Born: July 24, 1978 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Willow Neilson was born in the small hippy town of Nimbin, Australia. His parents were entertainers and environmental activists, Willow spent the early years of his life marching in protests or sleeping in his father’s velvet lined guitar case whilst his parents performed their original musical and theatrical satires. At ten years old he took up the harmonica, practicing blues music with his father in their living room. At 14 he began the saxophone and fell in love with jazz music.
Willow Neilson went on to graduate as one of the top three students in his year at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music then took out third place in three international competitions; Jazz Hoelaart International Competition in Brussels in 2001, Montreaux Jazz Festival Saxophone Competition 2003 and London Jazz Festival Saxophone Competition 2004 both run by the White foundation.
After many years of performing with some of Australia’s top musicians, Willow travelled Europe and the US performing and studying, finally settling in Shanghai in 2007 with the support of an Asialink Arts Residency/ China-Australia council Fellowship which aided him in the beginning stages of musical projects working with Chinese ethnic minority musicians and local Shanghai artists such as Coco Zhao.
Willow recently released his latest album, Lightbulb Life. Through both electronic sampling, electric and acoustic instrumentation his music incorporates the soundscape of the city of Shanghai.
It features Jing Song, a Naxi vocalist from Li Jiang, vocalist Coco Zhao as well as the wealth of musicians working in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The album will be released alongside a website featuring the music and writing of Willow in collaboration with local literature and visual arts collectives, celebrating the characters and scenes of the vast metropolis of Shanghai through multi-media.
Awards:White Foundation Saxophone competition 2003 Montreaux (3rd Place) White Foundation Saxophone competition 2004 London (3rd Place)
Among other things, jazz is the art of building and releasing tension, and Neilson’s band gives a lesson in this on their CD, belying the members’ age and experience. There is no sense of treading water or fishing for ideas as the improvising races from one action-packed episode to another leaving pools of suspense between. The drama suggests near desperation to vent ideas and energy… -John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald 12th April 2002
”In the best traditions of its chosen style, the collective performance is where the fun really is. The talk is articulate and robust, in musical conversations between band members that are every bit as important to the action as the featured solos. Having acknowledged this though, Neilson’s musical ideas are so mature and executed that he really sparkles throughout this recording.”- Andy Sugg, Music Forum, April/May 2002
“This Sydney tenor saxophonist has crafted an album of high artistry that requires-and rewards- close and frequent listening. Although firmly in the post-bop mould, Neilson and his excellent cohorts rise above their influences with a powerful display of group playing…” – Kenny Weir, Sunday Herald Sun, July 14, 2002. Melbourne
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