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Phil Parnell

Pianist, Composer, Producer

Phil began performing on stage at an early age. He knows because there is a picture that was hanging in his parents house of him in a straw hat, striped coat and a cane at age 4 doing the lead role for his school play. His mother played piano in church, and at home, when she had a moment free from two young boys. She complained to a friend that no matter where he was and or what he was doing Phil would come running in to bang on the piano while she was playing. Her friend said, 'he wants to play .... get him a teacher'.

Phil was born in Dallas and he started piano lessons at age 5. At age 8 , just after Hurricane Betsy, his family moved to New Orleans .

'I remember the drive to New Orleans from Dallas and the progressive devastation as we got nearer to New Orleans, billboards twisted, trees down, rooftops peeled away from their houses. It was scary at the time.

He became obsessed by jazz as a teenager after hearing John Coltrane coming from the house of a sax player as he stood in the front doorway with his friend. Before long he was inspired by listening to many other jazz musicians such as , Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Phineas Newborn, Cannonball Adderly, James Booker, Dr John, Chick Corea, Ray Charles and Joe Zawinul among others, which left him no choice but to pursue a musical career.

'I was working for a painting contractor after school and on weekends when I was 15. I use to bring a boombox cassette player with all my favorite jazz and it would drive the rest of the crew mad after a while. The boss would make me turn on top 40 radio to keep the peace. I was always doing something different from the other kids. Usually solitary endeavours. I learned to ride a unicycle and to juggle, and was into trampoline, diving, gymnastics and art'.

Phil then sought out Ellis Marsalis (the father of Wynton and Branford) to teach him jazz piano and, after some time, on the advice of Ellis, he went on to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

'Berklee was good because it made me realize how crap I was and I was suddenly aware of a higher standard, It made me want to work harder at learning to play well.'

On his return to New Orleans he began working with many different bands in venues in and around the City of New Orleans on Bourbon Street, in hotels and restuarants, at the jazz clubs, and various festivals in and around south Louisiana.

'When I started playing with the Bourbon street bands I was thrown in at the deep end, I didn't know any of the songs so I had to try and memorize the chord progression before my solo came around. This was some of the best ear training I've ever had ..You can sit in a practice room for ever but when you are thrown on stage you have to perform well or you don't get called back for the next gig.'

Over the years he has played gigs around the world and shared the stage with a variety very notable artists, including Gatemouth Brown, Astrud Gilberto, Sam McClean, Red Tyler, Bo Diddly, Bill Huntington, Johnny Adams, Smokey Johnson, Lillian Boutte', Steve Masokowski, Freddy Kohlman, Dave Barthalomew, Bettye Lavette, Leroy Jones, Germaine Bazzle, George Porter, Johnny Vidacovich, Herlin Reiley, Shannon Powell, Wendell Brunious, and David Lastie.

'There is an incredible amount of amazing talent that has come out of New Orleans and I was very fortunate to have worked with many of the finest musicians around who gave me a chance when I was just a youngster in this business.'

In 1991 Phil went to England for a tour with Lillian Boutte' and while he was there he contacted Mandy whom he had met some months ealier in New Orleans. They married in '93. In 1996 Phil moved to London with his family and soon began working with local bands around the UK. He then met Matthew Herbert and Dani Siciliano in 1998 which opened up a whole new aspect of music for him.

'Matthew wanted to learn about jazz and I wanted to learn about electronic music so we gave each other ideas and feedback on stuff we were working on. I was drawn to the quirkyness and unusual sounds, textures, and harmonies of Matt's music .....and to the concept of using samples of things around us in everyday life to make the music more meaningful. '

Phil has since been around the world several times with Matthew and shared some incredible moments onstage and off. In sept 2001 they were in New York city for the last gig of a US tour. The phone started ringing very early that morning in thier hotel on the lower east side with the organizer saying that the gig was cancelled .... a plane just flew into the WTC. They went onto the roof and watched the Twin Towers go up in flames.... and it took more than a few days to get a flight back to London.

In 2001 Phil and his wife Mandy bought an old warehouse in Walthamstow Village E17 in east London and converted it into a spacious house with a studio ...Village Studio.... where he composes and records his own music.

Phil embraces many styles and settings of music and is delighted to go from an eclctronic, experimental musical situation to a traditional jazz , gospel jazz, rhythm & blues, cabaret, solo piano, or big band scenario.

'The variety of styles and challenges is the thing that keeps me going in this business' says Phil 'I like playing all of these different types of music with people I really love and respect. And if you spend your life doing work that makes you happy then in the end ....you have had a happy life.'

Phil has most recently been touring with Lillian Boutte' and Matthew Herbert and preparing 4 new cds of his own for release this year.

He has also played on recent recordings with Matthew Herbert (Scale), a new Gospel cd with Lillian Boutte', A new release of cabaret and jazz by Katya Gorre and Denny Iilet and a Nils Slodberg recording for a new retro jazz cd out later this year.

 

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