Brian O'Neal
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Brian O'Neal

Detroit, MI | Established. Jan 01, 2004 | INDIE | AFM

Detroit, MI | INDIE | AFM
Established on Jan, 2004
Solo Pop Jazz




"Success By Design"

“Mesmerized” which opens Daisy —named for the artist’s late grandmother, Daisy O’Neal— features the simple, sunny, treble octaves of producer/pianist Brian O’Neal’s lilting right hand, speckling a lush undergrowth of somber dark strings. The tragicomic, the blues (forcing darkness into light) and especially Funk (the previous at a carnival funhouse; listen to the bonus track “Smell Of Bean”, which sounds like classic Parliament) all seem to inform a sense of wisdom and pragmatism about O’Neal’s creativity that makes it constantly on the move, restless, curious, and unashamedly invested in the human condition.

No doubt that restlessness is also a product of the kind of free-thinking independence that occurs when a smart, ambitious kid is allowed to (or relegated to, either through indifference or misunderstanding) spend copious amounts of time with their own thoughts, reassembling the world according to them, and by chance discover their own paradise. Young Brian O’Neal was one such, and in spite of his parents’ best efforts to get him to pursue something more practical (but for Grandma Daisy, who bought Brian his first piano) he has found success in the advertising world as a jingle writer—most notably for McDonald’s—as a music producer and collaborator of Kem, and beginning with the 2003 release of Mood Swings, an intrepid artist in his own right.

Now the pending release of Dreams In Color sees his curiosity lurch into yet another realm. Says O’Neal, “It’s a multi-genre project that includes the music I enjoy composing most—pop, folk, hip-hop, rock.” He has also used his success as a means to help others, working through the DO Foundation to help needy and homeless families in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

DIJM: So what’s with you and beans?

BO: Me and beans, we go way back. When I was 16, I had a curfew of 9 o’clock, and I came in at 9:02. My dad was making a pot of beans at the time, so my punishment… was to eat the whole pot. (Since everything else didn’t work; taking my car away, taking my house keys…)

DIJM: What sort of beans?

BO: Pintos. So I sat there for about three or four hours, eating about half the pot, and then I got sick of course. I can’t touch beans anymore. You can’t even disguise it; my lips will not part to beans. But, that’s how I got the nickname ‘Bean’. So I guess I threw in some of those titles for my personal friends who knew what bean meant.
DIJM: You’re quoted saying to WFSK 88.1FM, “I don't listen to the radio often out of respect for my craft. I don't want to taint my vision of music with that of which we hear everyday. By shutting myself out of the listening audience, I'm not apt to emulate any sound you've heard before.” I think I get what you’re saying. But an artist cannot be an island; a fine-toothed analysis of history shows that genius never happens in a vacuum. You have to get stimuli from somewhere that’s living and breathing, and outside influence will cut through, because that’s just the nature of our media-saturated world. You don’t need a magazine subscription to find lavishly engineered images, and you don’t need radio to listen to current music; it finds you. Now in order to create your ‘sound’, what do you allow yourself to listen to?

BO: I was a heavy Prince and Stevie Wonder follower, so in my beginning days I sounded a lot like them. As I started to roll back and not listen to their music as much, my own musical landscape started to change. That was around the time synthesizers became digital, so you had access to a larger array of sounds and sampling for keyboards. So you could actually sit down and design your own sounds. That was the beginning of the credit title ‘Sound Designer’, where people would take raw material and create a sound you never heard before—they might mix a trumpet with a bassoon, or the sound of a brick dropping on the ground, and then you could sample that and use it on the keyboard… So I was into that for a while. I turned into an egghead, a geek, a nerd, but for a hot second.

DIJM: Geek is good.

BO: Because my roommate became one also—we were for a time, competing pianists. And when I saw him take on the tech world full-steam, he stopped playing. And I thought, “I never want to be that”; I never want to lose this craft. So I decided to leave that up to him and some of the other eggheads to work the tech stuff. I did a lot in the beginning to help craft an original sound for myself, or genre. I had a heavy jazz background; of course I grew up with Motown like a lot of kids my age in Detroit, but I was also that kid who, instead of going out and playing football or basketball, I would sit in front of my dad’s stereo system and listen to all these old jazz albums—people you’ve probably never heard of before, all the way up to Miles Davis, Coltrane, Gill Evans, all those guys. And I’d just sit there for hours. And not listening to the entire piece of music, but I’d follow one instrument through the entire song. If it’s the drums, I’d listen only to what he was doing on the hi-hat. Because for me, every instrument, every note, and every sound has a voice.

DIJM: So at least where you’re concerned, vocals are strictly ornamental?

BO: Yes. And that’s coming from a strict musician’s view of it. I understand the music language, and it doesn’t have to be English, or some other human dialect. Instruments speak to me, and that understanding contributes to the ‘sound’ that I have.

DIJM: Now it has been seven years since the release of your last album, Daisy (named for your grandmother if my research is right), and your current release Dreams In Color. Why was there such a gap and what happened in the years leading up to this new project?

