Welcome to my web site. It is my mission to create high quality, thought provoking, music for curious ears that challenges and inspires. Through composing, performing, improvising and teaching – exploring the possibilities, expanding the envelope and keeping the creative juices flowing.
“One of the finest of his generation, an underrated giant waiting to be discovered.” (Steven Loewy, AllMusicGuide)
“His dynamic voice and spirited work equals that of a significant body of work any artist or patron of the arts can appreciate.” (Cicily Janus, The New Face of Jazz, Billboard Books)
“A Living Legend …” (Cicily Janus, The New Face of Jazz, Billboard Books)
Ed Neumeister’s profile is the result of long and deep experience. As a performer he has been at the forefront of creative music for more than 40 years developing a unique voice. Having also worked with high level classical orchestras and ensembles nurtured his focus on conducting and composing.
Written by Bradley Bambarger
“I’ve worked with Ed since the ’80s, when we played in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra together. We’ve done many projects since in Europe and New York, and now he plays in my Nonet. He is an inspired arranger, composer and conductor, as well as a soloist of deep expressive passion.”— JOE LOVANO
Ed Neumeister is a musician’s musician, as his elders and peers are glad to tell you. Influential trombonist arranger and educator Bob Brookmeyer hailed him early on as “a gifted improviser,” while composer arranger Manny Albam, co-founder of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop, extolled Neumeister as “the perfect mixture as a musician. He knows Ellington as well as Bart.k.” Saxophone star Joe Lovano has valued Neumeister as a colleague for some four decades, praising him as a conductor of “infectious flair” as well as “a soloist of deep expressive passion.” Another renowned saxophonist, Dave Leibman, simply dubbed him “one of the best trombonists in the business.” And veteran pianist Jim McNeely has said about Neumeister: “Whenever I play a gig with Ed, I know the music will be interesting. By the end of the evening, I will have asked myself a couple dozen times: ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ ” Then there are the critics, with DownBeat calling Neumeister “a highly distinctive solo voice” and JazzTimes admiring his “compelling” compositions.
Neumeister has five decades of experience on both sides of the Atlantic as an improviser, composer, conductor, bandleader and educator. Born in 1952 and raised in the Bay Area, he was a professional musician by his mid-teens, playing in marching bands and gigging at events around San Francisco and Oakland. After a counter-culture sojourn in Amsterdam playing in various jazz bands and digging into music from around the world, he returned to California where he pursued an eclectic muse and absorbed myriad life lessons: from symphony orchestras to strip clubs, from collaborating with Jerry Garcia to backing such vocal stars as Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan. Moving to New York City in 1980 and becoming immersed in a still-active big-band scene, Neumeister was drafted into the Duke Ellington Orchestra as both player and arranger; and at the same time, he was playing alongside the likes of Lovano and Tom Harrell in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra (which would eventually become the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra). After two decades in New York, Neumeister moved to Europe again, serving as a professor for 17 years at the University of Music in Graz, Austria, and working with some of the finest European musicians and Americans touring the continent. He recorded multiple albums there, leading large ensembles and small bands; he also wrote for various jazz ensembles, along with composing classical chamber pieces and large-scale concert works.
After a stint in Los Angeles, where he contributed orchestrations for scores to such films as Inception, The Dark Knight and Sherlock Holmes (as well for the 2012 Academy Awards program), Neumeister returned to the New York area in 2017, settling across the Hudson River in Newark. He has since been active as an educator, teaching at the New School, New York University and the City College of New York, as well as at William Paterson University in New Jersey. “The creative music scene is special in New York City, with so many talented players across generations,” he says. “I lived here for 20 years before I moved to Austria, and New York has always felt like home to me, even though I came up during a fertile time in the Bay Area and spent a lot of great years in Europe, where I still work a lot. In 2019, I conducted the Budapest Jazz Orchestra in a project featuring compositions by Joe Lovano, Peter Erskine and myself. If New York is the home of creative, Europe will always be a home away from home.”
Neumeister’s latest album – the archival recording 3 for the Road, released via his label MeisteroMusic in September 2020, but taped in 2001-2002 in Vienna – presents the trombonist’s kindred spirit trio with revered vocalist Jay Clayton and the late Austrian pianist Fritz Pauer. “Magic in music, especially in improvised music, happens when everyone totally trusts each other, so that the artists merge into what feels like one living, breathing organism,” Neumeister says. “Egos evaporate, and the ensemble creates in the moment. The 3 for the Road trio with Jay and Fritz embodied such an organism. On several tracks, the three of us are listed as composers, because these pieces were composed on the fly, without any prior discussion. That sort of magic happened every time we played together – and I’m so glad we were able to capture it in the recording studio.”
