An Evening With Jef Neve

Melbourne prides itself on how much we appreciate culture, and that of course extends to music well outside of whatever’s on the Top 40 at the moment. Jazz music is often seen to have a niche following, but the upcoming Melbourne International Jazz Festival will surely make its jazzy voice heard. I was lucky to have a chat with one of the touring musicians, Jef Neve from Belgium, about his career and upcoming show in Melbourne.

What made you want to become a jazz musician?
Since I was a little boy, I started to play the piano as my mother played the piano, but from the moment I could play a little bit, I wanted to ‘make’ music myself, create myself. So, at the age of six I ‘wrote’ my first compositions, signed with ‘Jef Amadeus Neve’. Later on, when I went to music school and conservatory and learned the basics of harmony and composition. I started to improvise as well. I would not call myself a jazz musician, I compose all kinds of stuff, also wrote my own piano concerto and different film scores, but when I’m playing concerts I love the freedom of improvising.

How popular is jazz music in Belgium?
For a small country as Belgium (11 million people), we have an enormous amount of festivals and also a lot of jazz festivals, with the famous international Ghent Jazz Festival (in my city) and Jazz Middelheim (Antwerp). So the live scene is very big and there is a lot of talent in Belgium. Unfortunately on radio and TV, there is almost no attention to it.

Your first solo album was released earlier this year. How do you feel working alone compares to working with in a group?
It took a long way to get there. I guess I needed to play, write and tour first with my trio and other combo’s to finally get to this point. It is a giant step for a musician to play solo and even bigger to record your own album because you are naked, hence the naked man on the backside of the cover, totally alone, no other musicians to ‘hide’ behind.

You have composed music for films. How did you get into that line of work, and what is it like trying to create music to go with footage from a movie?
For the first movie I did, they asked me to compose songs with my trio, which was a kind of easy for me at first. But when I digged into the footage, I discovered quite quickly that this movie needed more than just my jazz trio, so I started to compose different music, more classical if you want, different instruments etc.

But it was love at first sight, I really like doing this kind of compositions, certainly when you can really add value to the footage, or even when the music can take over at a certain point! But I really have to ‘feel’ the movie, if I can’t let myself go in the footage, I won’t write a score for it. And this idea goes that far that I can really be sick or down (or extremely happy) for several days if the character or the scene has that atmosphere.

Have you ever played in Australia before? If so, where have you played?
I have played for several years in Australia, with my trio, in duo with Pascal Schumacher and last year I did some solo concerts as well to prepare for my solo album. I even recorded one track of the album in Australia, in Newcastle on the huge and magnificent Stuart & Sons piano in the factory of Wayne Stuart himself. I played in Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Wangaratta and Newcastle.

How do you feel Melbourne’s jazz scene compares to other cities in the world?
Melbourne has a very nice jazz scene, some nice little hidden spots and of course the festival. It is not the biggest jazz city in the world, but people show up and are always a great audience, they have a lot of respect for the musicians.

What can audiences expect from your solo performances in Australia?
A mix of my own creations and some interpretations of songs from Thelonious Monk, Joni Mitchell, Stromae… It is jazz, but also pop, dance, lyrical, my own touch! Come to see it, you will love it.

Originally published here at on Monday 12 January 2015


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