Joel Purnell

Principal Lecturer: Jazz

Joel Purnell.jpg


Job Title: Principal Lecturer

Courses Taught: BA (Hons) Music (Jazz)

Specialisms: Jazz Saxophone, Improvisation, Harmony, Performance Techniques, Ensemble Studies

Joel Purnell is an internationally recognised and critically acclaimed saxophonist, widely considered as one of the UK’s leading contemporary jazz musicians and educators. Described as “a tour de force” by Jazz UK, he first emerged onto the British jazz scene in the late ‘90s, quickly establishing a formidable reputation. With an approach heavily influenced by both hard and post-bop players, Purnell effortlessly blends a virtuosic technique with an emotive sense of musical expression to create a unique and instantly recognisable voice. Jazz UK said, “this is how the contemporary tenor ought to sound”, while Jazzwise Magazine & The Guardian speak of “fire breathing solos” delivered with “immaculate taste”, conveying a style reminiscent of the legendary jazz saxophonists John Coltrane & Michael Brecker. Purnell’s prolific performance and studio career has led to an expansive discography, appearing and recording with a multitude of respected bands and musicians.

Highly regarded in the academic arena for his passion and commitment to jazz education, Purnell has mentored several generations of the UK’s most talented new jazz musicians. Holding the post of Principal Lecturer at Leeds Conservatoire for the past 20 years and lecturing on the faculties of Durham & York Universities, he has been nominated for several esteemed awards including ‘Jazz Educator of the Year’ in 2011 and the ‘Teaching Excellence Awards’ in 2018. Specialising in saxophone technique, jazz improvisation, harmony and performance, Purnell conducts numerous masterclasses throughout the UK and regularly provides private tuition for a wide range of instrumentalists. In the areas of academic research, he has produced several papers examining the mathematical and geometric properties of musical structures and consults on innovation and saxophone design for a number of distinguished saxophone manufacturers.

After graduating from Leeds Conservatoire in 1996, Purnell toured the UK and Europe with the Belushi endorsed West End show ‘The Official Tribute to The Blues Brothers’ before being invited to join the Quintet of multi award winning jazz drummer and arranger Ronnie Bottomley (Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Johnny Dankworth, Don Weller, Bobby Wellins). Later, Purnell led the pioneering Latin Jazz collective ‘Muévase’, whilst with another project, accompanied by jazz pianist Jamil Sheriff (Dave Liebman, Terell Stafford) and drummer John Perry (Kenny Wheeler, Anita Wardel, Pete King), he recorded the album ‘466’, heralding the start of a collaboration that would last many years. With the addition of double bassist Zoltan Dekany (Alan Broadbent, Kei Akagi, Terri Lynne Carrington) the group became an integral part of Sheriff’s ‘Octet’ & ‘Contemporary Big Band’ projects, subsequently releasing the highly praised albums ‘Daydreams’, ‘Backchat’ & ‘Ichthyology’.  The musical bond forged between Purnell, Sheriff, Dekany & Perry over this period culminated in the formation of ‘The Joel Purnell Quartet’ in 2008. Showcasing Purnell’s own compositional style, the band remained a close, creative unit for over 7 years. Their debut album ‘Red Shift’ won international critical acclaim with the US media hailing it as, “a brilliant piece of original jazz composition” and “an impressive statement of hard hitting, post-bop influenced modern jazz”, while a reviewer for The Independent attending one of the bands festival performances, described the experience as, “possibly the most enjoyable jazz concert I’ve ever attended”.   

Throughout a varied career Purnell has performed and toured with many notable jazz musicians such as Alan Barnes, Tina May, Sebastiaan De Krom, Ulrich Elbracht, Steve Fishwick and renowned LA jazz guitarist Rick Zunigar (Stevie Wonder Band, Chick Corea & Freddie Hubbard), whilst as a sideman, he has appeared at many of the largest music venues and festivals across the UK & Europe with international artists including the American soul diva Viola Wills, revered funk outfit ‘Capri’ and some of the UK’s bestselling rock and pop groups including the Indie band ‘Embrace’. Meanwhile, his studio album credits cover an eclectic range of genres from film soundtracks for Universal Pictures to features on ‘Satellite Sweetheart’ by Dave Formula (Magazine, Visage & The Angel Brothers), along with numerous appearances on the albums of cult singer songwriter and controversial artist Ashley Reaks.

Purnell continues to perform regularly throughout the UK and is currently involved in a number of new music projects including the launch of an upcoming YouTube education channel. Visit for more information and to subscribe to the mailing list for the latest news, music and updates.

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