Johnny O’Neal was born October 10, 1956 in Detroit, Michigan and his playing was influenced by pianists Oscar Peterson and Art Tatum. In 1974, he moved to Birmingham, Alabama and worked as a musician, never needing a day job to make ends meet. There he worked with locals Jerry Grundhofer, Dave Amaral, Cleveland Eaton, and Ray Reach.
Moving to New York City in 1981 to perform with Clark Terry, he also landed a regular job at the Blue Note, accompanying among numerous others, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Nancy Wilson, Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell. From 1982 to 1983 Johnny was a member of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers and made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1985.
During the Nineties he lived in Atlanta, Georgia and performed prolifically at Churchill Grounds and Just Jazz, before settling in Canada for a few years. He has recorded with Art Blakey, Russell Malone, Magic City Jazz Orchestra, SuperJazz Big Band and the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame All-Stars, among others.
On the recommendation of Oscar Peterson, O’Neal portrayed Art Tatum in the 2004 movie Ray, recreating Tatum’s sound on the song Yesterdays. He has been profiled in the 2006 DVD Tight, was featured in Lush Life: Celebrating Billy Strayhorn, performing with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and received a standing ovation.
Neo-bop pianist, vibist and vocalist Johnny O’Neal, whose playing ranges from the technically virtuosic to the tenderest of ballad interpretations, was a 1997 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame and continues his career performing, recording and touring.