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Bio & CV | Al Neil
Vancouver Art in the Sixties

Al Neil Bio & CV


Al Neil on the porch of his Dollarton cabin

Photo Jim Jardine

Al (Alan Douglas) Neil. Pianist, composer, visual artist, author, b Vancouver 26 Mar 1924. He studied with Glenn Nelson and Jean Coulthard but, save for some lessons with Wilf Wylie, was self-taught as a jazz pianist. Drawn to bebop by recordings of Bud Powell, et al, he began playing in Vancouver clubs in the late 1940s with his own groups and as a sideman to other musicians. Neil was a central figure in the 1950s and early 1960s at the Cellar, a musician-operated Vancouver club, where he accompanied such US jazzmen as Carl Fontana, Art Pepper, and Sonny Red. He was seen in performance at the Cellar with the saxophonist Glenn MacDonald and the bassist Don Thompson in the NFB's In Search of Innocence (1963). The Al Neil quartet from this period (Dale Hillary, alto saxophone; Lionel Chambers, bass; Bill Boyle, drums) was heard with the poet Kenneth Patchen on the LP Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz (1959, Folk FL-9718).

Briefly inactive, Neil returned to music with a trio (Richard Anstey, bass; Gregg Simpson, drums) in 1965, introducing the freer and more personal - if not, eventually, wholly eccentric - performance style that would characterize his music over the next 20 years. In a review of the limited edition LP, The Al Neil Trio Retrospective: 1965-1968 (Lodestone lr-7001), released in 1976, Richard Baker (Coda, Feb 1977) observed that Neil's music from this period "sounded strange even to ears already accustomed to Ornette [Coleman], Cecil Taylor and Sun Ra. Neil derived as much from John Cage, Alfred Jarry, the I Ching... as from any trends in free jazz or, for that matter, bop... [D]evelopments during the intervening years make it difficult to realize what a departure these performances represented at the time."

Music has shared Neil's attention with writing and visual art. His writings, which are often of a semi-autobiographical nature and recount some of his experiences as a musician, include poems, a novel (Changes, Toronto 1975; London, Ont, 1989), and a collection of short stories (Slammer, Vancouver 1980). In the visual arts he organized multimedia performances in the 1970s and turned to mixed-media collage in the early 1980s. Most of his infrequent concerts/readings/installations during the post-Cellar period have been in gallery settings, eg, at the Sound Gallery and the Motion Studio (1966), the Vancouver Art Gallery (1968, 1972 - as part of the one-man show West Coast Lokas - and 1989), the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (1969), Museum of Modern Art, Paris (1973), and the Coburg Gallery, Vancouver (annually, 1984-7). He also gave several concerts in Vancouver during the 1980s at the Western Front, where a show of his collages, Origins: Celtic Series, was mounted on the occasion of his 65th birthday.

Neil's collaborators in the 1970s and 1980s included the percussionists Simpson and Howard Broomfield (the latter for the LP Boot and Fog, 1979, Music Gallery Editions MGE 33) and the bassists David Lee, Lisle Ellis, and Clyde Reed. A second Neil retrospective, Selections: 3 Decades, produced by Lee, John Oswald, and Alex Varty, was issued on cassette by Lee's Nightwood Editions in 1991.

Bio source:

Video Portrait by David Rimmer

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This 45-minute film directed by David Rimmer in 1979 is a portrait of Neil and his work. The award-winning documentary is a frank and sensitive portrayal of Neil through his life, his music and his art.

To purchase a high resolution digital version of this film, email

Video interviews with Al Neil can be found on the Jazz Street Vancouver site.

Al Neil CV

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Solo Exhibitions

1999 New and Selected, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1997 Evidence, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1995 Recent Collage Works & Small drawings from 1981– 82, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1994 Auto-Bio Portrait Series, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1992 Rene Daumal Portrait Series, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1991 Artaud: Portraits 1 - 12, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1989 Correspondence, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC,
Origins Celtic Series, Western Front Gallery, Vancouver BC
1987 Coburg Gallery, Vancouver BC
1986 Coburg Gallery, Vancouver BC
1985 Coburg Gallery, Vancouver BC
1983 Codices, Western Front Gallery, Vancouver BC
1972 West Coast Lokas, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC

