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Jim McNeely: On the Up and Up


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To play or write this music well, it takes work - a lot of work. I'm amazed at how many young folks don't get this!
Jim McNeelyIf you own some of the best records of the Stan Getz quartet or you dig the great jazz orchestras, then there is a good chance that you have heard—or better still—felt Jim McNeely's touch before. Either way, if you want to learn more about some of the jazz giants that McNeely has backed on piano, including Getz, Chet Baker, Ted Curson, Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and Joe Henderson, as well as the jazz composing and arranging process, then you have certainly hit the right button to get to the right page.

Involved in writing and arranging for quite a few big band projects since the 1990s, McNeely was recently appointed artist-in-residence with the Hessian Radio Big Band in Frankfurt, Germany, following intensive collaborations with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra (Netherlands), the West German Radio (WDR) Big Band and the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra. This year (2008) he will also be working with the Orquestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, from Portugal.

The one million dollar question seems to be: why is he working mainly with European bands?

Chapter Index

  1. In the Beginning
  2. Playing with Ted and Chet
  3. The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band
  4. From Stan Getz and Phil Woods to Bobby Watson
  5. Trio Music
  6. Composing, Arranging and the Return of the Big Band

In the Beginning

All About Jazz: What got you interested in jazz?

Jim McNeely: I had taken piano lessons since I was seven, and when I was ten I started studying with a teacher who taught theory as well as piano skills. His name was Bruno Michelotti and, while he wasn't a jazz musician, he taught me how to read a lead sheet and play very simple left hand accompaniment to melodies. I didn't know about jazz, but the groundwork had been laid.

I remember seeing Duke Ellington's Orchestra on television, and being so impressed by the whole presentation: the mysterious music, the pride evident in the faces and attitudes of the musicians, and Duke himself—the epitome of coolness.

I went to a Catholic high school near Chicago—Notre Dame High School for Boys—because they had a big band directed by Rev. George Wiskirchen. When I started to play in the "B" Dance Band, I realized that in jazz you could improvise. That really excited me.

AAJ: Did you ever think that one day you were going to be a jazz musician and get to play with such jazz masters as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz and Joe Henderson or write for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band?

Jim McNeelyJM: Not when I was in my teens. I was pretty much a nerdy kid from the North Side of Chicago who loved John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and tried to play that kind of music, but didn't think I'd do it as a profession.

It was during my college years at the University of Illinois, that I began to get the idea that I could function in the New York City jazz world, as a pianist. I wasn't sure whom I would play with, but I knew that I wanted to go to New York.

AAJ: Did you ever regret having become a jazz musician? What was the thrill behind it?

JM: I have never, ever regretted it. I am, in fact, proud to have become a professional jazz musician. And very grateful to the many musicians who helped me, and had it a lot tougher than I ever did.

My career has had its highs and lows, but I've never regretted my choice. One of the thrills in jazz happens when I'm playing, and everything is just "happening." I'm not quite sure what will happen next, but it's sure exciting to experience it as it happens! A different kind of thrill occurs when I finally get a chance to play with—or write for—someone I've admired for a long time. Like the first time I played with Thad, or with Elvin Jones; or wrote for Dave Liebman.

AAJ: Do you miss those days playing with Ted Curson, the Mel Lewis Orchestra and then Stan Getz?

JM: I enjoyed those days, and learned a lot from all of those musicians. But I can't really say that I miss them, in the sense of wanting to go back. They were good times, and I have since moved on into other good times.

AAJ: Is there anything from the spirit of those years that you feel is missing in jazz nowadays?

JM: It's hard for me to be objective about that: I was young back then and am older now. But in New York in the late '70s and early '80s there were more small clubs with jam sessions—Folk City, Barbara's. There seemed to be more places to sit in, to hear and to get to know other musicians. Bradley's was happening; so was Boomer's, the Surf Maid, the Village Door. I met a lot of musicians in those clubs, mostly at some time after 2 am. More musicians could afford to live in Manhattan, it was easier to get together and play during the day.

