Born: March 27, 1981 Primary Instrument: Piano
For Harold O’Neal, the emphasis is on the experience of the music, rather than the genre. “Through my compositions and improvisations, most important to me is the hope to expand the sonic awareness of my listeners and bring about a shared sense interconnection. At the end of each piece, I want to leave them with the impression that we have travelled together, and that they each have been an integral participant on this spontaneous journey.” Indeed, audiences who have the pleasure of hearing Harold’s unique improvisatory impressionism performed live routinely find themselves drawn into a marvelous fantasy. Born in Arusha, Tanzania to an American father and a Tanzanian mother, O’Neal moved to Kansas City, Missouri at the age of three. There, despite being immersed in the rich blues and jazz traditions of his neighborhood, the 18th and Vine District, it was not the solos of Charlie Parker, but the impressionist compositions of Franz Liszt that sparked his interest in the piano at the age of 14. He began studying jazz at the Paseo Academy of Performing Arts, where he first caught the attention of his future mentor, the legendary saxophonist, Bobby Watson. O’Neal later went on to study at the Manhattan School of Music where he became the protégé of the jazz piano great Andrew Hill. Andrew Hill (himself a former student of the 20th century composer Paul Hindemith) majorly influenced Harold’s current compositions, “from him I learned the importance of letting things develop naturally and being able to find the middle ground anywhere... of feeling free to push the envelope structurally and rhythmically, but being able to maintain the melody and the feeling of being ‘in time’ while doing this.” O’Neal has toured extensively throughout the world and has performed and recorded with artists such as: Greg Osby, Jeff “Tain” Watts, Roy Hargrove, Avishai Cohen, Bobby Watson, Carmen Lundy, Nicholas Payton, Wynton Marsalis, Ski Beatz, Murs, and Jerry Wonda. Last June, he had the honor of playing for Amnesty International and Bono’s Electric Burma concert, celebrating Burmese activist Aung Sang Su Kyi, where he performed with Lupe Fiasco, Angelique Kidjo, Bob Geldof, Damien Rice, and U2. Harold O’Neal has two records available through Smalls Recordings (Whirling Mantis and Marvelous Fantasy) that have each garnered great critical acclaim in the international press. Ben Ratliff of the New York Times has stated Marvelous Fantasy, “the strange and gorgeous whole of it, sits somewhere between Ravel’s ‘Miroirs’ and Duke Ellington’s great 1953 album Piano Reflections...the album is a piece of work that seems to be out there on its own. I have an idea where the music comes from, but I’m not hearing it anywhere else.” He has been profiled on NPR All Things Considered, NPR Studio 360, and featured in Downbeat and Jazz Times. He is currently working on a second solo piano album that will be released on Smalls Records in 2013.
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