Al Neil: Dollarton Dada – A Living Tribute

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. V, no. 4, p. 7, March/April 1994:

The New Orchestra Workshop in collaboration with the Western Front.

Although these days his public appearances are infrequent and his live performances downright rare, the spirit of Al Neil permeates our West Coast art scene as surely as if he were looking over our collective shoulder.

If there is such a thing as an authentic avant-garde in Canada, then Al Neil must be counted among its pioneers, and is surely its greatest unsung hero. Born in Vancouver in 1924, he has distinguished himself internationally as a major jazz innovator and advocate of new music, as a writer, and especially as an utterly original artist whose work embraces a multitude of disciplines and passions, forms and formats, to express his singular yet deeply coherent vision of the world.

Neil came to prominence in the visual art community in 1972 but was active in the arts long before that time. A founding member of Vancouver’s now legendary Cellar Jazz Club, Neil was the leader and pianist of the Cellar’s house band and also collaborated with poets, notably Kenneth Patchen with whom he recorded for Folkways Records. In the span of a four-decade career impossible to summarize, Al Neil has evolved a creative symbiosis in which jazz, theatre, poetry and visual art are fused, redefining our idea of performance and personal creativity.

Neil now spends his time between Strathcona and Dollarton and continues to create his astounding and sought-after collage works. On Saturday, March 26th–Al Neil’s 70th birthday–Vancouver’s New Orchestra Workshop Society celebrates Neil’s contribution to West Coast art. In a loosely structured cabaret setting Vancouver musicians, poets, dancers and performance artists will pay tribute to the indomitable creative spirit of this true original. Among the artists are Gregg Simpson, Paul Plimley, Alex Varty, Garbo’s Hat, Ron Samworth, Coat Cooke, Judy Radul, Kedrick James, Sheri-D Wilson, and Hank Bull. And that’s not all. We’re expecting lots of surprise guests and collaborators from Neil’s very colourful past.