Jim McNeely

Of course, I was single back then, living in a broom closet on Greenwich Street. Nowadays if I'm not playing a gig I try to be in bed at midnight or one, at my house in New Jersey. So maybe I'm part of the problem...

And two big differences between then and now: we played sets, not shows. And very few of us had representation.

AAJ: What about the new generations of jazz musicians. Who do you admire as soloists or arranger/composers?

JM: I certainly don't get a chance to hear everyone, so I'm no expert. But, off the top of my head, I'm impressed by Chris Potter, Dafnis Prieto, Brad Mehldau, Dave Douglas, Brian Blade, Steve Wilson, John Hollenbeck, and many others whom I'll remember at 4 o'clock tomorrow morning.

As for composer/arrangers, Maria Schneider is great. I also really admire Sherisse Rogers, Darcy J. Argue, Vince Mendoza, Florian Ross, Ted Nash, and Joseph Phillips Jr. There are many others and I'm sorry I can't mention them all.


Playing with Ted and Chet

AAJ: Well, if you agree, let's now go back in time. Between 1976 and 1978 you played with Ted Curson. How were you selected and what was it like working with him?

JM: In 1976 I was working in a sextet led by a trombonist named Jerry Tilitz. He had booked a weekend at a club on The Bowery called The Tin Palace. At the same time, Ted was supposed to start a series of weekends at The Five Spot, but they closed down at the last minute. Gary Giddins was helping book Ted, and he arranged for Ted to go into The Tin Palace and share the bill with whomever else was playing there.

So Ted heard me with Jerry's group, and he hired me for his band. I worked with him for about three years, playing in the US and Europe. I also made my first New York record with him.

Ted had a really interesting group of eclectic musicians, all quite different from each other. When I joined the band it had Chris Woods on alto, Nick Brignola on baritone sax, David Friesen on bass, and Steve McCall on drums. It was amazing that Ted could get all of us to play his kind of post-Mingus, "Lee Morgan meets Cecil Taylor," "organized slop" (Ted's term). But it was fun.

Jim McNeely

Ted was always pulling out the bass and drums during people's solos, to see how they'd respond. Later versions of the band included Adam Nussbaum on drums, Howard Johnson on low stuff, Ron Steen on drums, and Mike Richmond on bass. It was loose, sometimes verging on chaotic, but there was never a dull moment.

AAJ:You also played with Chet Baker around this time. Was he easy to get along with musically given all his problems with drugs?

JM: I played with Chet for six months in 1978, just before I joined Thad and Mel. Chet was actually in quite good shape at the time, and playing very strong. A few years later I did a tour in Europe with Chet and Stan Getz. Chet was back into his old routines a little. But musically there was never a problem.

AAJ: What memories do you have of him?

JM: My biggest memory of Chet is that he had incredible ears. We were playing some difficult music—George Shearing's "Conception," and some Richie Beirach tunes, full of chromatic harmony. I never heard Chet struggle with this music. He wove beautiful, inventive melodic lines through the changes. And he had little, if any, formal knowledge of theory.

Chet was also very quiet. I had the impression that the two things he most loved in life were playing music and getting high.


The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band

AAJ: Then came a stint with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra from 1978 to 1984. What memories do you have from this historical partnership?

JM: My first memory is actually from 1967, the first time I heard the band on the radio in Chicago. It was Holmes "Daddy-O" Daylie's afternoon show on WAAF. I turned on the radio and heard a very modern quartet playing—saxophone and rhythm section. I wasn't sure who it was, then suddenly BAM! A big band came roaring in. A little bomb went off inside me, and I thought, "Who the hell is that?" After the tune was over Daddy-O came on and said it was the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. I'd read about them in Down Beat, and was excited to find out that they'd finally recorded.

