be viewed at www.thekate.org

In addition to inheriting the music gene, Elise also followed her dad into the field of medicine.

“She has just received her PhD from Georgetown University in cognitive neuroscience and will be starting her career at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland,” her proud dad notes. “She has been doing research on psychopathy in children identifying areas in the brain that are potentially responsible for this behavior.”

For the record, Joe is a radiation oncologist on the full-time faculty as associate chief for network & outreach, Department of Therapeutic Radiology, Yale University School of Medicine and Smilow Cancer Hospital. He is also affiliated with Griffin Hospital in Derby. Joe assists patients across the cancer spectrum with a focus on caring for those with prostate cancer.

“I really care a lot about my patients,” says this dedicated doctor. “I try to spend a lot of time with them. A lot of times I see people when they’re told they have cancer and they’re coming in to see the doctor who’s going to treat them. If you care about a person as an individual, you start to see things from the same ground.”

The important practice of recognizing each patient as an individual includes taking into consideration their loved ones, as well, he says.

“Having cancer is a family’s problem,” says Joe. “When somebody is diagnosed, the people who love that individual are also affected by it. It’s really important to understand that, and treat people with the caring they deserve. That’s also why I’m so passionate about music. It all goes to that.”

But it wasn’t too long ago that Joe couldn’t have imagined himself performing as a jazz musician, much less leading a stellar group of musicians on stage at performances like the one coming up at The Kate.

“I picked up jazz guitar later in life,” says Joe. “I played rock and roll when I was kid and really did not understand music. In college, I figured it was time to knock off this foolishness and buckle down. I sold my guitar and didn’t play for 25 years.”

Then, one day, about 20 years ago, “I took I ride and bought a guitar,” says Joe. “I started just trying to learn by taking lessons. I met some people who were similar to my lifestyle, and we started a rock band. We did a lot of benefits. It was great. In terms of giving back to the community, it was really important to me.”

As Joe’s musicality progressed, “I wanted to get more sophisticated in music,” says Joe, who is particularly inspired by the great jazz musicians of the 1950s and 1960s.

As for making the leap from learning jazz to playing with the pros, Joe’s talent soon spoke for itself. Joe also hasn’t been afraid to advocate for others to help them along. In fact, the reason Dr. Joe & Friends began playing a regular live jazz gig at what may seem an odd venue—an authentic Thai restaurant tucked along Route 1 in Guilford—was due to Joe’s nature and inclination to want to help others.

“My personality is I really like to help people,” says Joe. “Well, when Ayuthai first opened, my wife and I went and we really enjoyed the food. But the restaurant was totally empty! We would go there and we would be the only people in there.”

Joe, his wife and their daughter (visiting home from college) continued to patronize the restaurant.

“The manager fell in love with Elise,” says Joe, laughing. “I told the owner, ‘My daughter sings, why don’t you think of hiring us and we’ll play here — people will come to hear us!’ People did come, and rest of that is history. I love playing every Sunday. I get different musicians every week and try and feature different people. Sometimes we do Brazilian music, sometimes straight-ahead jazz...There are so many really great musicians. You meet a lot of people.”

Fans of Dr. Joe & Friends arrive regularly from the shoreline, New Haven county, and beyond each Sunday night. Fans follow the latest news of who will be joining him to play at his website www.drjoeandfriends.com.

“I also have a newsletter I send out every Friday about who’s playing at the restaurant,” says Joe.

In developing the newsletter as an early form of publicity, Joe also found an opportunity to speak from the heart.

“One thing I did early on with the newsletter—I didn’t want to email people and say, ‘Please come and watch me play.’ That was self-serving to me. For no other reason but to give back to people, I started writing things—thoughts, advice. I’ll talk about what’s important in life and caring for other people. It’s a healing message, and I can’t tell you how much great feedback I’ve had.”

Many of Joe’s patients and their families are among his very first fans, which also helps explain his idea to perform as “Dr. Joe.”

