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Al Neil

Alternate Names:
Vital Dates:
Born: 26 March 1924
Died: 16 November 2017


Al Neil was a writer, jazz musician, composer, visual artist, and performance artist. He was a prominent figure in the Vancouver arts scene and was particularly influential on the post-war literary, jazz, and visual arts communities from the 1950s to the 1970s. He is considered one of Canada’s great interdisciplinary pioneers.

Neil was born on March 26, 1924 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He received music lessons as a child, and began creating artworks as a young man while stationed in Port Hardy when working as a surveyor for the Department of Transportation. Neil later joined the army as a surveyor and saw action during the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy. After he left the army and returned to Vancouver, Neil continued music lessons, with a strong interest in the jazz scene. At the same time, he was also interested in the arts and literature. In 1958, Neil, along with four others, opened the Cellar, a jazz club at Main Street and Broadway, with his group as the house band. His music from this period has been described as experimental, avant-garde, and bebop. The Cellar also brought a number of prominent jazz artists to Vancouver, such as Art Pepper, Ornette Coleman, and others. The influence of these performers on Neil and the Vancouver jazz scene was profound.

Dropping out of public performance for a few years, Neil re-emerged in the mid-sixties with a more experimental form of music-making incorporating Dada elements, and moving from jazz to sound-works integrating mixed tape and toy instruments among other elements. During this time he joined the Vancouver artist collective Intermedia and collaborated with other artists on performance art pieces. Neil published books, magazine articles, poetry, and short stories. In the 1970s he also began exhibiting his artworks. By the early 1990s, Neil had withdrawn from the public eye.

In 2003 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design.

Neil died November 16, 2017.

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