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Neil Richard Ardley (1937–2004) was a prominent English jazz pianist and composer, who also made a name as the author of more than 100 popular books on science and technology, and on music.


Brief biography

Ardley was born on 26 May 1937 in Wallington, Surrey. He went to Wallington Grammar School, and at the age of thirteen started to learn the piano and later the saxophone. He read Chemistry at Bristol University, where he also played both piano and sax in jazz groups, and from which he graduated in 1959 with a B.Sc.. He developed dual careers in music and in writing and publishing, both of which he continued until his death on 23 February 2004.

Musical career

Having moved to London, Ardley studied arranging and composition with Premru from 1960 to 1961. He joined the John Williams Big Band as pianist, writing both arrangements and new compositions, and from 1964 to 1970 was the director of the newly-formed New Jazz Orchestra, which employed some of the best young musicians in London, including Ian Carr, Jon Hiseman, Barbara Thompson, Dave Gelly, Mike Gibbs, Don Rendell, and Trevor Tomkins.

In the late 1960s, encouraged by record producer and impresario Denis Preston, Ardley began composing in earnest, combining classical and jazz methods. His rich orchestrations were augmented in the 1970s by the addition of synthesisers. However, as he began work on an all-electronic album in 1980, Ardley's recording conract was suddenly terminated, and he fell back on his writing and publishing career. He continued to play and compose, especially with Zyklus, the electronic jazz group he formed with composer (and former student) John L. Walters, Derbyshire musician Warren Greveson and Ian Carr.

Singing in local choirs in the later 1990s led Ardley to start composing choral music, and this occupied most of his musical attention until his death. At the time of his death, Ardley had begun to gig and record again with a slimmed down Zyklus consisting of himself, Warren Greaveson, and Nick Robinson.


  • 1965: Western Reunion (New Jazz Orchestra)
  • 1968: Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe (New Jazz Orchestra)
  • 1970: Greek Variations (with Ian Carr & Don Rendell)
  • 1971: A Symphony of Amaranths
  • 1973: Mike Taylor Remembered (with Jon Hiseman, Barbara Thompson, Ian Carr, Henry Lowther, Dave Gelly, and Norma Winstone)
  • 1976: Kaleidoscope of Rainbows (with Ian Carr and Nucleus, produced by Paul Buckmaster)
  • 1978: Harmony of the Spheres
  • 1991: Virtual Realities (Zyklus) with Ian Carr, John L. Walters and Warren Greveson.
  • 2001: Creation Mass (words by Patrick Huddie)

Writing career

Ardley joined the editorial staff of the World Book Encyclopedia in 1962, when the London branch of the American publisher was producing an international edition. This took four years, during which time he developed the skill of editing and writing introductory material for the young. After a brief period working for Hamlyn, he became a freelance editor in 1968 (which enabled him to continue with his musical career), and then in the 1970s moved into writing introductory books, mostly for children, on natural history (especially birds), science and technology, and music, such as What Is It?.

Just as his composing and performance had been moved forward by the introduction and development of technology, so too with his publishing career as computers began to become more and more important. In 1984 Ardley began to write mainly for Dorling Kindersley, producing a series of books which included the best-selling (over three million copies worldwide) and award-winning The Way Things Work, illustrated by David Macaulay.

When he retired in 2000 Ardley had written 101 books, with total sales of about ten million.

Sources and external links

  • Carr, Ian, Digby Fairweather, & Brian Priestley. Jazz: The Rough Guide. London: Rough Guides. ISBN 1-85828-528-3
  • Ardley, Neil, David Lambert and Mark Lambert. What Is It? Question and Answer Encyclopedia. London: Kingfisher Books. ISBN 0-671-68467-1
  • Neil Ardley Official Website — includes lists of his books and compositions.
  • Neil Ardley — biographical sketch by Eugene Chadbourne for Allmusic.
  • Find-a-Grave profile for Neil Ardley
  • Out of the Long Dark: The Life of Ian Carr, Alyn Shipton, Equinox Publishing, 2006. ISBN (Paperback) 1845532228 ISBN (Paperback) 9781845532222
  • Obituary by John L. Walters, The Guardian,

Thursday March 4, 2004.

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