“My whole thought was to be able to have my patients see me in a light that was different from me in the hospital, taking care of them with cancer,” he says. “It’s nice for them to see me as a person and to give something back to people. Obviously, I enjoy it, too! But it’s turned out most of my patients love it, as well. I am very proud of the music, but also the culture that I’ve been able to create in sharing and caring about others in so many ways.”

The Katharine Hepburn Theater, 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook, presents Dr. Joe & Friends featuring Dr. Elise Cardinale on Saturday, June 3, at 8 p.m.; tickets ($25) are available at 877-503-1286 or www.thekate.org. A free reception begins at 6:45 p.m.

'Dr. Joe & Friends' Jam For Music Scholarship

The Branford Eagle | Published April 4, 2016
By Bill O'Brien

The Branford Jazz Concert Series & the Stony Creek Brewery teamed up last week for a swinging evening of jazz, their first ever effort to raise funds for a high school student music scholarship.

The two hour event got underway Wednesday evening at the Brewery with more than 125 on tap to hear “Dr. Joe & Friends” perform. “We are very happy with our first scholarship concert,”  Charlotte Mattei, spokesperson for the Jazz Series committee, said afterward.

“The goal is to establish a scholarship fund for Branford student to study music,” said Dr. Joseph Cardinale, a member of the Jazz Concert Series and the guitarist for Dr. Joe & Friends. The group played for an enthusiastic jazz audience on the upper level in the Brewery.

The quintet included Donn Trenner on piano. Trenner, 89, directed the Steve Allen orchestra back in the ‘50s and is the author of a book entitled, “Leave it to Me…My Life in Music.”  Trenner’s biggest break came in 1961, when the Steve Allen Show hired him to lead the orchestra. He has had a long, illustrious career in the jazz world, including playing with Les Brown and his Band of Renown, a band he adored. 

Other “friends” in the jazz group included Dave Daddario on bass, Ben Bilello on drums, and Chris Coulter on sax. 

Committee members at the greeting table included Dale Izzo, Karen Palluzzi, Charlotte Mattie, and Alex Palluzzi.

Several sponsors attended the event, including Al Canosa of Mosaic Printing, Signage and Marketing Services, who toasted the event by raising his Stony Creek brew, saying “It’s good to have jazz back in Branford.”

He enjoyed the concert and said he looked forward to the jazz series, which begins on Thursday, June 23, the week after the Branford Festival. “It’s always a great night on the Green,” Canoas said of the Thursday night jazz series, which runs until Aug. 21.

Another sponsor attending the event was Matt Reale, of MN Reale Construction, who came with two of his staff members, Brendan Page and Traci Knapp. Reale said he was pleased to be a sponsor of the jazz series again. “We get a lot of satisfaction being identified with the jazz programs in the summer. We feel it adds to the quality of life in Branford. The big crowds every Thursday mean people like it.”

Those at the Brewery event purchased tickets for $25. The fee entitled them to a Jazz Series pint glass and their first beer plus the music of the jazz ensemble. A number of attendees purchased a pizza from Frank Andrews Mobile Kitchen, which was set up outside in the parking lot. Others brought their own favorite dish.

Mattie told the Eagle that “we hope to make between $1,000 to $1,200 from this year’s concert and want to add to that amount with another event or two in the next year. That’s when we are planning to start giving out the Branford Jazz Music Scholarship Fund. “

No ordinary Joe: He’s a Guilford cancer doc, jazz guitarist and all-around good guy

The Shoreline Times | Published May 12, 2012
By Robert Pollack


Just call him Joe.

Dr. Joseph Cardinale, an oncologist at the Hospital of Saint Raphael for the past 26 years, is rarely referred to as Dr. Cardinale, Dr. Joseph or even Doc.

And though the jazz concert on a Friday night at the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center before a packed house was billed as “Dr. Joe and Friends,” to his audience, filled with dozens of his former patients, he was what he has always been: Joe.

Joe was at The Kate to play jazz guitar with his ensemble that included players who have been part of the jazz scene for decades.

