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Neal Kirkwood

Neal Kirkwood, composer, pianist, writes music for jazz and contemporary classical ensembles. He has composed for jazz big band, classical ensembles, vocal ensembles, solo piano and full orchestra. He has received commissions from the New York State Music Fund; the New York State Council for the Arts; the Children’s Aid Society; the Jazz Composer’s Alliance and Belgian ensemble Octurn.

As a band leader, Neal Kirkwood has recorded six CDs: "Welcome To My Dream" (self-released, 2021) “Blue Inventions” (Present Eye Music, 2019); “Time’s Circle,” (Present Eye Music, 1996); “The Neal Kirkwood Octet”; “The Chromatic Persuaders”; “Extrospection” (Timescraper Records). Currently Mr. Kirkwood conducts and plays in his 17-piece ensemble, The Neal Kirkwood Big Band, in New York City.

Kirkwood has performed and recorded with jazz artists Pony Poindexter, Bobby Previte, Lindsey Horner, Phillip Johnston, and Mike Clark and others. He has toured internationally with vocalists Bobby McFerrin, Abby Lincoln, Michel Hermon, and Chris Connor. He works extensively composing for, and performing with, New York's creative and experimental theater ensembles. For 20 years he has composed new music every year for Ralph Lee’s Mettawee Theater. He has composed songs and incidental music for playwright Jim Neu productions. He has worked with experimental theater directors Joseph Chaiken and Anne Bogart.

Born and raised in California, Neal Kirkwood began piano lessons at age of 8. He attended North Texas State University and California State University Hayward briefly before settling in San Francisco in 1976 to begin his career as a jazz pianist and composer. Moving to New York City in 1981, he earned a master’s degree in composition from Mannes College of Music, where he studied with composer Charles Jones. Mr. Kirkwood was a charter member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, and studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam.

An experienced and dedicated educator, he is currently on the faculties of the Third Street Music School in New York City and Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, and teaches piano, composition and arranging privately. He has presented masterclasses at the Manhattan School of Music and Musikhochschule, Luzern, and was awarded the National Dance Institute Teacher of the Year award in 2007 for his work with public school students in New York City.


"A stimulating intellectual journey into the possibilities of jazz piano." ~ Michael Kramer, JazzIz

"A very impressive player indeed, with a phenomenal keyboard technique and a musical imagination to match." ~ Pat Hawes, Jazz Journal

"...distinguished by clarity of line and thought and Kirkwood's variety of approaches." ~ Coda Magazine

"We have confidence in his sense of direction every step of the way." ~ Jazz Times

Primary Instrument



New York City

Willing to teach

Beginner to advanced


I’m very happy to be on the faculty of two wonderful institutions - Third Street Music School in New York City since 2007 and Kutztown University in Kutztown Pennsylvania since 2011. At Third Street Music School I teach jazz piano, direct four jazz ensembles, and hold the position of Jazz Coordinator. My students range in age from 8 to 80. The ensembles have stayed engaged during the pandemic on Zoom, working on recording projects including a collaboration with the dance department playing arrangements of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s Nutcracker Suite

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Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Piano Stories

Self Produced


Welcome To My Dream

Self Produced


Blue Inventions

Present Eye Music


Time's Circle

Present Eye Music



Timescraper Records


The Neal Kirkwood...

Self Produced



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