Born in New York City, he grew up in Philadelphia and the St. Paul suburb of Roseville, Minnesota. He started his music study with mentor and legendary jazz drummer Ed Blackwell at the Creative Music Studio in New York in 1975. His relationship with Blackwell continued until Blackwell’s death in 1992. He has also studied with Floyd Thompson and Marv Dahlgren, the former principal percussionist of the Minnesota Orchestra. He considers the Beatles and 1960s rock groups early music influences. He also credits his parents and his childhood band instructor for their support and encouragement in pursuing a music career.
He performs with several groups and leads the Phil Hey Quartet with Tom Lewis on bass, Dave Hagedorn on vibraphone, and Phil Aaron on piano. The quartet’s album Subduction: Live at Artist’s Quarter (2005) was named Best Jazz CD of the Year by the Twin Cities alternative weekly newspaper City Pages. City Pages also named him 2006 Jazz Musician of the Year.
His first album, Let Them All Come with Pat Moriarty, was released in 1977 on the small private label Min Records. The cover art by Homer Lambrecht is featured in Freedom, Rhythm, and Sound, a compilation of a jazz album artwork by Gilles Peterson and Stuart Baker. He has appeared on over 125 recordings and remains a first-call musician supporting regional recording artists as well as touring jazz artists. His jazz recordings include Von Freeman’s Live at The Dakota, Pete Whitman’s X-Tet Where’s When?, Tom Hubbard’s Tribute to Mingus, and Ed Berger’s I’m Glad There is You, all of which received four out of five star ratings by Down Beat magazine reviewers.
In addition to his work as a jazz musician he has played regional performances with blues and rock acts, including Nick St. Nicholas, George “Mojo” Buford, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. He has appeared on the soundtrack of the 6th Day (2000) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and several independent film soundtracks including Been Rich All My Life (2006). In addition, he has played many touring theater productions, including The D.B. Cooper Project, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Irving Berlin’s I Love a Piano and has performed with comics Bob Hope, Red Skelton, and Don Rickles.