BO: I spent so much time working with Kem. We came up together and we started in high school, writing songs together for years, until finally I moved to Atlanta as a software engineer. It was at that time that the labels were interested, and gave him a record deal. He buzzed me up in Atlanta, saying “Dude, I need you, come back to Michigan.” So I dropped everything and came back. And ever since he’s been out, I’ve been there. So we did a lot of touring, which took up a lot of time. During that time, when my daughter was a little older (teenage years), life happened; family started. I slowed down a little bit, after the Daisy CD.
The other reason I kind of prolonged the space between projects was because I tried to stay abreast of the music industry, because it was changing a lot back then. I noticed a lot of artists felt they had to put a project out every year. I watched one of my friends and I said, “Guy, you just made a CD nine months ago and your next one’s going to be out in a couple months! Why are you doing that?” If you feed the public that fast, they’re going to expect it that fast. If you give just a little bit, consistently, then they’ll expect that from you.

Plus, why not give your music time to spread? Give it time to reach the rest of the world. Two years after the Daisy CD, I was going to start another project, but then I had a burst of the song “Mesmerized” which took off in Europe. That song is new to them. (It may be two years old here, but it’s new to them.) Then it hit Australia, and to them it’s brand-new. Then Mexico picked up on it. I don’t know how this stuff spreads, but it all gave me pause, and I thought to myself, “Okay, maybe it’s right that I waited that long.” And because it has been seven years, my fans are actually waiting for something. I’ve already pre-sold a lot of CDs, and it’s just now being finished. So that’s a help for me, business-wise. And I just knew that this project was going to be very different…

DIJM: The new single, “I Wanna Be A Hero” (featuring vocalist Monica Notaro)…would that have anything to do either directly or tangentially with your mission to help Detroit’s homeless?

BO: Yes. Directly. I work at the DO Foundation, and we help a lot of people of Detroit by helping the homeless transition off the streets. And to me, a lot of the clients that we interview, even though to society they’re in bad shape, look terrible and smell… they’re like heroes to me. Because it takes a lot to be out there, in this weather, with everything against you, everything. These people are living; they’re trying to help themselves get out of that. If that’s not a hero, I don’t know what is…

DIJM: And homelessness doesn’t recognize any educational background at all. I mean there are engineers out there on the streets…

BO: Oh yeah. We took an assessment of people with PhD’s, believe it or not. And all because one small thing happens in their life (often medical), they spiral downward… And society is designed not to help people spiral back up.

DIJM: Finally, why haven’t you toured much locally?

BO: The CD release concert is coming here, because I haven’t done one in Metro Detroit for years. And the reason why that is, is that if I’m playing at Baker’s and you can just come and see me for free, or $5, then why would you pay $50 to come to a real concert, after I had completed a huge project? You’ve already heard it—there would be no demand. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of artists, where they got stuck… I’ve got friends who are excellent artists and should be big and famous and the world should know them. But they’re stuck, because they take on every little gig and get paid for peanuts, or no money at all. So the moment they come out with something big (and few of them do), the locals are saying, “When are you playing at the pub again?” They build a nice fan base playing local joints, but what if they try to play the Detroit Jazz Festival, or one of the bigger concerts with bigger promoters? They look at his record and see that they play a whole bunch of smaller joints, and pay him what they think he deserves… So you’re stuck. I witnessed Kem go through the same thing when he started out, he was actually paying sometimes just to get in. Then he stopped, got that record deal, made a name for himself outside, came back to Detroit and bam, same places that never paid him begged to have him. Same thing with Eminem; the whole time he was crawling up the ladder, barely anyone around here knew about him. But the moment he left Detroit, blew up, went all over and did all these massive things, and then came back, that’s when they claimed him.
So from watching that, and seeing a whole bunch of other artists operate, I learned from it. You can be a starving artist or a struggling artist, but then again you don’t have to be. If you play it smart—you watch the market, you watch what other people are doing, and then you work yourself into it. - Detroit Jazz Magazine

"Brian O’Neal sheds light on the Homeless through Music"

Composer, producer & artist Brian O’Neal unites with DO Foundation
for a charity fundraiser/CD release concert

DETROIT, MI – As the Motor City transitions into Spring, April brings the promise of music and charity with multi-instrumentalist, composer, producer Brian O’Neal and non-profit organization, the DO Foundation (DOF). Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 19th – it’s sure to be a colorful mix of original music filled with purpose for the community.

With three hit CD’s under his belt, O’Neal is set to release his fourth; a cross pollination of genres titled “Dreams in Color”. When asked of the project, O’Neal reflects “Throughout my career, the feel of my music was … monotone – being of one style, type or genre. Dreams in Color has given me the opportunity to expand my palette, to experiment and compose within a rainbow of melodies. Through composing and producing this CD, I am precisely where I want to be; no longer encumbered by labels and expectations … (I am) free to explore and thrive in the limitless possibilities of rhythmic creativity.” He is the same talented, creative genius everyone knows and appreciates, but repurposed … Brian O’Neal Reincarnated.

