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Music icons perform at iconic venues

3rd December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The renovation and opening of the Civic Theatre and the Saenger Theater has really brightened this year’s entertainment opportunities. They are two, very different, historic venues with each boasting its own personality and attributes. Those divergences open up the ability to present a wide variety of performances.

The Civic, 510 O’Keefe Street, which presents Aaron Neville on Sunday, December 15, was designed as a multi-functional space. Concert seating downstairs and in the theater’s balconies will be available for Neville’s performance whereas a dance floor was maintained in the front of the stage for jazz/fusion keyboardist Robert Glasper’s killing show.

Aaron Neville

Aaron Neville

The flavor and size of the room makes it feel like a cross between a club and a concert hall that should, as it did for Glasper, provide the desired intimacy between Neville and the audience.

Neville last performed in New Orleans at the 2013 Jazz & Heritage Festival. His image was also on the 2013 poster. At that time, he was celebrating the release of his wonderful, doo-wop filled album, My True Story, his debut CD on the prestigious Blue Note label.

“I’m going to do a little bit of everything from every genre that I’ve done before and stuff that I haven’t done,” says Neville agreeing that since his appearance is during the holiday season, he’ll sing material from 1993’s Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas and 2005’s Christmas Prayer. The Grammy-winning vocalist also just released a single of “Please Come Home for Christmas,” a duet with singer Ann Wilson of the group Heart.

“I like to pay tribute to those who aren’t here anymore,” Neville adds in reference to his repertoire, mentioning greats such as Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye and Clyde McPhatter. “It’s the stuff that stuck in my heart over the years – especially doo-wop. If you listen to everything that I’ve done, it’s got some kind doo-wop essence in it. You can see how the doo-wop has been in me since day one.”

Neville, who now lives in New York with his wife, photographer Sarah Friedman, carries some familiar, New Orleans connected, names in his touring band that will be heard at the Civic. It includes his brother, saxophonist Charles Neville – “Charlie the horn man” – drummer/vocalist Earl Smith Jr., guitarist/vocalist Eric Struthers, bassist David C. Johnson plus keyboardist Michael Goods.

Neville performed at the Civic Theatre with the Neville Brothers back in, what a few people guess, was the late 1980s or early 1990s. “It’s all a blur to me now,” Neville admits adding, “Once I get there, I’ll go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember now.’”

Neville, a fitness enthusiast, is digging his New York City life style, saying that he and his wife try to walk 10,000 steps a day with their jaunts often taking them to a nearby farmers’ market. He says that occasionally, New Orleans food comes up but, of course, New York also has great food.

“And, you know, I have the music with me,” Neville states the obvious. “I get down to New Orleans every once in a while and I get a chance to look out at the river. Because I used to work on the river as a longshoreman back in the days, it was always fascinating me.”

During the recording session for My True Story, that was produced by Blue Note president, bassist Don Was and included guitarist Keith Richards, Neville and the group put down 23 songs in five days. Thus, there’s plenty of material in the can to release another doo-wop album. Presently, however, Was is working on putting some of Neville’s poetry to music for his next Blue Note release. “He’s not just the president of the company he’s a working musician,” Neville notes in appreciation of Was.

The vocalist doesn’t do club dates in New York as he and his brothers did in New Orleans and limits his tours to two weeks at primarily theaters and concert halls. “That’s plenty, says Neville, 72. “I’m just keeping in shape. I sing all day; I sing to myself. I sing around the house – not just in the shower.”

Neville proudly talks about his son Ivan, keyboardist/vocalist and leader of Dumpstaphunk and the group’s ever-increasing presence on the national and international scene. “They’re all over the place. They’re road running. They’ve got some hard-hitters in there. I call him ‘young Ivan.’ He’s bad. He’s been around the block a few times.”

As Neville stays solidly in the present and looks forward to the future, he also looks back to his uncle, George Landry, Big Chief Jolly of the Wild Tchoupitoulas. It was Jolly who initiated bringing the Neville brothers together when he and they and members of the Meters recorded 1976’s revolutionary album Wild Tchoupitoulas.

“He was a cool dude,” Neville proclaims. “He lived up to his name, Jolly. He had one of the greatest smiles. We called him ratty – he was a real hip dude, he had a hip walk. And the way he played the barrel house piano – he played and sang the junky blues and the “Pool Shootin’ Monkey.”

“I hope there is no curfew because we might play a three hour set,” Neville says of his show at the Civic. Realizing we’re talkin’ about New Orleans, he adds, “Yeah there shouldn’t be. Plan to bring a lunch,” he advises, “because we plan on being there awhile. We’re going to throw down.”

Frankie Beverly and Maze –

Maze featuring Frankie Bev?erly, who performs at Canal Street’s exquisite Saenger Thea?ter on Friday, Dec?ember 13 and Saturday, December 14, clicked with New Orleans audiences from the get-go. Beverly once rem?em?bered that during a promotional tour of its first, self-titled album in 1977, the band stopped in New Orleans and much to the group’s amazement, the audience knew every song. “We wound up staying there maybe two or three weeks just playing every place in the state but mostly in New Orleans – we played the ILA Hall, we played things in the park.”

The love affair between New Orleans and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly got a further boost when on November 14, 1980 the group performed at the Saenger Theater. The outcome was the classic album, Live at the Saenger. The return of Beverly and Maze to the setting stands as what its sure to be a renewal of their and their loyal fans’ musical vows.

Beverly once said that he couldn’t exactly put his finger on why New Orleans embraced Maze as it did. He suggested that perhaps it was that this city and Philadelphia, his home town, shared a “certain down-to-earth groove” that reaches out to local audiences.

“A lot of people think we’re from here,” Beverly once said. “Our biggest fan base is in Louisiana. New Orleans is a music town first and foremost and that has been its trademark. The more pure the music is, I think, the more people appreciate it. We don’t fly from the stages with bombs going off and all that kind of stuff. We get up there and we come to just jump all over you. And I think maybe that’s what New Orleans is – it’s down and dirty.”

This article originally published in the December 2, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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