Jef Neve, the pianist who can do it all
Out of all of Belgium’s outstanding musical performers, perhaps one of the most noteworthy is pianist and composer Jef Neve.
After taking piano classes at the music academy of Geel, just south of his native Turnhout, Neve studied at the prestigious Lemmens Institute (Lemmensinstituut) in Leuven, training in both jazz and classical piano, each of which he graduated from cum laude in 2000. He specialised in chamber music and, a year later, got equally excellent marks for this specialisation.
Soon thereafter came the albums, the first five of which were recorded with the Jef Neve Trio: Blue Saga was released in 2003, followed by It’s Gone in 2004 and Nobody Is Illegal in 2006 (his debut with a major label, Universal Music Belgium). His first album without his trio was For All We Know, released in 2010 with vocals by American singer José James.
Jef Neve’s signing with Universal meant his rise to international fame, which he fortified with a tour across 24 countries for his album Soul in a Picture (2008). He has said that he likes to travel and that meeting people feeds him.
Neve was also a member of another jazz ensemble, the Pascal Schumacher Quartet. He recorded two albums and went on tour with them.
Besides his prolific jazz career, let’s also remember that Jef Neve studied and is active in classical music, both performing and composing, including two piano concertos. Furthermore, he has combined the two styles through a duo with pianist Liebrecht Vanbeckevoort. They toured a programme together called If Mozart and Monk were Brothers.
In addition, Jef Neve has scored numerous soundtracks, including for award-winning director Felix Van Groeningen, such as his films Dagen Zonder Lief (the English title of which is With Friends Like These) and De helaasheid der dingen (The Misfortunates), which is based on a book by Belgian author Dimitri Verhulst.
He also did the soundtrack for In Vlaamse Velden (In Flanders Fields), a hit series about the First World War, broadcast at the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the start of the war.
With such a long career with international allure, it is self-evident that Jef Neve has won a multitude of prizes and awards, including the Edison Award (comparable to a Grammy) and the World Soundtrack Award for Best Original Score for a Belgian Production. He was also lauded at Belgium’s Music Industry Awards in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 as Best Musician and as Best Composer.
Belgium has many jazz legends, including Toots Thielemans and Philip Catherine. Jef Neve, too, is one of the great Belgian jazz artists.
Photo: © Filip Meutermans