Neumeister adds: “Fritz and I played in each other’s bands for 15 years in Europe. I miss him. But Jay and I have now added Gary Versace on piano for the group. He was our new first choice – we know he’s going to be perfect. He has the open personality and the ability to go anywhere at any time musically – which is great, because the trio’s repertoire involves free improvisation integrated with poetry and standard tunes. As for Jay, she’s such a wonderful artist. She sings like a horn player. When we play duets, it feels like two horn players – or two singers. Really, just two musicians, composing in the moment.”
A duo album with Austrian guitarist Karl Ratzer will be Neumeister’s next release, scheduled for early 2021 on MeisteroMusic. “For years, Karl and I had a New Year’s gig at Porgy & Bess in Vienna, among many other playing situations,” the trombonist explains. “He’s a great, natural talent – he played with Chet Baker around Europe and in jazz bands in America before that. Karl plays classic-style jazz guitar, and we lock right in together, improvising freely even when we’re just playing tunes. It’s really fun.”
Neumeister grew up in Fremont, California, about 35 miles from San Francisco. When he was just 5 years old, he found his father’s old trumpet in the closet. He played the trumpet for two years and then switched to accordion. At age 9, wanting to play trumpet again, he joined the Weldonian Band, a private marching band in Oakland. The ensemble director persuaded Neumeister to play the trombone because of his teeth structure, though he understood later that the bandleader probably just needed another trombone player... The band performed at major parades throughout California, as well as at many San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders games. “Playing all those parades – from Chinatown to Disney Land to Raiders games – really helped me develop my sense of time, I realized looking back on it later,” the trombonist says. When Neumeister was 13, he performed J.J. Johnson’s solo from “Mack the Knife” at the Oakland Coliseum for the half-time show of the first football game at the new stadium. Moving up the ranks of trombone section, the young Neumeister was soon also playing in the “stage band,” performing pieces from the books of Stan Kenton, Woody Herman and Count Basie.
By 15, Neumeister was a member of the musician’s union, playing gigs around the Bay Area alongside former members of the marching band – with his mother ferrying him around town.
Having played with various groups at such temples of popular music as Fillmore West, he became music director of a rock’n’roll roadshow band – from his late teens into his early 20s – that backed the likes Chuck Berry, Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker. From 1970 to ’73, Neumeister attended the University of California in San Jose, studying trombone with Bob Szabo and composition and orchestration with modernist composer Lou Harrison. “The advantages of precision and clarity are what stuck with me from those lessons with Lou,” he says. “His manuscripts were impressively meticulous. That kind of clarity became a kind of mantra for me, in thought and purpose, in life and art. For years in New York, I had a poster in my studio with one word on it: ‘Clarity’.”
Filled with youthful wanderlust and fed up with the politics of the U.S. (particularly the war in Vietnam), Neumeister bought a one-way ticket to Paris in 1973, eventually making his way to Amsterdam. His first night there, he sat in with a Latin jazz band playing in the hotel where he was staying and the bandleader offered him a spot in the group. Living in Amsterdam for two years, he delved into music from the African, Afro-Cuban, Brazilian and Indian traditions as well as jazz and classical, often practicing until the sun came up and also performing with the best musicians in Holland.
In 1975, Neumeister moved back to San Francisco to resume trombone studies with Mitchell Ross, honing his classical technique with the aim of playing as musically as possible. “It can’t be too beautiful,” Ross used to say. Through his teacher, he scored work as an extra with the San Francisco Ballet and Opera orchestras, eventually winning the first trombone position with the Sacramento Symphony Orchestra. It was during this period that Neumeister also began an ear-opening study of the music of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, as well as B.la Bart.k and other 20th-century creative geniuses. Along with playing in classical ensembles, Neumeister began performing with top Bay Area jazz musicians, including Noel Jewkes, Julian Priester and Jerry Granelli. The trombonist led a quartet featuring Granelli, Michael Formanek and Mark Levine. The venues weren’t always polite. Neumeister also played jazz at a strip club. “It was actually a pretty fun gig for a young guy,” he recalls. “We played great jazz tunes, like ‘Footprints’ and ‘Moment’s Notice.’ And the girls weren’t so bad, either. Though we couldn’t play the tunes too long or we would exhaust the dancers. We would play from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., after a regular gig or two earlier that night. The place was a brothel, really – as close as you could get in the San Francisco of the mid-’70s to the Jelly Roll Morton days in Storyville in New Orleans.”