When I moved to New York in 1975, one of the first things I did was to go down to the Village Vanguard to hear the band. It was the best place to be on Mondays, at least for me. Thad was my idol as far as big band writers went, and the band just played so well. Over the next couple of years I got to know a number of players in the band, including Harold Danko, the pianist. He heard me play, and sent me as a piano sub a couple of times.

Jim McNeely

It was a thrill just to be on the stage with the band. Mel was so easy to play with; I could hear every note I played. Thad wasn't there the first time I subbed, but was there the second time. If he liked what you did, he'd laugh—Thad had one of the world's greatest laughs, and it helped relax me. He and Mel seemed to like what I did. When Harold decided to leave the band in '78 Mel called me to join. I did a few Mondays at the Vanguard, a gig up in Rochester, and then a twelve-week tour of Europe. It was a very taxing tour—sometimes playing two concerts a day, and I think we had 28 nights in a row of gigs without a day off. But it was great to play with Mel, and to comp for Thad, and play all of the wonderful music, night after night.

The tour took a bad turn toward the end though. Thad got kicked in the chops one night in Belgrade, and couldn't play the rest of the tour. He ended up quitting the band with about ten days to go. He'd signed a contract to lead the Danish Radio Big Band, and wanted to settle in Europe. By 1978 Thad and Mel had evolved into a band of younger guys, and the band had just signed a contract with Willard Alexander's office, meaning they'd probably be traveling more.

I had the feeling that Thad's heart wasn't into it any more; he was looking for a change, and wanted to travel less. Anyway, the biggest problem was that he never told Mel about this, and their parting was not happy. They were really like a married couple: Mel the chatty wife, Thad the quiet husband who goes out for a newspaper one night and doesn't come back. And given the young age of most of the band (Dick Oatts, Rich Perry, John Mosca, Steve Coleman, Douglas Purviance, Earl Gardner, myself), Ira Gitler summed it up perfectly: Thad and Mel got a divorce, and Mel got custody of the kids.

On one hand I felt bad that Thad left. On the other hand, Mel asked Bob Brookmeyer to come in as musical director of Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra. Being on the cusp, I was able to experience Thad for a short time, then get to know Bob, who is the other main influence on my big band writing. So it turned out okay.

Jim McNeely AAJ:I think I am correct in assuming that most jazz fans really got to hear you through your participation in the Stan Getz quartet,1981-1985. How important for you was this association?

JM: I think it was very important, both for visibility and for music. Stan had one of the biggest audiences in jazz; he'd been a star since his Woody Herman days, and he was one of the few jazz artists to have had a bona fide hit record. Hard-core jazz fans may have known about me from Thad and Mel, or Ted, or my own small group albums. But Stan gave everyone in his group exposure to a much wider audience. While some of those listeners didn't really care who was in the rhythm section, there were many others who certainly did.

Musically, too, the group always operated at a very high level. When I joined the band Marc Johnson played bass, and Victor Lewis played drums. I was very proud of that rhythm section. The records Stan had made in the early '70s with Chick [Corea] had made a great impact on me, and it felt good to be in the lineage of pianists that included Chick, Albert Dailey, Joanne Brackeen, and Andy Laverne.


From Stan Getz and Phil Woods to Bobby Watson

AAJ: Let's talk about this jazz giant. What in your opinion made him so special and great?

JM: I've learned that people respond to three essential elements in a jazz player: sound, time, and absolute belief in what he plays. All of the great players had and have them, and Stan had all three to the max, especially his sound. In a way he was the greatest singer I ever played with. When we would play a ballad in a club, I would look at the first few tables of customers. Women's faces would go soft, and men would either look involved or nervous.

I was also struck by how big Stan's sound was. He had that whole cool school reputation; but while his sound had a very rounded, soft edge, it was huge. He came up during a time when your job was to fill a room with your sound, and he could really do that well.

AAJ: Was it easy playing with him?