Before the concert, which had the crowd rocking in their seats and ended with a series of standing ovations, Joe’s drummer, Kenny Palmieri, 73, said backstage, “Some four years ago, I had a biopsy and was told I had cancer of the vocal cords. I was devastated.

“And then the phone rang. ‘Hi, Ken. This is Joe. I’m going to take good care of you. This will be a piece of cake.’

“He’s an unbelievable doctor. He talks to you as though he’s your best friend. And he was right; thanks to him, it was a piece of cake, and when he formed this band, I could hardly wait to join it. I had played the drums for many years with a number of well known bands, but gave it up to due to pressing family problems. I missed it and now, thanks to Joe, here I am.”

A number of former patients in the audience echoed the same theme. One of them, Tony Fusco of Branford, said surgery revealed a large malignant tumor on his prostate.

“Shortly after I came to, Joe called. ‘My name is Joe. I am your oncologist, and you are not going to die of prostate cancer,’ he said. And thanks to him, it’s 15 years later, and I am still here. I have never met anyone like him.”

Other ex-patients, who came out to see Joe play that night, talked about how Joe never let money — or the lack of it — stand in the way of treatment. They said his attitude has always been: I will accept whatever your insurance pays; don’t worry about it. One of them said he had no insurance at all, but Joe never hesitated in treating him.

His 24-year-old daughter, Elise Cardinale, a striking brunette and the band’s vocalist, said before the concert that she had approached her father some six years ago and asked him if he would start a jazz project with her since he had been studying the jazz guitar for some time.

She paused. “I have been singing since I was knee-high, and though I want to be a research psychologist, I will always sing as a hobby. It is in my blood. And the way this band was put together — the musicians that play with us are truly remarkable — is a testimony to my father’s need to give and give and give. We started going public with Sunday night concerts at the Ayuthai Restaurant in Guilford.

“Word got out, and we started packing them, and soon we’re being booked at other restaurants and the Branford Jazz Festival — and now this.”

“This is a dream come true,” her father said.

Three days earlier at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby where he was treating a patient, he said quietly, “Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted to be a doctor — to help people.”

When Joe is not gigging out, his medical practice keeps him busy. He is also the medical director of Radiation Oncology at Griffin, where he makes rounds once a week, and a faculty member at the Yale School of Medicine in the Department of Therapeutic Radiology in addition to his job at St. Raph’s.

“I picked oncology as my specialty because the need is so great and am exhilarated that cancer — a virtual death sentence three or four decades ago — is now much more treatable with a much better prognosis. We have come a long way.”

It could have been destiny that led him to swap his doctor’s lab coat for the spiffy black sport jacket he wears when he goes on stage.

During a lunch break at St. Raphael’s a number of years ago, he was bored and driving around New Haven when he came upon a music store, parked and went inside.

“The clerk asked me what I wanted, and I conjured up my dream guitar, specific in every detail. He said he might have just what I was looking for and brought out a guitar that met my specs in every way. I bought it on the spot.”

Joe said he had played the guitar as a teenager, “but I was all fingers and didn’t know what I was doing.” He gave it up because of the demands of college and medical school.

But this time, he attacked it with a vengeance. At first, his wife of 32 years, Filomena, objected. “I had two kids, a demanding medical practice, and now I was spending countless hours learning the jazz guitar.”

He laughed. “But now she is my biggest supporter, and this concert would have never happened without her.”

He talked glowingly, about his next door neighbor, Donn Trenner, a friend and legendary pianist who is a key member of his 2½-year-old band.

Trenner, a former conductor and musical arranger for a variety of vocalists and television show hosts, including Steve Allen and Bob Hope, was a pianist for such bands as the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra and later played with bands led by Buddy Morrow, Charlie Barnet and Jerry Gray.

“He has helped me immensely with my guitar studies, and it is astonishing that he and people like saxophonist Billy Cofrances and acoustic and electric bass player Dave Daddario, both of whom have played with some of the most well-known bands and artists in the country, have turned this band into something really special.”