On Saturday April 19th, 2014 at 8:00 pm, Comedy Central comedian Damon Williams will be hosting the “Brian O’Neal Dreams in Color CD Release Concert”. This exciting, musical mix of artistry in motion will feature a host of phenomenal artists and local talent such as Dan Tillery, Callen Snyder, Monica Notaro, Kimberly Douglas, Savallace, Lloyd Dwayne and Will Faubert with special guest, Detroit’s Fox2 news reporter, Amy Lange.
Sponsored by BCO Media, all proceeds from the concert will be donated to DO Foundation, a NPO that connects directly with the homeless to address their long term housing needs. DOF generates community support in conjunction with implementing cost-effective programs to aid and assist them with finding permanent residential solutions.
The concert will be held at St. Andrew’s Hall, 431 E. Congress Street, Detroit, MI 48226. Tickets are currently on sale at St. Andrew’s Hall, the Detroit Fillmore, and online @

For more information about Dreams In Color, please visit or call
### - Alise Phipps

"Homeless: Detroit Jazz Musician Brian O'Neal Tries It"

With so many people without a place to call home in Haiti, we're reminded how many are homeless here at home. Many people can't imagine being in that position while others wish they weren't. However, hardly anyone would voluntarily become homeless. Yet, that's exactly what a local musician has been doing for the past couple of days and nights.

Alone, cold and walking Detroit's streets at night, Brian O'Neal searches for a shelter. He's homeless like an estimated 18,000 other people in the city.

"Without talking to them and just looking at them, you would assume... that guy's crazy or it's mental illness or he's on drugs or he's sick. He might hurt me. He might rob me. It's wrong," O'Neal told FOX 2.

Brian says he's learning something about stereotypes.

"I mean, those people do exist, but, for the most part, the majority of them that are out here, they're struggling to survive," O'Neal said.

O'Neal is a successful jazz musician who's appeared on the FOX 2 morning show, but he's been wandering the frigid streets of Detroit for two days waiting for soup kitchens and shelters to open, trying to find a place to stay warm. It's not easy when you're homeless and you can't even duck into a restaurant to use a restroom.

"None of the homeless people are allowed to go in. There are signs on every single establishment that (say) for paying customers only. No pay phone. No restroom," said O'Neal.

Brian is trying to experience what it's really like in an effort to find solutions to this nagging problem. He hit the streets with the clothes on his back and seven bucks, all part of the work of the organization he started -- the DO Foundation.

"I can't help these people unless I know exactly what they go through. I need to know what it feels like to be hungry, cold, tired, no place to go," O'Neal said.

Now, he knows what that feels like. Unable to find a shelter for the night and out of money, Brian gives up. After two days on the streets and a night in the shelter, he's going home well aware thousands of others on the streets of Detroit don't have that luxury.

"Most of them are hopeless because there is no end in sight," said O'Neal. That's something he's hoping he can do something to change.

"There is a way. There has to be a way, and we're going to figure it out," O'Neal said.

For more information on the DO Foundation, visit -

"Brian O'Neal CD Review"

"Brian 'Bean' O'Neal is truly a remarkable talented up and coming jazz musician." - Billboard Magazine


“Daisy” is a wonderful CD. All fourteen tracks on the CD are entertaining and enjoyable. The quality of the sound and the production of this CD are definitely first rate. This is a “can’t miss” addition to your music collection.
by Michael Marsh
- The New Citizen Press

"Brian O'Neal's Music"

“…Brian’s music is comparable to Bob James, Joe Sample and the rest. It’s hard to pick just one song to feature on a continuous basis.”

Arlene "Angel" James - DJ WFLM 104.7FM

"Brian O'Neal"

“...I have to say, there has to be a lot of interest and captivation in the music, along with decent quality if I am going to step out of my bounds to review it. My hat is off to Brian O’Neal, and I’m sure yours will be too after hearing what he has to offer.” - Gods of Music


Still working on that hot first release.



Before his entrance, before the first note is struck, an excitement spreads through the crowd; Appreciators of genres across the spectrum anticipate a rousing performance filled with bold expressions of inventive originality.  And once they hear his Hello by stroke of the ivories, they are not disappointed. His playfulness and presentation draws everyone into the myriad of tempos & tunes they are experiencing.


ONeals influences are subtly detected Herbie Hancocks keystrokes, Stevie Wonders innovations, Pat Methenys adventurous explorations; all brought to important impact on his 4th project:  Dreams in Color An impressive exploration of his composing and producing abilities which only confirms his innovative artistry and eye for new talent.


Having appeared on stage with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn, Kem and, most recently, John Legend, ONeal has appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and impressed at venues such as Detroits Fox Theatre, Madison Square Garden and The Staples Center in L.A. With experience, dedication and drive, ONeal is taking his pioneering Dreams in Color project from imagination to certain reality.


Lend an ear.

You will be glad you did.

Band Members