JM: Well, when I came into the band I was following Lou Levy. He was a fine pianist rooted in an older tradition of playing than I was. So the biggest initial challenge for me was in comping for Stan. I didn't want to play just like Lou, but thought I should start out a little more conservatively, so Stan would be comfortable. As time went on, I took more chances, Victor, Marc and I gelled as a rhythm section, and Stan seemed to like it.

Musically I wouldn't say that it was easy playing with him—if it was, everyone could do it. But he was such a strong player, I'd say that after a while I felt comfortable playing with him. I got to know his harmonic tendencies, and how he liked to shape his solos.

I'm sure that you're aware of Stan's reputation for being a difficult person to deal with. I know that I'm glad that I didn't have to deal with him back in the '50s and '60s. By the time I came along he'd beaten back many of his demons. We had a few screaming arguments about this and that, but it was nothing compared to his early days. We got along okay. I have fond memories of sitting around his pool with Stan and Adam Nussbaum, the three of us reading joke books to each other.

Jim McNeely AAJ: Do you see anyone in the new generations of tenor players that can match him one day? What do you think of Scott Hamilton?

JM: Scott is certainly a great player in Stan's tradition. So is Harry Allen. But I don't think anyone can match Stan, nor would they want to. There are many younger tenor players today like Chris Potter, Joe Lovano, Ralph Lalama and Rich Perry (my Vanguard Jazz Orchestra colleagues), Mark Turner, and Branford Marsalis, who have those three elements—sound, time, and belief—in heavy quantities, but they don't sound like Stan.

AAJ: You recorded five albums with Stan Getz. Is there any one in particular that you feel best represents your playing and Getz's playing?

JM: In my opinion the closest is Blue Skies (Concord, 1982). It's made up of extra tracks left over from the Pure Getz (Concord, 1982) sessions. When we recorded Pure Getz there was talk of a double album. It was ultimately released as a single disc, but there was a lot of music left over. It was all recorded in the middle of a two-week gig in San Francisco and the following two weeks in New York at Fat Tuesday's. Blue Skies has a relaxed feel, and to me captures the way the band really sounded in clubs. Pure Getz has more of a studio sound to it.

I'm on a couple of albums recorded with Stan and Chet from a tour in Europe in 1983. For The Stockholm Concert (Gazell, 1983) I'd just arrived that afternoon after a forty-hour trip from Sydney, Australia. My brain was still on the beach in Aussie.

AAJ: Your compositions are featured in two of these albums you recorded with Getz. I'm thinking of "There We Go" (Blue Skies) and "On the Up and Up" (Pure Getz). As a composer do you think anyone can ever better his interpretations of your songs?

JM: The best part of writing a tune for Stan was hearing him play through the melody a few times, and observing how he would gradually add little subtle touches to the phrasing and the rhythm. The tune would morph from "a tune" to a "Stan Getz tune." As to those tunes that you mention, I've never recorded them with anyone else. They are the definitive versions. Of course, Stan got the publishing rights to those tunes, so that might have something to do with it, too [laughs].

AAJ: When did you realize that Stan wasn't going to be around for much more time?

JM: I believe that it was the summer of '87 that he told me he was going to have surgery to have a large tumor removed from his chest. At the time he said that it was a benign growth, but I wasn't so sure. I played with him some in '88. He was a little weak, but otherwise playing well. I don't remember when I heard that he had been diagnosed with cancer, but when I did hear the news I wasn't surprised, given the tumor he'd had removed. When he died in '91 I heard the news from his brother Bob, who called me with the news.

Jim McNeelyAAJ: In the 1990s you were a member of the Phil Woods Quintet. How different was it working with him?

JM: In some ways it was very similar. Phil is also a very strong player, with a huge sound, great time, and absolute belief in what he is doing. But Phil comes out of the traditions of Benny Carter and Charlie Parker, so his voice and energy are different than Stan's, who came primarily out of Lester Young's tradition. Comping for Phil required a little more energy than comping for Stan.

