As a touring violinist with The Who, Katie Jacoby relishes being on stage with the likes of guitarist Pete Townshend./Photo by William Snyder
For anyone else, the Transportation Security Administration agent humming The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” in the airport screening line would have been a small, perhaps overlooked detail. But for St. Mark’s High School graduate Katie Jacoby, passing through an airport earlier this year while touring as the concertmaster and featured violin soloist on The Who’s “Moving On!” tour, it was a glimpse at the power of the band’s music.
“It’s quite possible that he was at The Who’s concert the night before,” Jacoby says. “It was just a really beautiful moment, witnessing this guy on the job, carrying himself through his day with one of The Who’s iconic melodies.”
The 29-year-old Jacoby was born into a musical family in Hockessin (her mom is a classical pianist), then attending the Independence School in Newark from kindergarten through eighth grade. She later trained at the School of Rock in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.
Jacoby started classical violin lessons at age 6; she discovered heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath and progressive rock acts like King Crimson and Frank Zappa when she was in junior high.
“I loved how rock musicians infused energy into their performances by running and strutting around onstage,” she says. “They weren’t constrained to the notes on the page and sequestered by music stands. Once I had the chops and technique to tell my own story on the violin, it was really natural for me to change musical courses.”
Jacoby’s personal connection to The Who is rooted in St. Mark’s, where she sang and played the band’s anthemic “Baba O’Riley” to win the school’s Battle of the Bands contest.
“I have vivid memories of driving around Delaware after getting my driver’s license, testing the limits of my dad’s car stereo with albums ‘Who’s Next’ and ‘Tommy,’” Jacoby says.
At 15, she found the band manager’s email and wrote him, offering to play the violin solo in “Baba O’Riley” live. The unsolicited email didn’t receive a response. But in 2018, working as a violin consultant on Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle,” Jacoby connected with the band’s iconic lead singer, Roger Daltrey, who invited her to tour with him that summer when he performed “Tommy” with a full orchestra. Subsequently, she was invited to join The Who for the band’s current two-part U.S. tour, which ends this month. As part of the show, she does exactly what she offered to do years earlier: perform the violin solo in “Baba O’Riley.”
“Being on the road is intense but extremely rewarding,” Jacoby says. “I love the feeling of having a mission every day. The venues we’ve played, like Wembley Stadium, Madison Square Garden and Citizens Bank Park, are all major bucket-list places for musicians, so I’m really honored and humbled to be playing them at a relatively young age and in such legendary company.”
Fans of The Who, she says, are so devoted that many have reviewed her original music, including her work with a gypsy jazz trio called The Showdown Kids, as well as her electric violin work with the Ed Palermo Big Band, an ensemble that plays predominantly Zappa’s music. Although Jacoby has played with other musicians, she says The Who “has helped shape the essence” of rock music.
“The world is a wild place—increasingly digital, tumultuous politically—and The Who still offers so much with their lyrical self-awareness and sonic abandon,” she says. “The truth and rawness that they bring is unmatched.”