Group Exhibitions

2005 Al Neil, Shane Ehman, Ray Johnson, Blanket Gallery, Vancouver BC
1994 Celebrating Al Neil’s 70th birthday, Western Front Gallery, Vancouver BC 1993 Vancouver Collects, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
1993 New Acquisitions, Burnaby Art Gallery, Burnaby BC
1992 Inaugural Exhibition, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1991 Celebration of Sound - The Art of Jazz, Community Arts Council of Vancouver
1990 Artropolis, Vancouver BC (catalogue), Processing Copies, Western Front, Vancouver BC
1989 Rezoning, a group exhibition of collages and assemblages (with Bill Bissett, George Herms and Jess), Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
The Alma Mater Society Art Collection: 1948–1988, Vancouver General Hospital Foundation Gallery, Vancouver BC
1987 From Sea to Shining Sea, The Power Plant, Toronto ON
1986 Making History: Recent Art of the Pacific West, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
1985 Collage Works, Atelier Gallery, Vancouver BC
1984 Coburg Gallery, Vancouver BC (with Carole Itter)
1983 Vancouver Art and Artists 1931–83, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC
1973 Canada Trajectoires ’73, Musee d’Art Moderne de a Ville de Paris, Paris France
1971 The Collage Show, Fine Arts Gallery, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC


Studied music with Glenn Nelson in Vancouver.

After serving in the army during the WW11, resumed music studies with Glenn Nelson, Jan Couthard, Wilf Wylie and others, and listened to the recordings of Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, et al.
Began playing in clubs in Vancouver in the late ‘40s with his own groups and as a sideman to other musicians.

Composed and played music for a feature length National Film Board movie.
Did regular CBC Radio and TV shows as leader of bebop group.
Co-founded the Cellar Jazz Club (1956) and led its house band. Played in house rhythm section for visiting musicians such as Conte Condali, Carl Fontana, Bill Perkins, Sonny Redd, Art Pepper and others.

The Al Neil Quartet and American poet Kenneth Patchen performed to a packed house in what Neil describes as "our one and only jazz poetry gig" at The Cellar. Neil toured for 10 days with Patchen.

Recorded Kenneth Patchen reads with JAZZ IN CANADA (1959), recently re-released by Locust Music.

He was seen in performance at the Cellar with the saxophonist Glenn MacDonald and the bassist Don Thompson in the NFB's In Search of Innocence.

After a two-year retreat, Neil began working with Gregg Simpson and Richard Anstey, searching out new expressions of jazz. Contact with Sam Perry, Gary Lee Nova, Dallas Selman and others resulted in the formation of Intermedia.
Started giving yearly concerts at the Vancouver Art Gallery as well as at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia.
Began touring with Gregg Simpson and Marguerite Neil, giving concerts in Edmonton, Regina, Ottawa, Toronto, Kingston and Halifax over several seasons.

Al Neil Trio formed with Gregg Simpson and Richard Anstey

Al Neil Trio: concerts at the Sound Gallery and Motion Studio, Vancouver
Opened for Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Grateful Dead Vancouver School of Art; Trio and duo concerts at Simon Fraser University 1967, 1968, 1969

Al Neil Trio, International House, University of British Columbia

Duo concert with Gregg Simpson, Intermedia Nights, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC

Al Neil Trio Tour: Art Gallery of Ontario Hart House, University of Toronto; Norman MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina; University of Edmonton
Al Neil Trio: Electrical Connection, Intermedia Nights, Victoria Art Gallery

Al Neil Trio: Intermedia Nights, Victoria Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery Dome Show

Organized the Al Neil Jazz Probe with Gregg Simpson Richard Anstey, and Annie Seigel. Performed at the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver and Open Space Gallery in Victoria, BC

Performed at Pacific Vibrations, a group exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC

Solo performance, The Spiral, Western Front, Vancouver BC

Recorded Retrospective: 1965–68 with the Al Neil Trio

Gave piano workshops, The Music Gallery in Toronto,
Performed at Pumps in Vancouver and in Montreal.
Composed and performed “improvised” music for radio recordings of Brian Fawcett’s epic poem for four voices, Tristam’s Book.

Toured Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston and Peterborough.

Recorded 'Boot and Fog', a solo LP produced by Music Gallery Editions
Performed at music festival, Music From the New Wilderness, Western Front, Vancouver BC
Performed with Bill Horvitz for In Concert, Western Front, Vancouver BC

Solo performance, New Works, Western Front, Vancouver BC
Piano performance with poet Carolyn Zonailo and percussionist Howard Bloomfield in a major work, “Journey to the Sybil”, at Pumps GalleryFhomag (Vancouver), The Optica Gallery (Montreal), and The Music Gallery (Toronto).