Another big difference stemmed from the fact that Stan didn't write his own tunes, and depended mostly on band members to write or find material to play. Phil writes a lot, for both his quintet and for big band. So he's always bringing in his own music. He's equally into playing music written by other band members. So I wrote a lot for the band, as did Hal Crook and Brian Lynch. Phil's group is as much a composer's workshop as it is a performing quintet; this is a reflection of the importance of both arts to him.

AAJ: You have also played with Bobby Watson, Art Farmer and Joe Henderson. What have you learned from each one of them?

JM: Well, they're all great distinctive, individual players. Of the three you mention, I played with Joe the most. His mind was so quick! Comping for him felt like being in the last car of a roller coaster. I'd strap myself in and hang on for the ride. Art was such a lyrical player. Every solo he played could be published as a new melody for that song. Bobby is equally lyrical, but with a hotter edge.

From all three of those guys I learned how to vary my comping, to get into their individual rhythmic and harmonic zone. I also learned the importance of improvising melody, as opposed to simply running the changes. I could say the same thing about a number of other great soloists I've worked with over the years, like Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, David Liebman, and John Scofield.

AAJ: If you could go back in time who would you like to work with again?

JM: Thad, most definitely. And this time I would pester him with a ton of questions about arranging and Count Basie.


Trio Music

AAJ: When did you start leading you own trio?

JM: Around 1983. I made a demo recording with Marc Johnson (bass) and Adam Nussbaum (drums), which was Stan's rhythm section at the time. It was released as From the Heart (Owl, 1985), and we played some gigs after that. I was using a couple of synthesizers and a sequencer for some of the tunes—the "big trio," as opposed to the "small trio," which was acoustic. I don't play with a trio very often, but when I do I really enjoy it. It's a nice release from the big band and orchestra projects that I do.

AAJ: How has it evolved over the years?

JM: I think that the music has become less complicated. When I started in '83, I wasn't doing much large ensemble writing. So some of my trio music was rather involved, because I was trying to do a lot with just three players. As time has gone on, and I've done more big stuff, I don't feel the necessity to do a lot of composing for the trio. In '06-'07 I spent five months writing a huge piece for the Frankfurt (HR) Symphony Orchestra and Big Band; then I conducted it in March of '07. After that it felt nice to play some blues and standards with a trio, and just get into the moment with those tunes.


Composing, Arranging and The Return of the Big Band

AAJ: You are regarded as a terrific composer. What's your goal when you write music?

JM: In one sense, my goal is to create a story; a drama with characters and plot, atmosphere and improvisation, grooves and surprises. I see myself as a playwright, composing a script for sixteen or twenty people that will unfold over a length of time. In a very different sense my goal is to meet a deadline. I have developed quite a neurotic relationship with the deadline. Fear of failure is a powerful motivating force. Maybe instead of terrific I'm a terrified composer!

Jim McNeelyAAJ: How was it like writing for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band in the '90s?

JM: It was great in several ways. First, by 1993 I had quite a reputation as a big band writer in certain parts of Europe, but virtually none on this side of the Atlantic. Writing for the CHJB gave me the opportunity to present some of my writing in New York City. It was a matter of traveling 25 minutes via the Lincoln Tunnel as opposed to 8'½ hours on Lufthansa!

The CHJB was also comprised of great players with a lot of collective history under their belts. People like Slide Hampton, Frank Wess, and Jerry Dodgion. Even the young guys like Steve Turre, Ralph Lalama, and Lew Soloff had been around for quite awhile. They brought a maturity and seasoning to the music that you wouldn't get with younger players.

Also, the Carnegie Hall approach to repertoire was interesting to me. The idea was to take music from the history of jazz and not reproduce it exactly, but re-work it for the spirits of the players in the band. To be honest, this had mixed results. But I believe that some of the concerts I was involved in—especially the Benny Goodman tribute and Chick Corea concert—were absolute masterpieces. It's a shame that the band released only one CD.