His obvious excitement was translated to The Kate stage three days later. Wearing his trademark fedora — he didn’t take off during the entire show — he and the band came on stage with a flourish, and he paid tribute to the crowd for showing up at $25 a pop.

And then it began: One standard from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s after another, all played in the jazz tradition, which Joe admitted means hardly ever playing the same tune the same way twice.

Elise had the place rocking with “Fever,” made famous by Peggy Lee and her rendition of “Cry Me A River,” which she called her favorite song, was touching and full of feeling.

Each member of the band took turns riffing in numbers such as “Blue Skies,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” “Summertime” and “Nature Boy.” And, when it was finally over, the crowd wouldn’t let them go until they returned for an encore with “It Don’t Mean A Thing.”

In the middle of the concert, shortly before the intermission, Joe described the moment when his daughter asked him to launch a jazz project with her.

He thanked her and they embraced, a moment as touching as the music that poured over the footlights.

When the last ovation finally faded, Joe, Dr. Joseph Cardinale of Guilford, 57, whose main gig is his job as medical director of The Father Michael McGivney Center for Cancer Care in New Haven (as well as head of Radiation Oncology there) — turned to the audience and once more thanked them for coming.

No, they made it plain with one voice:

Thank you, Joe.

Balancing the Tastes of Thai Cuisine

The New York Times | Published February 4th, 2011
By Stephanie Lyness

THE gentle charm of Ayuthai Royal Thai Cuisine, a family-owned restaurant in Guilford, reveals itself quietly throughout the meal — in good food that is consistently fresh and light, and unobtrusive service that is just formal enough to make the meal feel like a night out.

The restaurant is housed in a nondescript building on Route 1 that does not do justice to the welcoming ambience within. Nor does its standard menu adequately reflect the fine preparation and presentation of the dishes.

The soups were particularly delicate. Tom yum was brothy and not too spicy, served in an attractive oval bowl with lots of shrimp, mushrooms and chunks of tomato. The well-balanced tom ka gai, tart with lime juice and redolent of the alluring scent of lime leaves, featured large pieces of fresh tomato, mushrooms and velvety strips of chicken floating in a light coconut broth. Woon sen noodle soup was more mundane — skinny rice noodles in a clear broth with vegetables — but tasty.

Deep-fried appetizers like koong tod (still juicy shrimp, deep-fried in spring roll wrappers) were also unusually light — as were the slender spring rolls, stuffed with a mix of shredded cabbage and carrot and served with a sweet chili sauce.

Steamed chicken dumplings were encased in very delicate rice wrappers. Summer rolls — pleasant if unremarkable with a fresh, crisp filling — were served with a thick, dark, judiciously spiced peanut sauce.

I would have liked more oomph in two salads. I missed the flavor of the grill in the beef salad (the meat was sautéed) and I’m used to a more aggressive hit of lime and fish sauce. The shredded green papaya salad was also milder than I’m accustomed to — more sweet than spicy. Fortunately, the ingredients in both were fresh and tasty. And my excellent, spicy jungle curry, a jumble of Japanese eggplant, green beans, mushrooms, bamboo shoots and broccoli, made up for the lack of chilies in the appetizers.

Duck chu chee was another terrific entree. The crisp-skinned half-duck was boned and sliced; the coconut sauce was slightly sweet with a suggestion of chili, leavened with the scent of lime leaves. A dish of pra raam (chicken with spinach in a thick, sweet peanut sauce) was adequate if not brilliant.

The only real disappointment was the mixed seafood special, a colorful heap of sea scallops, mussels, squid, shrimp and surimi crab in a light, spicy red chili sauce; the quality of the seafood was good and the sauce was tasty, but the seafood had been out of the pan too long, losing its fresh taste and texture.

On the other hand, two noodle dishes, pad thai and drunken noodles with beef, could not be faulted. Both were beautifully cooked, the noodles still firm, the seasoning bright.

Desserts were also exceptional here. A nicely ripened mango tasted delicious with sticky rice, the ginger ice cream was excellent, and two little dishes of warm coconut pudding — at once creamy and gelatinous, sweet and salty — were something of a revelation.