At the same time, Neumeister was the first trombonist in the house band at the Circle Star Theater, backing weekly shows for such superstar singers as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin. “It was a theater in the round, with the orchestra pit connected to the stage so that we could see the artist perform,” he recalls. “I learned so much from those great singers, particularly when it came to phrasing. Although it wouldn’t truly sink in until later, a Sinatra or a Nancy Wilson performance was a master class in phrasing. And Sarah Vaughan was huge for me, just witnessing the way she shaped notes and phrases.” As if his musical life weren’t kaleidoscopic enough, Neumeister also played in a creative band led by Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia. “It was called Reconstruction – I still get fan mail to this day about that band,” he says. “We would play Jerry’s tunes, as well as blues and jazz pieces by McCoy Tyner and Horace Silver. My tunes, too. It was my first lucrative gig as a musician, really, around 1978-79 – though we never got to make a studio recording.”
In 1980, Neumeister moved to New York City, almost immediately hooking up with Lionel Hampton’s group and then putting in a stint with the Buddy Rich Band. He soon joined the Mel Lewis Big Band (which became the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after Lewis’s death, in 1990). Around the same time, he joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra, led by Duke’s son, Mercer. “I started playing in big bands in my teens,” Neumeister says. “I was always a good reader and listener, so it suited me. Not long after I got to New York, I was playing in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the same time. So, playing the music of Ellington and Strayhorn one night and then the music of Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer the next – that was like playing in a symphony orchestra, the repertoire was so great. For a budding composer-arranger just to be playing in the middle of the Mel Lewis band – alongside Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Kenny Garrett – it was an incredible inspiration.” Neumeister played gigs in town and tours with these ensembles for years, as well as with Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band.
Even in his teens, Neumeister was composing and arranging for whatever bands he was playing in. But by 1987, he began to focus on developing his writing. By joining the inaugural class of BMI ́s Jazz Composers Workshop, he began studying with Manny Albam and Bob Brookmeyer (who was musical director of the Mel Lewis Band when Neumeister joined). Over the course of the next few years, Neumeister evolved from a trombonist who composed to a composer who played the trombone. His arrangement of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992 with its appearance on the album To You: A Tribute to Mel Lewis (MusicMasters).
Neumeister made his leader debut on record in 1996 with The Mohican and The Great Spirit, a trio disc with guitarist Peter Eigenmann and bassist H.mi H.mmerli taped by Swiss Radio. This album of drum-less “chamber jazz” comprises a mix of Neumeister originals and jazz standards – including the Horace Silver title tune – plus hip inclusions by the likes of guitarists John Scofield and Jim Hall. In his liner notes, Burt Korall pointed out the group’s spiritual-aesthetic connection to Jimmy Guiffre’s trio featuring Hall and Brookmeyer, from the late 1950s: “The emphasis on the inter-relationship between the players, the trio’s basic melodicism, its sense of adventure, and reliance on the improvisational impulses of the members – all these things bring that incarnation of the Jimmy Guiffre 3 to mind. The connection is cemented by the nature of the music: The conversational approach and the quiet and relative peace of the performances prove once again that jazz doesn’t have to be loud or demanding to work.”
In 1997, Neumeister recorded the album Metro Music. It was a collection of New York-minded tunes performed by a quintet with Billy Drewes (reeds), Jim McNeely (piano), Dennis Irwin (double-bass) and Jamey Haddad (drums) as well as by a quartet with Irwin, Kenny Werner (piano) and Mike Clark (drums). Although a showcase for Neumeister’s original compositions, the album also includes a quintet arrangement of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” the standard that he had arranged for big band to acclaim and a Grammy nomination five years before.
By the mid-’90s, Neumeister had begun working more and more with European ensembles, including Holland’s renowned Metropole Orkest. In 1999, the Jazz Big Band Graz devoted an entire album – Here & There (Mons Records) – to Neumeister’s jazz compositions and his arrangements of such iconic pieces as Wayne Shorter’s “E.S.P.” Two years later, for the Ars label, the Jazz Big Band Graz recorded Neumeister’s most expansive creation as a composer to date: his Fantasy for Cello & Big Band, a half-hour work featuring Austrian classical cellist Friedrich Kleinhapl, with the composer conducting. Another classically minded achievement for Neumeister was his arrangement of Bart.k’s String Quartet No. 4 for a foursome of trombones.