AAJ: You have since then been involved in writing and arranging for quite a few big band projects. You have recently been appointed artist-in-residence with the Hessian Radio Big Band (Frankfurt). You have also worked extensively with the Danish Radio Jazz Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra (Netherlands), the West German Radio (WDR) Big Band and the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra. How do you see the future of these ensembles in a world ruled by more and more individualism and starving for stardom? Can this be orchestrated?

JM: One of the most important threads throughout the history of jazz involves the relationship between written and improvised music. While jazz has always been considered an improviser's art, people—listeners and players—have always been attracted to the sound of a large group providing a framework for the improvisation.

Many times the writing is a reflection of an improviser's style. Benny Carter's saxophone solos sound like harmonized versions of his own playing. After Louis Armstrong joined Fletcher Henderson's band, Don Redman wrote ensemble sections that sounded like Armstrong's solos, in block harmony. Dizzy Gillespie's big band was a large-scale summary of the be-bop language—harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic—that was developed in small-group settings.

Jim McNeely

At the same time, good composer/arrangers have always known how to use improvised solos as key elements, if not the focal point of their work. Ellington is the acknowledged master here, but let's not forget Redman, Carter, Gil Evans, Thad, Eddie Sauter, Bill Holman, Sy Oliver, Bob Brookmeyer, etc., etc. All of these people excelled at balancing the elegance of the improviser with the power and color of the larger group.

When I've worked with the bands that you mention, it's almost always been with a guest soloist. Whether that soloist is old or young, American or European, they are usually knocked out by the sound of the band, and the excitement that comes from being a featured soloist with a world-class ensemble playing really good music. In keeping with the tradition of writers I mention earlier, it is entirely possible to compose and arrange for great individual soloists, using the resources of these great bands. The best projects I've conducted always involve music written for a specific soloist with a specific band.

But this leads me to another important point. These ensembles cannot be defined purely by their guest soloists. Each band must have its own sound, its own time feel, and some interesting soloists of their own. It's the responsibility of the band to keep developing these elements to form a strong, individual identity, with or without a well-known soloist out front. Otherwise they run the risk of becoming a faceless radio band, and their days are numbered.

AAJ: Besides your joining the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra in 1996, most of these bands are European. Is the big band era over in the USA?

JM: What we call the Big Band Era has been over in the USA since around 1950. That was the era of big dance bands. Even the bands we now revere in the jazz world—Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman—were, essentially dance bands that toured constantly.

We are now currently witnessing a different kind of Big Band Era—we might call it the Jazz Orchestra Era. There are institution-supported ensembles like Jazz at Lincoln Center, and The Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. There are other groups, most notably the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, that survive through a combination of a steady gig, tours, and grant money. Maria Schneider's orchestra is a living, breathing ensemble, with gigs. Many other composer/leaders have bands that perform less frequently, but steadily. And, of course, in the US there are many university-level ensembles that serve as training grounds for players and composers.

Jim McNeely

As opposed to the older Big Band Era these groups are in general concert, not dance ensembles. They don't tour like in the old days; some only play concerts in their home area. But the commitment by the leaders and players is consistent and ongoing. So while modern-day jazz orchestras may not lead the kinds of commercial lives of their older predecessors, they thrive in their own artistic ways.

One thing lacking in the US is the European model: the big band supported by government arts money, or by state-subsidized radio companies. And in Europe, some of these groups now face shrinking funding from their official sources. It will be interesting to see how these groups deal with this challenge. I hope they can survive. You cannot talk about the current state of the big band without including these European groups.

AAJ: I know in May [2008] you will be playing with Orquestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, from Portugal. What is your involvement in this project and what do you think of this orchestra?