Solo piano performance, Coburg Gallery, Vancouver BC.

Performed with the Al Neil Trio at the du Maurier International Jazz Festival, Vancouver BC


1966 Multimedia performances at Neil’s Sound Gallery and Motion Studio

Performed for the CBC at Intermedia

Multimedia performance at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Multimedia performance, Art Gallery of Ontario

Performed at his solo show, West Coast Lokas, Vancouver Art Gallery

Performed in Paris, France, at the Museum of Modern Art and went on tour from Vancouver to Amsterdam via Toronto.
Developed a programme of compositions and readings performed first at the Vancouver Art Gallery and then on tour

Presented multi-disciplinary performances at Pumps, U.B.C. and Western Front in Vancouver.

Annual performances at the Western Front, Vancouver BC

Multimedia performances, Coburg Gallery, Vancouver BC

Multimedia performance, Western Front, Vancouver BC

Major multimedia collaborative performance with David Lee, bass; Howard Broomfield, percussion, Alex Varty, guitars; Martin Bartlett, synthesizer; and Carole Itter, rattles and slides.

Multimedia performance, with Clive Reid and Lyle Ellis, Vancouver Art Gallery

1991 Performance at the opening of Carole Itter’s Where the Streets are Paved with Gold, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver BC

Collaborative performance with Sheri-D Wilson, Alma Street Café, Vancouver BC

Homage Collage: Improv for Al Neil. Tribute performance by Paul Plimley, Gregg Simpson, Clyde Reed, Stefan Smulovitz, Vivianne Houle. Video by Krista Lomax, Visuals by Carole Itter, The Roundhouse, Vancouver BC. Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Writing / Readings

Al Neil has published books, magazine articles, poetry and short stories. His innumerable and largely undocumented readings, improvised poetry performances and verbal expressions have influenced Vancouver’s literary and multimedia landscape since the 1960s.


Origins. Western Front Publications, Vancouver (1989).
Slammer. Pulp Press, Vancouver (1980)
Changes, Nightwood Editions, Vancouver (1975)
West Coast Lokas. Vancouver Community Press, Vancouver (1972)
Clonic or tonic spasm change Seamus' likeness into dark bovine form. Western Press, Vancouver (1968)

1956-63 improvised poetry readings at the Cellar, Vancouver BC

Began publishing articles in the Georgia Straight; published two novels

Prose readings at Octopus Books East, and CFRO radio in Vancouver and Calgary

Poetry readings in a series produced by Elliot Lefko, Isabella Hotel, Toronto

Reissue of Changes
Reading at R2B2, Vancouver BC

Received Honorary Doctorate of Letters, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design
Vancouver International Jazz Festival used as their poster Al Neil's "Assemblage with Bird Cage"


2004 Kenneth Patchen Reads With Jazz in Canada, Locust Music (reissue)
2001 Al Neil Trio: Retrospective (1965-1968), Blue Minor Records, (double CD)
1991 Selections: 3 Decades, Nightwood Editions (cassette)
1980 Boot and Fog, Music Gallery Editions
1980 Ear It Live, produced by Music Gallery Editions, Toronto
1976: Retrospective: 1965-68,, Al Neil Trio, Lodestone Records, Vancouver, B.C (vinyl)


The Al Neil Project: grunt gallery's fourth LIVE Biennial of Performance Art presented four evenings of interdisciplinary work by, and inspired by, Al Neil.
Venues and dates:
October 15th @ Western Front
October 21st @ Vancouver Public Library
November 10th @ Roundhouse Community Centre
November 25th @ Vancouver Art Gallery


Al Neil: A Portrait (David Rimmer 1979)

