Sunday, September 4, 2016

NEC Faculty Member and Jazz Trumpet Legend John McNeil Receives 2016 FONT Music Award of Recognition

NEC Faculty Member and Jazz Trumpet Legend John McNeil Receives 2016 FONT Music Award of Recognition

September 25 Concert “Honoring John McNeil” Caps FONT Music Festival

New England Conservatory faculty member and trumpet legend John McNeil is the recipient of this year’s Award of Recognition from New York’s prestigious Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT Music). Previous recipients include Wadada Leo Smith, Kenny Wheeler, Raymond Mase, Bobby Bradford, Eddie Henderson, and Laurie Frink.

The FONT Music Festival (September 19-25) culminates in “Honoring John McNeil” on Sunday, September 25, 5 p.m. at The New School, Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall, Room I-202, 55 West 13th St., New York City. Admission by donation. For more information visit

The concert will include a performance of “Anxiety Option” for trumpet and electronics written and performed by Jeff Beal, an accomplished trumpeter and composer of music for film, television, and the concert hall – and a student of McNeil. Following Beal’s set, John McNeil will take the stage with his ensemble: Gary Versace, piano; Jerome Harris, bass; and Jay Sawyer, drums. The 2016 Laurie Frink Career Grant award winner, Tony Glausi, will join them.

The theme for this year’s festival is Flexus, taken from the title of an influential book by the late Laurie Frink and John McNeil. Asked about the selection of McNeil as the FONT Music Awardee for 2016, NEC alum Dave Douglas said, “McNeil has long been a forward-looking voice on the instrument in jazz, influencing many in subsequent generations. His unique view of jazz practice has opened doors for countless players. FONT Music is proud to be able to celebrate him in our community this year.”

Douglas co-founded the FONT Festival in 2003 with the late Roy Campbell Jr. “The Festival of New Trumpet Music started on a cocktail napkin,” Douglas said in a 2013 interview. He had been asked to program a month of music at a venue on New York’s Lower East Side, and he and Campbell wondered whether it could be filled with creative trumpet music. “We started this list, and within ten minutes we were already way over the number that we could program,” said Douglas. The festival has been promoting and supporting music by a diverse community of brass players ever since.

John McNeil was born in 1948 in Northern California and was a largely self-taught trumpeter. By the time he graduated from high school in 1966, he had already begun playing professionally. He moved to New York in the mid-1970’s, where his reputation as an innovative trumpet voice grew. Today, he is regarded as one of the most original and creative jazz artists in the world. 

For over three decades he has toured with his own groups and received widespread acclaim as both a player and composer. His highly personal trumpet style communicates across the full range of contemporary jazz, and his compositions combine harmonic freedom with melodic accessibility. McNeil’s restless experimentation has kept him on the cutting edge of new music and has prevented easy categorization of his music. 

Although his background includes such mainstream jazz groups as the Horace Silver Quintet, Gerry Mulligan, and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, McNeil is equally at home in free and unstructured settings. 

This stylistic versatility has put him on stage with such disparate artists as Slide Hampton and John Abercrombie. In addition to his revelatory trumpeting and composing, he is in demand as an arranger and record producer. McNeil has been a member of the New England Conservatory jazz faculty since 1981.

NEC's Jazz Studies Department was the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. The brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became president of the Conservatory in 1967, the Jazz Studies faculty has included six MacArthur "genius" grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters. 

The program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers and has an alumni list that reads like a who's who of jazz. As Mike West writes in JazzTimes: “NEC's jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and alumni.” The program currently has 105 students; 55 undergraduate and 50 graduate students from 16 countries.