One of jazz’s most sensational international pioneers

Already firmly established in the pantheon of creative Irish artists, Melanie O’Reilly is recognized as one of jazz’s most sensational international pioneers. Born in Dublin, Melanie comes from a dynasty of musicians and actors.  Treading the boards from an early age as an actress and singer, she quickly became a multiple award-winning singer in Dublin’s Feis Ceol competitions.

Melanie had a precocious passion for jazz; by age 11, she was immersing herself in the rhythms and scat improvisations of Ella Fitzgerald as well as the music of other jazz giants such as Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. Closer to home, she discovered the Foxrock Folk Club, an oasis of local talent where she was introduced to Horslips, the Louis Stewart Trio, and the Chieftains, while discovering the Sean-Nós recordings of Seán O Ríada.

New brand of Celtic jazz

After having studied dramatic performance at the Brendan Smith Theatre Academy Dublin, she finished with a Bachelor of Arts from University College Dublin.  She then began her career as a professional musician, quickly building a reputation for herself as one of the rising stars of the international jazz firmament.  It was in this early period of her career that Melanie began experimenting with the fusion of contemporary jazz with traditional Irish music.  This new brand of Celtic jazz has become not only the trademark of Melanie’s style and career, but also has pushed the boundaries of jazz and launched her into a realm of her own.

Melanie tours extensively throughout the USA, Ireland, Scotland, England, France and other parts of Europe. Venues of note include New York’s Cooper Union, the London Barbican, the Lorient Festival Inter-Celtique in Brittany, Musique d’Ici et D’Ailleurs in Chalons-en-Champagne, the Cork International Jazz Festival, Andernos Festival Internationale France, Freight and Salvage in California, Milwaukee Irish Festival, Chicago Heritage Center, Glasgow Concert Hall, and the Royal Festival Hall in London. A special highlight of her international work was performing at the Lincoln Center, New York.

Accolades and awards

Accolades for Melanie continue to pour in. In 2007 Melanie was featured in the annual ‘Best Of the Bay Area’ special edition of the East Bay Express – a popular newspaper in her adopted home of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2006 she was mentioned in Downbeat Magazine as one of Ireland’s foremost jazz ambassadors. Her 2004 concert with guitarist Larry Coryell at Dublin’s Green Room was noted as one of the top jazz concerts of the year by the Sunday Independent (Dublin).

Additionally, the Rough Guide to Irish Music called Melanie’s work “Spellbinding…uplifting music from a true innovator;” while the Irish Times noted Melanie’s “breathtaking amazing emotional intensity… (and) sheer virtuosity.”

Melanie’s stunning Celtic jazz album ‘Oilean Draiochta’ (Enchanted Island) received the critical thumbs-up from the artistic community as well as garnering wide radio play, and has contributions from a host of renowned musicians such as guitarist Larry Coryell and Irish traditional stars Tommy Hayes and Eileen Ivers. It also features songs that were the result of her collaboration with Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill.

Other recordings include the album ‘House of the Dolphins’, a further development of Melanie’s fusion of Celtic jazz, and nominated for Best Contemporary Album and Best Contemporary Female Artist by Irish Music magazine.

Her subsequent album, ‘Aisling Ghear’ (Bitter Vision), is a duo album with guitarist Sean O’Nuallain and has been released to wide critical acclaim. Two of her songs she has co-written with Nuala ni Dhomnaill, ‘Chugat an Puca’ and ‘Amhran na Milaoise,’ were chosen for the compilation albums –‘Realta ’98’ and ‘Realta 2000’ (RTE). She also featured on the recently released French album ‘Lorient Festival Interceltique –Trente Ans/Thirty Years’, a compilation of the best of Lorient.

Melanie’s album, ‘Women who Left’, is an original song cycle exploring 19th century Irish emigration to America. Three of Melanie’s songs were recently featured on the PBS Frontline/World documentary entitled ‘An Uneasy Peace’, directed by Niall McKay. As vocalist, she has also been part of the winning team on the award winning piece ‘A Snail in my Prime’, composed by musician Michael Holohan and poet Paul Durcan, which won the Quimper Celtic Radio award.

Radio broadcasting

Melanie is a regular performer on the American radio networks and her albums are constantly given airplay by KPFA, KCSM, KKUP in California as well as BBC radio and TV, RTE Radio 1, Radio na Gaeltachta, Lyric FM, and French radio and TV. In 2004 she entered the world of radio broadcasting, creating a show called ‘Jazz on the Bay’ for RTE Radio 1, Ireland’s national broadcasting station, in which she interviews American jazz musicians, listening to their life stories, their inspirations as well as their music.

Her interviews include luminaries such as Dave Brubeck, Clint Eastwood, Chick Corea, Marion Mc Partland, Cleo Laine & John Dankworth, Bobby McFerrin, David Benoit, Larry Coryell, Nancy Wilson. It has continually been picked as Critics’ Choice in the Irish media, and her most recent series of ‘Jazz on the Bay’ recently won a PPI AWARD/National Radio Award for Music Specialist Program of the Year 2008.

She is currently working on her fourth series, which will be broadcast later this year, on RTE Radio 1.

Current work

Having been Musician-in-Residence at the University of California Berkeley, Celtic Studies program for five years, she has now been awarded a US Performance Visa, for “extraordinary ability”, and currently resides in Berkeley, California. Her most recent album ‘Dust and Blood’, which the Contra Costa Times called “…a gorgeous sound…celtic cadence with a jazz sensibility”, was released in Ireland, garnered much radio play, and is distributed by Claddagh Records Distribution.  It will soon have its major re-release in the USA.

Melanie is currently working on two new albums, as well as developing further her creative project of ‘Jazz on a Summer’s Day: a Tribute to Anita O’Day’, which received a four-star review and played to a packed house at the 2010 Edinburgh International Fringe Festival.