Neal Kirkwood, composer, pianist, writes music for jazz and contemporary classical ensembles. He has composed for jazz big band, classical ensembles, vocal ensembles, solo piano and full orchestra. He has received commissions from the New York State Music Fund; the New York State Council for the Arts; the Children’s Aid Society; the Jazz Composer’s Alliance and Belgian ensemble Octurn.
As a band leader, Neal Kirkwood has recorded five CDs: “Blue Inventions” (Present Eye Music, 2019); “Time’s Circle,” (Present Eye Music, date); “The Neal Kirkwood Octet”; “The Chromatic Persuaders”; “Extrospection” (Timescraper Records). Currently Mr. Kirkwood conducts and plays in his 17-piece ensemble, The Neal Kirkwood Big Band, in New York City.
Kirkwood has performed and recorded with jazz artists Pony Poindexter, Bobby Previte, Lindsey Horner, Phillip Johnston, and Mike Clark and others. He has toured internationally with vocalists Bobby McFerrin, Abby Lincoln, Michel Hermon, and Chris Connor. He works extensively composing for, and performing with, New York's creative and experimental theater ensembles. For 20 years he has composed new music every year for Ralph Lee’s Mettawee Theater. He has composed songs and incidental music for playwright Jim Neu productions. He has worked with experimental theater directors Joseph Chaiken and Anne Bogart.
Born and raised in California, Neal Kirkwood began piano lessons at age of 8. He attended North Texas State University and California State University Hayward briefly before settling in San Francisco in 1976 to begin his career as a jazz pianist and composer. Moving to New York City in 1981, he earned a master’s degree in composition from Mannes College of Music, where he studied with composer Charles Jones. Mr. Kirkwood was a charter member of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, and studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam.
An experienced and dedicated educator, he is currently on the faculties of the Third Street Music School in New York City and Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, and teaches piano, composition and arranging privately. He has presented masterclasses at the Manhattan School of Music and Musikhochschule, Luzern, and was awarded the National Dance Institute Teacher of the Year award in 2007 for his work with public school students in New York City.