Not only is Neil Cowley blazing a trail with Derry’s musical youth in his role as 2013’s Musician in Residence, the renowned pianist is now bringing his award-winning band, The Neil Cowley Trio, to this year’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival on May 4.
Speaking to the ‘Derry Journal’ ahead of his first Jazz performance in the city, Neil Cowley elaborated on his forthcoming concert and reflected on his first few months as Musician in Residence, based in the Nerve Centre.
Some months back, the ‘Journal’ widely reported Neil Cowley’s appointment as Musician in Residence for the City of Culture year. Indeed, many will remember the fact that, as piano player on Adele’s global smash hit, Grammy-winning albums, he is actually the most listened to piano player on the planet!
Speaking of the Adele collaboration, Neil Cowley revealed at the time that he contributed the memorable, expressive intro to Hometown Glory on 19 and the stomping piano on Rolling in the Deep. “To listen to it in every public place I go is mad,” he laughed.
When he’s not tinkling on the piano or playing on Adele’s multi-million selling albums, Neil is dedicated to his own band. While not essentially a jazz act, The Neil Cowley Trio have played some of the planet’s most prestigious jazz festivals.
“I guess we do play all over the world,” he says. “You see, we’re a band that need a grand piano when we perform, so the only places to provide grand pianos tend to be jazz festivals like Montreal and the Montreux Festival.
“But this festival in Derry already has a different feeling and a different character to it. In fact, I have this image in my head of far more people dancing and falling out of pubs here than at other festivals, so I’m looking forward to it very much!”
The Neil Cowley Trio is not your average jazz trio. With dazzling composer Neil at the helm, the band create deeply engaging music that journeys between poetic and poignant, pomp and splendour, to powerful, rip-roaring riffs.
Their music fizzes with the high energy of rock but embraces a variety of other genres too, the highs of dance music, the grooves of funk and the serenity of orchestral music. The sheer emotion and energy of their performance will touch all lovers of music.
The Trio will play the Nerve Centre on May 4, and Neil Cowley can’t wait to try out the Nerve Centre stage for size.
“I remember seeing the stage at the Nerve Centre and thinking that it seems somehow less formal and more connected to the audience to play there, it’s quite compact and interesting. Besides all that, I think it’s good that I’m playing the Nerve Centre because that’s where my residency is based, so it’s my place in Derry!”
So what can local audiences expect from the Neil Cowley Trio?
“It’s a really dynamic range we do really,” Neil explains. “It’s not just jazz in a conventional sense, we listen to all kinds of music and that comes out via the Trio, so it’s a much wider spectrum. No covers, no standards, moreso compositions influenced by the people we meet.
“We have one mate called Gerald who still wears tank-tops, cardies and flared trousers - he’s quite a character and he’s got a tune! We also have a tune called Box Lily and that’s all about my daughter Tilly. She was born really premature and that whole experience inspired the tune. So all sorts of songs really.”
The piano-maestro will soon return to Derry next week to resume projects in his role as Musician in Residence ahead of the City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival.
Neil was selected for the year-long post from a pool of fifty nominated musicians from all over the UK.
During his time in the city, he will work alongside many community groups as part of the Music Promise, as well as creating an ambitious Culture project entitled The Eighth Gate.
Having only been here a few months, Neil has already fallen in love with the city and its people.
“I’m truly having a ball in Derry and it’s getting better and better,” he admits.
“Every single day I’m there is rammed full of things to do, I’m definitely kept busy! And that’s not just on a City of Culture level either, but on a social level as I’ve made so many new friends there, everybody’s been lovely. The Music Promise in particular has got me very involved and meeting lots of kids, so that’s been amazing and full of great little moments.”
A native of London, Neil admits he notices a certain amount of apathy from people in the UK towards their first ever UK City of Culture.
“That winds me up, to be honest,” he says. “Derry is magic, you only need to come here once to realise that. Once you set foot in the city, you’re addicted. Now that I’ve been there and got to know so many good people, I’m evangelical about the place!”
For an exceptional night’s entertainment at Derry Jazz Festival, don’t miss the award-winning Neil Cowley Trio at the Nerve Centre on Saturday, May 4, at 8pm.
Tickets, priced £10 plus booking fee, are on sale now from the Nerve Centre Box Office on 71 260562.