“Studying the classical continuum of music has always been important for me – from Bach and Beethoven to great modernist composers: Mahler, Lutoslawski, Nancarrow, Ligeti, Dutilleux, Elliott Carter, as well as the Brazilian guitarist-pianist and composer Egberto Gismonti,” Neumeister says. “But the most important for me was B.la Bart.k. I made a deep study of his music for 20 years, especially the six string quartets. But the Fourth Quartet reached out to me, kind of chose me – I felt that I had to arrange this piece for a quartet of trombones. It was a years-long process, and no one was doing this sort of thing for trombones, but we premiered my arrangement of Bart.k’s music with the New York Trombone Quartet – Joseph Alessi, James Pugh and I on tenor trombones and David Taylor on bass trombone – in 1997 at the International Trombone Festival in Austria. The audience was a thousand trombone players, as you might imagine, and the performance brought down the house. Then we recorded it in a New York studio for our album Collage on the TNC label, along with some Monk arrangements, some of my original music and other classical works. Digging deep into Bart.k meant that his harmonies, his rhythms, his personal use of tonality, his compositional techniques – they all seeped into my own music, helped it evolve.”
In the small-group area of his catalog, the Ed Neumeister Quartet with Fritz Pauer, bassist Drew Gress and drummer John Hollenbeck is a key entry. The band toured Europe multiple times and recorded two albums: New Standards (2005, MeisteroMusic) and Reflection (2006, ArtistShare). The New Standards album included pieces by Kurt Weill, Billy Strayhorn, Jimmy Rowles and John Scofield alongside two Neumeister originals, while Reflection featured five Neumeister tunes plus one each by Pauer, Gress and Hollenbeck. All Music Guide marveled over both albums, praising New Standards for its selection of compositions and the performance of the “first-class quartet.” The review also singled out the trombonist’s playing: “In terms of technique, Neumeister can do it all, from exhibiting expansive range; spectacular agility; trills; and old-time, down-home, gut-wrenching effects with the wah-wah mute, something he displays to excellent effect on Jimmy Rowles' ‘The Peacocks.’ At his best, as on the latter tune, the trombonist is one of the finest of his generation, an underrated giant waiting to be discovered.” For the follow-up, the review summed up things this way: “Reflection is a perfect title for this beautiful and introspective follow-up to New Standards… With this outstanding supporting cast, Neumeister delivers an opus filled with rare delicacy, finesse and subtlety.”
About his quartet with Pauer, Gress and Hollenbeck, Neumeister says: “That was a great band of great people – fantastic players, excellent composers in their own right, and always fun to hang with. I learned a lot from those guys. We pushed each other ahead in the best way.” Reflecting on his time with Neumeister in the quartet and before, Hollenbeck says: “I first got to know Ed when I was subbing in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. He listened intently to me and helped me out – Ed is always a team player! I know he’s a serious, thoughtful, organized teacher, and his students worship him, as they should. He seems to have an ‘effortless’ mastery of his horn, and he’s one of the true experts on plunger/mute work. Who else can do those things on such a deep traditional level and also play free? Whenever I play with Ed, I feel a strong connection to jazz – the roots of the music. But even though he’s in touch with the deep jazz tradition, Ed is also experimental, unafraid to play free and try new things. As a composer, Ed is always working on new techniques for compositional structure and harmony – but his music is always encoded with the deep, African-inspired rhythm of jazz.”
One of the highlights of Neumeister’s discography is Suite Ellington, an album showcasing his sextet arrangements of compositions by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, recorded live in Graz by Austrian Radio in 2010 and released via his MeisteroMusic label. The band includes Billy Drewes (clarinet, alto saxophone), Jim Rotondi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Fritz Pauer (piano), Peter Herbert (double-bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), as well as the leader on trombone. Along with such iconic pieces as “Caravan” and “Come Sunday,” Suite Ellington includes a more rarely heard, six-part extended work from 1959: The Queen’s Suite (with “The Single Petal of a Rose” its most famous number). Neumeister says: “This album came out of a project for the Ellington centenary in 1999, which produced two European tours of these arrangements. There was a reprise of the project in 2010 for another European tour and a three-day portrait of my music at the Porgy & Bess club in Vienna. We performed at the Orpheum in Graz on the tour, and the concert was recorded by the ORF – it was a special night, with the audience with us 100 percent.” Jazz Weekly appreciated the result, calling the album “a great tribute and intro to the world of Ellingtonia,” while All About Jazz hailed the “surprising boldness in the scope” of the arrangements and improvisations.
Neumeister’s special connection to Duke Ellington’s music dates to 1981, when he subbed in the pit band for a production of the Broadway show Sophisticated Ladies, which showcased the music of Ellington/Strayhorn. “That experience led to me joining the Ellington Orchestra for 15 years,” Neumeister explains. “Along with playing trombone, I was occasionally given the chance by Mercer to create special arrangements. He’d give me a score by Ellington, a score of the same tune by Strayhorn, as well as some recordings, then say, ‘Figure it out, reconcile these – I want to play this piece…’ It was a real lesson in the art of arrangement, as well as a fantastic opportunity for me, as an arranger, to study scores by Ellington and Strayhorn in their own hands. It was inspiring to see how they collaborated – and how they both kept evolving musically.”