A Chronological Bibliography

Osborne, Stephen. “Evictions”, Geist, issue 57 August 2008
Ricci, Quarin. JazzStreet Vancouver, Personal Interview with Gavin Walker. Vancouver, BC, November 1 2005
Metcalfe, Eric. JazzStreet Vancouver, Personal Interview with Eric Metcalfe. Vancouver, BC, July 16 2005
Smith, Bill. JazzStreet Vancouver, Personal Interview, Vancouver, BC. June 2004
“Al Neil Project” Georgia Straight, November 10 2005
MacIntyre, Jeff. “King of the Underground”, Globe & Mail, October 11 2005
Turner, Michael, “The Al Neil Project” brunt magazine, September, 2005, issue 1
Smith, Bill. “Letters from friends #7: Al Neil”, Coda Magazine; #307; Jan/Feb. 2003; 19
Laurence, Robin, “Strange Conjunctor¬¬–The Wild Life and Art of Al Neil” Border Crossings, Summer 1994
Varty, Alexander, “No Ghost, Al Neil Lives Past Doctor’s Deadline” Georgia Straight, March 25, 1994
Davies, Gloria, Profile “Elder of the Avante-Garde” Vancouver Sun, March 27 1993
Laurence, Robin, Review “Subversion Fondly Recalled”, The Georgia Straight, November 5 1992
Rosenberg, Ann, Review, Vancouver Sun, October 23, 1992
Sandiford, Judith, Interview “Al Neil Improvisor”, Work Seen, Summer 1992
Rosenberg, Ann, Review, Vancouver Sun, October 5, 1991
Review, Vancouver Sun, June 29, 1991
Review, “Alchemy of Art” Vancouver Sun, April 18, 1991
Varty, Alex. The Music of Al Neil. Nightwood Editions 1990
Birnie-Danzker, Jo-Anne, Artopolis Review, Vancouver Magazine, October 1990
Watson, Scott, “Three Masks for Al Neil” The Capilano Review, Fall 1989, Series 211
Watson, Scott, “Fast Forward”, Canadian Art, Fall 1989
Jeffries, Bill, Review “Origins – Celtic Series”. Parachute, No. 57, 1989
Perry, Art, Review “Junk has its place in art”, Province, November 3, 1989
Laurence, Robin, Review, ”West coast Beats Create Anti-Establishment Art”
“Rezoning”, Vancouver Art Gallery, Georgia Straight, December 8, 1989
Lacey, Liam, “At 65 Vancouver artist gets around to liking life”, The Globe and Mail November 13 1989
Godley, Elizabeth. Review – Rezoning” Vancouver Sun, November 8 1989
Pollack, Jill, “Review – Rezoning”, The Vancouver Courier, November 1 1989
Perry, Art. “Review – Art Blooms”, Province, April 3 1989
Al Neil: Origins, Exhibition catalogue (Vancouver 1989)
Lacey, Liam. “At 65, Vancouver artist gets around to liking life”, Globe and Mail, Nov 12 1989
Bentley-Mays, John. “An Encyclopedia of Fascination”, Globe and Mail, Feb 6, 1987
Lee, David. “Al Neil”, Western Front, Issue 13, 1985
Arden, Roy. “Music, Medicine and War – Al Neil’s Collages”, Vanguard, April 1985
Johnson, Eve. “Al Puts Life Into Collage”, Vancouver Sun, September 8 1984
Andrews, Harke. “Stalking the underground warrior”, Vancouver Sun, March 11 1983
Varty, Alex. “Al Neil: music at the centre”,' Vancouver Free Press - Georgia Straight, Feb 5–26 1982
Gasparini, Len. “At last, stories with universal appeal”, Vancouver Sun, January 8 1982
Smith, Bill. “Oops - An introduction to an encore - Al Neil”, Coda Magazine; #178; 1981; 14-17
Broomfield, Howard. “Interview with Al Neil”, Musicworks 1979 issue 9
Simpson, Gregg, “Al Neil at U.B.C.”, Only Paper Today, March 1978
Lowndes, Joan, “Baffling Image of Al Neil”, Vancouver Sun, April 7 1972
Simmins, Richard, “Today’s glitter, tomorrow’s tarnished bits of vanity”, The Province, March 28 1972
McGrath, Rick, Al Neil Interview, (
Smith, Bill. 'Sacred and Profane,' Coda, vol 9, Feb 1970
“Al Neil raps with Al Sorenson and Bob Cummings”, Vancouver Free Press, 1-7 Jul 1970
Lemon, Sandy. “Al Neil: music and life”. Coda, vol 7, Dec-Jan 1966-7


Vancouver Art Gallery
Canada Council Art Bank
Government of British Art Collection
University of British Columbia Student Art Collection
Burnaby Art Gallery
First City Art Collection