"Fearless, raw improvisations"
-The Seattle Times
Saxophonist and composer Neil Welch is recognized as a major voice of the Seattle jazz and experimental music fields. His work is derived from improvisation, using largely non-traditional techniques that explore sonic resonance. With a strong connection to place, he performs and documents audio recordings prolifically within the urban and rural landscapes of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Neil's work is a menagerie of resonant musical styles, spanning avant-garde jazz, modern composition, solo saxophone, North Indian classical music, and electronic sound processing. His playing unabashedly confronts the acoustical limits of the instrument. Downbeat Magazine called Neil "an impassioned tenor player" and All About Jazz calls his work "stunning and extraordinary." Neil is dedicated to expanding the saxophone's role in modern improvisation and composition.
Born in Edmonds, WA Neil 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 also 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. But it was Neil's own musical curiosities outside of college that proved to be transformative. From 2004-2008 Neil studied traditional North Indian classical music from sitar master Pandit Debi Prasad Chatterjee, whom he now performs alongside. 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, in addition to dozens of recorded guest appearances. We was awarded Emerging Artist of the Year (2009) through Earshot Jazz and was awarded a Jack Straw Artist in Residency (2017) through the Jack Straw Foundation. 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.
In 2013 Neil embarked on 12 Moons, a wildly 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 300 solo recordings in the last two years alone. 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 and C soprano saxophones as well.
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. In the Winter-Spring of 2018 Neil began a position as 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 SYSO 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.