In 2017, Neumeister released Wake Up Call, the final studio album with his NeuHat Ensemble, through MeisteroMusic. A bold set of originals with a political-environmental subtext, Wake Up Call was recorded in Brooklyn with the composer conducting his 18-piece orchestra of top New York players, including many longtime friends and colleagues (such as Billy Drewes, Rich Perry, Dick Oatts, Adam Kolker, Dave Ballou, Steve Cardenas, David Berkman, John Hollenbeck). All About Jazz praised the venturesome conception of Neumeister’s large-ensemble music, saying: “It takes no more than a few moments of listening to the labyrinthine, through-composed opener, ‘Birds of Prey,’ to ascertain that this is not your parents’ big-band jazz. There’s nary a taste of Basie, Herman, Kenton or Rich on this bill of fare… It rewards those who are willing to accept the challenge at hand and embrace it with an open mind and open ears.”
In 2019, Neumeister released the solo trombone album One and Only via MeisteroMusic. It’s a collection of original compositions and interpretations of pieces by Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Thelonious Monk, mostly recorded live. New York City Jazz Record commended One and Only, saying: “While many solo instruments are commonly heard in a solo setting for an entire concert, trombone usually isn’t one of them. But adventurous virtuoso Ed Neumeister’s outstanding release demonstrates how it’s possible to hold a listener’s rapt attention.”
As a trombonist, Neumeister developed his singing tone, liquid phrasing and composer’s ear forimprovisation as a young fan of J.J. Johnson, Curtis Fuller and Frank Rosolino. “I loved J.J.’s playing – super clean, with a beautiful sound and swing,” Neumeister says. “And his solos sounded so composed, so prepared, so clear. I would listen to those solos over and over, transcribing them to play. Frank Rosolino was similar, though he was more technical and had a unique concept of swing on his quartet albums as well as some Quincy Jones records. Curtis Fuller’s playing on those Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers albums was a real inspiration, and I had the great honor of sitting next to him for a year in the trombone section of the Lionel Hampton band. Of the younger generation, I really like Joe Fiedler, a creative talent who is so stylistically diverse. But the trombonist who influenced me most for One and Only was Albert Mangelsdorff, a star in Germany though pretty unknown here. I had first gotten into him while I was living in Amsterdam. He made several pioneering solo trombone LPs.”
Long a devoted educator, Neumeister currently teaches composition, arranging and trombone at the School of Jazz and Contemporary Music at The New School; improvisation and composition at New York University; graduate composition at William Paterson University; and composition at City College of New York. He also gives private lessons to students from each of these programs in composition, improvisation and trombone. In 2017-2018, he taught composition, trombone and big-band conducting at Rutgers University in New Jersey. From 1999 to 2017, Neumeister was professor of jazz trombone at the University of Performing Arts in Graz. He also taught jazz composition at the Swiss conservatory in Lucerne.
A new working New York small band for Neumeister is a quartet featuring the trombonist alongside Versace or Marc Copland on piano, Gress or Kenny Davis on bass and usually Tom Rainey on drums. Neumeister is also establishing a new jazz orchestra – the third of his career, after the NeuHat Ensemble (1992-2017, in New York) and the Ed Neumeister Jazz Orchestra (2006-2011, in Los Angeles). “This new group is called Assemblage, and it will be super diverse – multi-generational, multi-racial, men and women, with a wide-ranging book of repertoire,” he explains. “We were able to rehearse a few times before the pandemic. I’m excited to really get going with this band. All the diversity, stylistically and culturally, feeds the sound of the band.”
On the drawing board for Neumeister the composer is a new sequence of trombone quartets, as well as a large suite for expanded jazz orchestra. And MeisteroMusic’s upcoming projects include a collection of recordings featuring Neumeister’s compositions and arrangements recorded by the Metropole Orkest in the studio and for broadcast from 1996 to 2000.
— Bradley Bambarger (2020)
3 for the Road Trio with Jay Clayton & Gary Versace, recently recreated to celebrate the album release.
New Hat Ensemble, Ed's Jazz Orchestra, which recorded the album Wake Up Call.
Assembláge Jazz Orchestra, Ed's newly formed all inclusive Jazz Orchestra based in NY.
Ed Neumeister Quartet, ongoing since 1978, with an evolving cast of World Class Players.
Suite Ellington, ongoing since Ellington's 100th birthday in 1999.
© Ed Neumeister 2020