Alum

Neil Olmstead

Position
Professor
Affiliated Departments
Faculty Bio E-Mail
Telephone
617-747-8301

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Neil Olmstead is a pianist, composer, author, and educator with expertise in jazz and classical genres. Neil held a ten-year piano residency at the Copley Plaza Hotel’s Plaza Bar in Boston, where he shared the stage with Teddy Wilson, Adam Makowicz, Dave McKenna, and Sammy Price, among others. Neil has performed with the Jimmy Giuffre Quartet and the Moody Blues, among others. His trio Symbiosis has appeared on NPR’s Eric in the Evening on WGBH. He has performed abroad at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy, has been a lecturer/performer at the University of Padua, Italy, and the Conservatorio Statale di Musica Luisa D’Annunzio in Pescara, Italy. Neil has been a distinguished fellow at Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences in Georgia.

Olmstead's compositions include orchestral works recorded by the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra and Bratislava Radio and Television Orchestra. His jazz album Colaboração was released in 2012. Secrets of Ferns, a 5-movement song-cycle for mezzo-soprano and piano, was recorded in 2019. The piece's score is published by Sheet Music Plus and Score Exchange. Neil is the author of Solo Jazz Piano: The Linear Approach, published by Hal Leonard Music and available worldwide.

Neil holds a Master of Music in jazz composition from New England Conservatory (NEC) and a Bachelor of Music in composition from Berklee College of Music. He also pursued undergraduate studies at Boston Conservatory. He studied piano with Ed Bedner, Wilfred Churchill, and Al Lee; and music composition under Dr. Hugo Norden at Boston University, William Thomas McKinley, George Russell at NEC, and Nadia Boulanger at Ecole d’Art Americaines, Palais de Fontainebleau, France.

Career Highlights
  • Performances with the Jimmy Giuffre Quartet and at the Umbria Jazz Festival 1989, 1990, and 1992
  • Founder and leader of the jazz trio Symbiosis
  • Radio and television appearances
  • Compositions recorded by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and Bratislava Radio and Television Orchestra
  • MMC Recordings artist
  • Author, Solo Jazz Piano: The Linear Approach
  • International clinician and lecturer
  • Recordings including Colaboração and Secrets of Ferns
  • 45 years of teaching college-level piano
Education
  • M.M., New England Conservatory
  • B.M., Berklee College of Music
In Their Own Words

"I would like my students to leave my class with 1) awareness of the piano literature including the four major periods and jazz, 2) effective technical skills including how the body integrates naturally with the instrument in order to create fluid technique and a variety of color, and 3) practical knowledge of jazz harmony and improvisation abilities."

My teaching is fed by 45 years of professional activity performing and writing music. Early on, playing six nights a week in one of the most illustrious piano rooms in the city of Boston (Plaza Bar, Copley Plaza Hotel) forced the discipline of learning repertoire within the context of creative improvisation, a creative discipline that's carried directly into the classroom to this day."

"I grew up listening to my father's Bill Evans and Stan Getz records, imitating Thelonious Monk and studying classical and then jazz piano. It seems my whole life I've been moving between the two idioms, studying, performing, writing, and teaching jazz and classical music. As a result I not only have a plethora of jazz students but also find myself teaching many classical pianists how to improvise and how to be creative within the jazz idiom. What I love the most about teaching at Berklee is being able to delve into both of these worlds with student musicians from around the world."

"Private teaching by nature is the most personal. How a student thinks and what a student wants are the first questions in my mind as I meet a student. To balance this against what a student needs is the great challenge for a teacher. Then giving students the tools to express themselves is where the deeper challenge (and fun) lies."

"Musical ideas are nothing without technical ability. I often tell my students, 'We play the piano with our entire body, not just our fingers and ears.' Our skeletal, muscular, and tendon structures work together and respond to each other in accord with the laws of nature as we play, regardless of whether it is jazz or classical music. I strive to help the pianist organize how the body moves, from the fingertip to the feet on the floor. This frees up the physical motions for greater facility, more beautiful tone, and deeper expression. It is a joyful moment when a student suddenly discovers how a motion in the forearm or torso will open up the sound or result in a new improvisational idea generated from deep in the subconscious."

"Technique is essential, but technique alone is nothing. Recognizing and building upon our musical attributes while working on the weaknesses is essential to the development of individual artistry. This is generated by curiosity, concentration, and an enthusiasm to study and practice; this drives our artistic vision toward its goal. The pleasure of working through the difficulties and arriving at an artistic end is one of the great rewards of music and life."

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