Lloyd McNeill Jr. was often described as a man of many talents—musician, artist, photographer, poet and professor—but for jazz lovers it was his facility on the flute that was most commanding. McNeill, 86, died on Oct. 5, at an assisted living residence in Brooklyn. According to an obituary in the New York Times, he had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the last five years. Born in Washington, D.C., McNeill attended Morehouse College, studied at L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris, and was the first recipient of an MFA from Howard University. He traveled the globe, always armed with his pen, flute, palette and camera. When he wasn’t performing in jazz clubs, including a notable stay at the Tin Palace in New York City, he was hobnobbing with Pablo Picasso or taking flute lessons from Eric Dolphy and Harold Jones.
Paul Pines, the owner of the Tin Palace, recalled his acquaintance with McNeill, who asked to perform at the club. “I’d heard him with guitarist Allan Gittler,” Pines said, “who’d built his own kind of space-age guitars. He then asked if he could bring in a larger group. They were Brazilians: guitarist Amaury Tristao, pianist Dom Salvador, some really fine players. People began to flock to hear the Brazilians.”
Some of that festive music can be heard on McNeill’s album “Tori” and other recordings. His competence as a visual artist is colorfully displayed on a number of albums by Sun Ra and Wes Montgomery, et al. In 2001, he retired from Rutgers University where he was Professor Emeritus of Mason Gross School of Arts. At Rutgers he was instrumental in launching the Jazz Studies Program. The Rev. William Howard reminded me that McNeill was also a remarkable artist in mosaics.
McNeill published two volumes of poetry, including “Blackline: A Collection of Poems, Drawings, and Photographs,” and “After the Rain: A Collection of New Poems.” In 2001, he was chosen by the USPS to design a postage stamp for the celebration of Kwanzaa in 2009. He leaves behind his wife, Svetlana Davidovich-McNeill, his sisters Glenda McNeill and Melba McNeill and his brother Albert McNeill and their families.