In Australia he was a rising jazz star, but that didn’t count for much in the US, where no one knew his name. So it took a certain amount of courage for Barney McAll to wander into New York’s Sweet Basil jazz club and offer his services to the owner, Horst Liepolt. It was the mid-1990s, and Liepolt was a well-known producer who had once played a significant role in promoting jazz in Australia.
McAll told Liepolt that he was a pianist, and was new in town. Any chance he could play between sets?
“Now I look back on that,” McAll says, “I was asking to play in the breaks between Art Blakey and Wynton Marsalis.”
He laughs, happy to admit that his attitude was naive at best. His offer to play at Sweet Basil was declined, and McAll was left to try his luck elsewhere.
“I had no idea,” he says. “But now I do.”
His recent confidence is not without foundation. It’s been 13 years since McAll relocated from Australia to New York, and over that time he has forged a strong musical identity that continues to evolve.
The pianist and composer seems wiser now, personally and musically. Based in Brooklyn, he plays and tours regularly with some of the big names in jazz, including Fred Wesley and Kurt Rosenwinkel, Billy Harper and Josh Roseman, embracing Cuban grooves, modern funk, free jazz and electronic sounds along the way. He has written for more than a dozen films, and has been nominated for a Grammy. In a development he describes as a huge compliment, and a sign his career is moving into its next stage, students are studying some of his music, as recorded in Australia, Cuba and the US.
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