Redefining The Big Easy
" BluesWax Sittin' In With Charles Neville.
By Bob Putignano
The world famous Neville Brothers were passing through the New York/New Jersey area recently to play a series of concerts which is when I had the good fortune with catching up with the sax playing Brother; Charles Neville.
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Charles, "Fire on The Bayou" still sounds so good with those great arrangements and horns. Let me restate that, it remains and still is one slick arrangement and tune!
Charles Neville: Don't forget the vocals, too!
BW: It really meshes well. The producer of that album (Joel Dorn) was always proud to talk about that recording, as it was a project he put together for A&M records, and this took place not long after he left Atlantic. Dorn also said that the management at A&M hated that recording but was thrilled that it still remains one of your most popular recordings.
CN: Oh, yes!
BW: You had some pretty cool stories to share about Joel Dorn.
CN: The most memorable was that story about Aaron's recording session performing "Mona Lisa." Joel showed up with his arranger, plus there were a lot strings on that tune, so they also had a string arranger. In walks Wardell Quezergue with his arrangement, with nothing more than a tuning fork and a pencil.
BW: Joel told me he was petrified, as there was always a lot of pressure from the Atlantic management to make sure things went right, and that's why he brought in a backup arranger, as at that time Dorn really did not know Wardell that well and was brought in as a recommendation.
CN: Aaron told me there were a lot of strange looks from the musicians in the recording room, and some mumbles like, "What is this?" But in the end it went extremely well.
BW: Wardell told me they nailed it in just one take.
CN: That's right.
BP: And Wardell also told me that when the song ended there was a long silence in the room, and you know Quezergue. He's such a humble human being. So he was thinking that perhaps he screwed things up, but that wasn't the case. Right after the moments of silence, the musicians applauded, as they were mesmerized by that brilliant performance that only Wardell and your brother Aaron put down. Were you at those sessions?
CN: No I wasn't there, but Aaron told me all about it.
BW: I have three versions of the this story. Now, yours makes four: one from Dorn, another from Wardell, one that Aaron told me, and now yours, and they are all quite similar. It's a great story. Joel also said that you could hear a pin drop after that tune commenced. It was that mind-boggling.
CN: Wardell is special for sure, both as a person and arranger.
BW: Two summers ago at the Joel Dorn memorial on a beautiful evening in New York City, Wardell was flown in, and his segment that night was to conduct the band for "Mona Lisa," except that there were no musicians on stage. Wardell, being the maestro that he is, seemed to really enjoy conducting the original tune. It was quite a special moment.
CN: I bet it was.
BW: I know the Dorn family wanted the Neville Brothers to be there that night, but you guys were on the road.
CN: Yeah, we all really wanted to be there for Joel, but we were already committed to the tour.
BW: How long has the Neville Brothers been together as a unit?
CN: Let's see, since 1977.
BW: Wow, thirty-three years, that's quite an accomplishment.
CN: And you'll dig this. I just recently acquired a board performance of us playing at the Monterey Jazz Festival from 1977.
BW: Wow, and...?
CN: It is great!!! (Laughs)
BW: I had a feeling you were going to say it was great, but I had to ask.
CN: On that gig was the Wild Tchoupitoulas, too, and Professor Longhair were all part of that show and for the entire tour we were doing at that time.
BW: Did you get everyone's performance, too?
CN: I did get the Neville Brothers, and the Wild Tchoupitoulas, but I didn't get Fess.
BW: Are you going to release it?
CN: Maybe, we are thinking about it. We would like to put out some unreleased stuff and live performances, too. It's a nice alternative instead of going into the studio to make a new record with modern stuff on it, so this might work out, Some of these performances are really classics.
BW: That's cool, best wishes with all of that. I've seen the Nevilles many times over the years, but right after Katrina, you guys were at the Montreal Jazz Fest and, man, what a great show that was. The performance was explosive! Do you remember that night?
CN: Yes I do. You probably know that all of us and our friends and family all had lost something from Katrina, family members, and/or belongings and some of us lost our homes. So, it really was an emotionally charged show.
BW: It certainly was. I don't know if you know this, but the festival had a chunk of the city wired with large speakers and huge TV screens everywhere, and there was such a strong vibe that emanated from your performance, people were dancing all around the city. What a night! I was also fortunate to catch the rehearsal and sound check during the afternoon, and that was pretty hip too. Plus, it wasn't as crowded, so I was able to walk right up to the stage. Even at that time I just knew it was going to be a special night, as everyone seemed raring to go.
CN: The feeling we all had was that we were going to be representing New Orleans that night, and we wanted to portray the feeling that New Orleans might be down, but not out!
BW: Not easy to do, but you all deserve a lot of kudos. You put on one spectacular show that night, and you reached a lot of people delivering a powerful and well felt message about the Big Easy.
CN: We loved that night. It really was special, Bob. I'm glad you were there, too.
BW: Your brother Aaron has a birthday this week, he'll be sixty-nine.
CN: Oh, yeah.
BW: Don't forget now!
CN: No I won't, and Aaron is going to be sixty-nine. He's a two years younger than me, and I'm seventy-one.
BW: Time marches on, but given your performances, no one would notice your ages, as you all really still got it. The energy is quite high.
CN: Thanks, that's the special thing about New Orleans music. What we do is not like putting on a show. Its presenting ourselves as who we really are.
BW: No doubt; and I will be checking you guys out at your gig next week, too.
CN: Come on out, Bob.
BW: Will do, looking forward to it. Charles, before I let you go, is there anything else you'd like to add?
CN: Well, I may be performing with my jazz quartet in New York City soon. A couple of years ago we did the Blue Note there, and I'm looking forward to going back there again. We play traditional classical jazz, that was called be-bop, and post be-bop too, plus a lot of the great American standards as well.
BW: Cool, you do this a bit out where you are living now in Western Massachusetts?
CN: Yes, but not as much as I would like to be doing with this jazz band, as I love playing this kind of jazz, too.
BW: Well, please keep us informed, and we'll do all we can to get the word out here in the Big Apple. I've enjoyed talking to you, and you are always welcome to join me on air at WFDU.
CN: All right, great. Thanks, man!
BW: How 'bout we go out with another one from Fiyo on the Bayou, that being "Brother Joe-Iko-Iko." How's that?
CN: Yeah, play that, That's New Orleans for sure!
BW: Thanks, Charles, you stay well. I hope to see you at Jazz Fest, too.
CN: That'll be great, We'll be there for sure!
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: firstname.lastname@example.org web site: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com