"Fearless, raw improvisations"
-The Seattle Times
Saxophonist and composer Neil Welch is a Seattle-based artist, born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. His work is often rooted in improvisation, using a variety of sound techniques exploring deep resonances within the saxophone and the spaces in which he performs. With a strong connection to place, Neil improvises, composes, and documents audio recordings prolifically within the urban and natural landscapes of the West. His work embraces a variety of musical styles, spanning avant-garde jazz, modern composition, solo acoustic saxophone and electronic sound processing. All About Jazz calls his work "stunning and extraordinary” and Downbeat Magazine calls Neil "an impassioned tenor player.”
Neil was a founding member (2008) and former curator (2014-16) of the famed Racer Sessions weekly creative music series. He is co-director of the Seattle Saxophone Institute, and is a sought after educator for saxophone instruction. Neil is committed to expanding the saxophone's role in modern music through new performance collaborations and a dedication to exploratory sound craft. Many of his solo and group projects, such as 12 Moons and the ongoing Continuous Resonance solo saxophone series, focus exclusively on unamplified acoustic performance. As a longtime member of the powerful duo Bad Luck and more recently the trio Here to Play, Neil often performs the saxophone through live electronics blended with visceral acoustic sounds. With 6 solo albums documenting soprano to bass saxophones, his playing unabashedly confronts the acoustical limits of the instrument.
Born in Edmonds, WA Neil Welch was called to the saxophone at an early age. While in high school, he participated in the famed Essentially Ellington Competition in New York and was awarded the Outstanding Tenor Saxophone Soloist Award by Wynton Marsalis. At the age of 17 he was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Vail Jazz Foundation in Colorado. He went on to study at the University of Washington, graduating with a B.M. in Jazz Studies in 2007. During his time in college, Neil began collaborating with a number of fellow classmates that would go on to become members of Seattle’s Racer scene, centered around explorative work at Seattle’s famed Racer Sessions, of which Neil was a founding member. While in college, Neil began a lasting collaboration with drummer Chris Icasiano, the two forming the powerful duo Bad Luck which performs throughout the country. From 2004-2008 Neil studied traditional North Indian classical music from sitar master Pandit Debi Prasad Chatterjee, whom he has performed with a number of times since 2009. Neil had the honor of recording a raga with Pandit Chatterjee on his debut album Narmada in 2008.
Neil has 6 album releases on the Table and Chairs Music record label, two of self-releases and dozens of recorded guest appearances. In recognition of his performance work, Neil was awarded Emerging Artist of the Year (2009) and nominated for Earshot Jazz Golden Ear awards (2018) in the categories of Outside Jazz Group of the Year, Concert of the Year, and Album of the Year by Seattle’s Earshot Jazz Society. Most recently, he was awarded a Jack Straw Artist in Residency (2017) through the Jack Straw Foundation to record a major ensemble composition entitled Concepcion Picciotto—due for release in 2020. His longstanding drum/saxophone duo Bad Luck, co-run for over a decade with drummer Chris Icasiano, has taken him to nearly every major city in America. Bad Luck gained recognition early on and was named Outside Jazz Group of the Year (2011) by Earshot Jazz Magazine. The band tours extensively in venues ranging from divey house shows to universities and performance halls. Other current projects include King Tears Bat Trip, a band inspired by Haitian Voodoo trance music that has earned a cult following around the world. Neil has shared the stage with national touring acts such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor as well as Seattle music legends Stuart Dempter, Wayne Horvitz and more.
In 2013 Neil embarked on 12 Moons, an ambitious project where he documented a single solo improvisation each day for one year. Each of the 365 improvisations included an artistic statement and graphic. All were released online daily for free. These improvisations were performed acoustically and without amplification, using techniques such as multiphonics (naturally generated chords), semitones, chirps, scrapes and wails. Other pieces explored athletic melodic cycles played in the extreme ranges of the instrument. Since early 2014, Neil has continued documenting solo work with his ongoing series Continuous Resonance, in which he has documented over 500 solo recordings to date. Sites have included a WWII fallout shelter, a garbage dump, an alpine lake 30 miles into the North Cascade mountains, parking garages, desert landscapes and much more. Neil records and performs most often on the tenor and soprano horns, but recently began performing on the much rarer C-melody tenor, C soprano, and bass saxophones.
Neil is also a co-founder and former artistic curator for the acclaimed Seattle experimental music series the Racer Sessions. He is a former organizer for the avant-garde event organization and record label Table and Chairs Music, and is highly involved in music education in the Seattle area. Neil is co-founder of the Seattle Saxophone Institute music camp and Program Coordinator for the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra Jazz Scholars music education program. Neil is proud to have an award-winning private saxophone studio that welcomes students of all ages and ability. At the college level, from 2017-18 Neil was a saxophone instructor at Cornish College of the Arts. Read more below for information about Neil's work in Education.
Neil teaches saxophone privately throughout the Seattle area in addition to rural Whidbey Island, and often provides clinics throughout the US while on tour. He is committed to teaching student populations in low-income and rural areas, and maintains a sliding scale lesson fee depending on family income. Neil is co-director of the Seattle Saxophone Institute, a summer music camp for Middle and High School students interested in a sound-immersive educational curriculum. Neil is an artist faculty and Program Coordinator for the SRJO Jazz Scholars and Musical Pathways Project, each of which mentor students and teachers alike in underserved music programs in SE and SW Seattle. Click the links below to learn more about Neil's passion for non-profit and private lesson work.