Joe Sullivan comes from the Northern Ontario town of Timmins. He grew up in a large franco-ontarian family, where music was a part of daily life. He began his formal training on piano and later, at the age of fifteen, started playing the trumpet. During his youth, he led an active musical life that included classical piano competitions, rock bands and high school concert and stage bands. He also composed music for several theater productions. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in classical trumpet at the University of Ottawa in 1981. His interest in jazz led him to the Berklee School of Music, then to the New England Conservatory of Music, where he received a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies in 1987.