Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson studied Composition with John Eaton and Iannis Xenakis at Indiana University, and with Gunther Schuller at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood. In 1974, he was awarded the first John W. Work III Composition Fellowship. In 1974, Nelson moved to New York. From 1974 to 1994, he worked in the field of Creative Music Education. Among the organizations he worked with are the Lincoln Center Institute, the Henry Street Settlement, the Guggenheim Museum's Learning Through The Arts Program, Adelphi University, Saint Ann's School, Brooklyn and the "Meet The Composer" Composer in the Schools Program. He has presented music workshops in Holland, Belgium, Hungary, Estonia, France, Greece, Denmark and Switzerland.

Nelson has received grants from: National Endowment for the Arts Composers Fellowship 1981, Fonds Voor Scheppende Toonkunst, Amsterdam, Composer`s Grant, 1983. Amsterdams Fonds Voor Kunst(Art) Composer`s Grant 1984: Foundation For Contemporary Performance Arts, New York 1989, New York Foundation for the Arts, 1988, Artists’ Round Table Education Award, New York 1990, Meet The Composer Grants, 1988-94, City of Biel Ch. Composer Grant 2003 and 2014, City of Bern Composer Grant 2003, “Peach Blood” Foundation Meilen CH, Composer`s Grant 2006 and 2009, Ernst Goehner Foundation Composer Grant 2009, Swisslos Kulture Kanton Bern Music Production Grant 2014, Migros CH Kulturprozent Music Production Grant 2014, Schweizerische Interpreten Stiftung, Music Production Grant, 2014.

Nelson has received commissions from the Oklahoma Symphony, Brooklyn Philharmonic, The Orchestra of Our Time, ASKO Orchestra, Amsterdam, the American Dance Festival, Diversons Dance Company, Cardiff Wales, the Leonardo Trio, the Dale Warland Singers, the Kronos Quartet, The Bern-Neufeld chamber Orchestra, The Readers Digest/Meet the Composer Commissioning program, accordionist Teodoro Anzilotti, Paul Klee Ensemble, Bern, Zentrum Paul Klee, Company Carolyn Carlson, and the South West German Radio, Baden-Baden Germany.

Nelson has composed works for dance. Some of the dancers he has worked with are Susanne Linke, Bill T. Jones, Jorma Uotinen, Nirs De Wolf, Susanne Mueller, Robert Kovich, the Jose Limon Company and the Company Carolyn Carlson.

In 1994, Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson moved to Switzerland. Since then, his works have been performed in Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Ukraine, Estonia, Italy, Denmark, Austria, Hungary, Greece and Switzerland.

In May 2000, Killing the Word for solo trumpet and percussion quartet and video was premiered at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. This was a commission from the South West German Television, Baden-Baden Freiburg. A movie version was shown on 3SAT in June 2002. Mountain Passage for solo trumpet and strings at the Zelt Music Festival in Freiburg, July 3, 2001.

L/Sweet for large jazz ensemble and voices was premiered in July 2001 at the Langnau Jazz Festival; Just Beyond Memory for flute and piano was premiered on October 12, 2003 in Amsterdam, Holland.

From 1981 until 1985, Nelson lived in the Netherlands, where he worked as a musician at the Amsterdam Theater School.

Other premieres include Night Songs for solo piano premiered on January 26, 2004, De Rode Pomp, Gent, Belgium. Sightseeing for bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and piano, was premiered on May 23, 2004 in Ghent, Belgium; SALAM, music for a hip-hop dance work (choreography: Farid M. Baroug), premiered on September 29, 2005, Tanzhaus, Dusseldorf, Germany; Night Dances for solo piano, premiered on December 10, 2005 at Dancestreet theatre Amsterdam Holland NNACHT NIGHT NUIT, a full evening music-visual-theater work commissioned by by Zentrum Paul Klee Bern Switzerland was premiered on March 24, 2004. He had a further commission from Centre Chorégraphique National Roubaix Nord-Pas de Calais. This work, where he performed live music received over 250 performances in two years in France, Switzerland and Italy.

Nelson received two commissions from the Charlotte Symphony to compose two works for its youth ensemble. In December 2009, Nelson was guest composer-performer in a concert by the Musamari Children`s Chorus at the National Theatre in Tallinn Estonia. Nelson composed a work for youth performers as an homage to Morton Feldman. This work, Voices and Instruments, was premiered in the "Lange Musik" Festival at the Dampfzentrale in Bern on March 9, 2012.

From February until July 2012, Nelson was Artist in Residence at the Planke School in Biel, Switzerland where he created a music-theatre work with young people called My Rainforest Your Rainforest. This work was premiered on July 3, 2012. In April 2012, Nelson traveled to New York City, and San Fransisco, California, to create a short movie with Aline d'Auria called "Jalalu in New York", where he played the Alphorn in different locations. This film was shown on RSI Uno in April 2012.

Recent premieres: The Light Shines for chorus, October 19, 2014, in Bern. For Voice and Trumpet for mezzo soprano and trumpet, Rotations I for flute and trumpet, VOCI VOCI VOCI I-IV for voices, November 30th 2014 Biel, in a Portrait Concert.

On April 11, 2015 at the Valdez culture Center in New York, Nelson presented a concert of his music, featuring new works for voices and instruments: All Lives Matter for voices and instruments, 280 for male voice and ensemble with text by Alfredo Pessoa, A Mother`s Lament for female voice and ensemble, dedicated to the young Black Men who were killed by police in the spring and summer of 2014, and other works. In Philadelphia on April 19, 2015, he premiered Rotations III for solo alto saxophone, trumpet and ensemble.

On September 9, 2015, Nelson appeared as the narrator in the Genesis Suite for chorus and orchestra, by composers Arnold Schönberg, Nathaniel Shilkret, Alexandre Tansman, Darius Milhaud, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Ernst Toch and Igor Stravinsky for narrator, chorus and orchestra with the Biel/Solothurn Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Kaspar Zehnder, in Biel, Switzerland. On September 11, 2016 was the premiere of To Everything for mixed choir in Langnau, Switzerland.In November 2017, Nelson presented two concerts of his music in a project called INTERKLANG between improvisation and composition. Among the performers in this project were the bassist William Parker and the percussionist Hamid Drake.

On November 23, 2019, Nelson will have a premiere of his string quartet no.2, Speakings, performed by the Rothoko Quartet in Biel, Switzerland. Other premieres will include Isolationtudes for solo piano, and Divertimento and Dialogue for violin and piano

Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson, © Renaud de Greef