Jim Mcneely im Portät

Der ehemalige Chefdirigent und derzeitige Composer in Residence der hr-Bigband Jim McNeely startete seine Karriere als Pianist an der Seite von Jazz-Ikonen wie Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Phil Woods und Joe Henderson. Als Komponist und Arrangeur hat er Werke für renommierte Formationen wie das Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, das Stan Getz Quartet und das Phil Woods Quintet geschrieben, aber auch für weitere namhafte Bigbands und große Orchester wie beispielsweise das hr-Sinfonieorchester. Sein neuestes Werk „Inner Visions“, das er am 13. Juni präsentiert, bietet erneut Einblick in seine tiefgehende Verbundenheit mit der Bigband. 

Anlässlich des Internationalen Tags des Jazz am 30. April hatten wir kürzlich das Vergnügen, mit McNeely über seine Zeit bei der hr-Bigband und die Inspirationen für „Inner Visions“ zu sprechen.

Having served as Chief Conductor and now as Composer in Residence with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, you’ve built a significant collaborative bond. As this partnership draws to a close, could you share a favorite memory from your time with the band?

I have so many memories of working with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. I will say that several of our concerts – Branford Marsalis, Corey Henry, and Chris Potter – really stand out. Before each of those concerts, I knew that the music was good, but was not sure how the public would respond. Then each of those concerts was a great success! I also cherish the memories of working with great singers like Luciana Souza, Lizz Wright and Ivan Lins. But I think my greatest „cherished memory“ is how much I have enjoyed working with the musicians in the band, and how much we have all grown together. 

The Frankfurt Radio Big Band is known as one of the best Jazz ensembles worldwide. How have the unique qualities of the ensemble broadly influenced your musical approach and compositions?

Yes, I agree that the Frankfurt Radio Big Band is one of the best large jazz ensembles in the world. There are several ways in which they have influenced my writing. First: the musicians are very flexible—they are willing to play in different ways, depending on the music in the project. This is especially true in the Rhythm Group, but also for all the musicians who might have to play like the Count Basie band one week, then like a modern fusion/funk band the next week. So I have a lot of room to write in many different genres. Also, the saxophone players play so many different woodwind instruments. It gives me so many colors in my musical palette. And each soloist has their own voice. I am always thinking of the way they will fit into the structure of a composition.

Titled „Inner Visions“, your forthcoming farewell concert features a piece you specifically composed for the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. What served as your inspiration during its creation?

Like many of my compositions, „Inner Visions“ takes inspiration from the Swiss artist Paul Klee. He wrote „Kunst gibt nicht das Sichtbare wieder, sondern macht sichtbar.“ So for me, „music doesn’t reproduce the audible, rather it makes audible“ the inner visions of the composer. Sometimes these visions are literal, like a story. Sometimes they are more abstract—a feeling, or an impression. And I think of the musicians in the band as actors, or storytellers.

Within „Inner Visions“, what overarching message or sentiment do you aim to convey?

I think the overarching sentiment of „Inner Visions“ is that life has its ups and downs. Some moments of the piece are quite dissonant, others very lyrical. Some are very peaceful, others quite energetic. It’s all part of life. Stay true to yourself. And after we go through all of those phases, in the end we are at peace. 

Jazz has been your lifelong passion. Your journey has seen you collaborate not only as a pianist but also as a composer with luminaries such as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz, Phil Woods, and various big bands. For aspiring jazz musicians of the younger generation, what words of wisdom would you impart to those pursuing a career in this genre?

I’ve been very lucky to have had a performing career before becoming known as a jazz composer/arranger. I had the chance to play with some amazing musicians like Stan Getz, Phil Woods, Joe Henderson, Thad Jones, David Liebman, John Scofield, Bob Brookmeyer, and so many others. They are very different musicians, but they all had their „Inner Vision“ of who they wanted to be, and how they wanted to play. They put themselves in different situations that challenged themselves, and all became better musicians in the process. I have also been very fortunate to work with so many great big bands. These bands have all given me the chance to write music, hear it, then write some more. This process has driven me for almost 60 years.

I must admit that the modern „music business“ is very different than it was when I came up in the ‘70’s. But my advice to young musicians would still be 1.) Be true to yourself, to your „Inner Vision“, and 2.) Do it, do it, and do it some more. Whether it is composing, arranging, or playing, you don’t get better by talking about it, thinking about it, reading about it, or arguing about it on the internet. You DO it. 

Bist du inspiriert und willst mehr Jazz? Dann besuche unser ADticket-Portal, wo du nicht nur den Termin für „Inner Visions“ findest, sondern auch viele weitere Konzerte der hr-Bigband. Entdecke außerdem das Porträt des hr-Sinfonieorchesters. Folge uns auf Instagram und Facebook für noch mehr musikalische Highlights.