JM: I'm really looking forward to my visit with OJM. We are performing as part of the Festival de Jazz de Matosinhos on May 22. I have sent a full concert's worth of my big band music to them. The program will consist of pieces I have written for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra; also some pieces from my Swiss Jazz Orchestra CD, based on paintings by Paul Klee. I will be conducting the concert, and playing on a few of them. To be honest, I haven't heard the orchestra yet. But they have done some very interesting projects over the last four or five years, with Lee Konitz, Steve Swallow and Carla Bley, and some of Thad Jones' music. So I am excited about working with them. I also really like Portugal, so I look forward to my visit.

AAJ: You are the musical director of the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop, and you have recently joined the jazz composition faculty at the Manhattan School of Music. You have also been very deep involved in teaching jazz. What message have you been spreading all over the world?

JM: Message? Hmm, I guess the most important thing I try to impart to my students is that they should find what they are really passionate about, and develop the tools to excel at that passion.

In my composition teaching, I work with them on technique as relating to rhythm, form, harmony, etc. But I also tell them that, to paraphrase Stravinsky, a composer's primary job is to speculate. A composer asks "What if?" rather than "May I?" or "Is it in the tradition to...?" And you've got to be completely honest, with yourself and with your audience.

The same goes for improvising. The great musicians aren't concerned whether they're pleasing critics, teachers, or anyone else. They play what they absolutely must play; write what they absolutely must write. If you start to feel that your true passion lays somewhere else, then you should pursue that something else. Another message is that to play or write this music well, it takes work—a lot of work. I'm amazed at how many young folks don't get this.

Jim McNeelyAAJ: It's not easy to find you as a pianist at the main jazz festivals. What have you been doing recently?

JM: Over the last ten years I've spent a lot of time writing music and conducting large ensembles in Europe and the US. I've got a family, so I've cut back on my live performing so that I'm home some of the time. I intend to get back into playing more in the next couple of years.

AAJ: What do you expect to accomplish in jazz in the future?

JM: To keep doing things that I haven't done before.

AAJ: Is there a future at all for jazz?

JM: I'm sure that there is. Jazz is the most important musical development of the 20th century. I don't think it's going away. On the other hand, I hope that jazz remains a vibrant, living music, and doesn't become an ossified museum piece. It's all up to us, isn't it?

Selected Discography

Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer, Boneyard (Origin, 2007)
The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Up from the Skies: The Music of Jim McNeely (Planet Arts, 2006)

Danish Radio Big Band/Jim McNeely, (Cope, 2006)
Paul Klee, The Swiss Jazz Orchestra & Jim McNeely (Mons, 2006) Jim McNeely, In This Moment (Stunt, 2003)
Dave Liebman Big Band, Beyond the Line (OmniTone, 2003)
Jim McNeely Tentet, Group Therapy (OmniTone, 2001)
Jim McNeely, Sound Bites (Dragon, 1997)
Lickety Split: The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Jim McNeely (New World , 1997)

Phil Woods and Jim McNeely, Plays the Music of Jim McNeely (TCB, 1996)
Jim McNeely, Live at Maybeck, Volume 20 (Concord Jazz, 1992)
Phil Woods with Jim McNeely, Flowers for Hodges (Concord, 1991)
Phil Woods' Little Big Band, Real :Life (Chesky, 1990)
Jim McNeely, East Coast Blow Out (Lipstick, 1989)
Jim McNeely, Winds of Change (SteepleChase, 1989)
Jim McNeely, From the Heart (Owl, 1984)
Stan Getz, Blue Skies (Concord, 1982)
Mel Lewis & The Jazz Orchestra, Live at the Village Vanguard> (DCC, 1980)
Jim McNeely, The Plot Thickens (Muse, 1979)
Jim McNeely, Rain's Dance (SteepleChase, 1976)

Photo Credits
Bottom Photo: Jos L. Knaepen
All Other Photos: Courtesy of Jim McNeely

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