A ride on St. Charles Avenue trolley in New Orleans early in the morning may catch Charles Neville in his favorite location practicing T'ai Chi. The Neville Brother most known for his pursuit of Eastern spiritual knowledge is also the family's keeper of the horn. His brothers affectionately refer to him as "The Horn Man." His saxophone won him a Grammy in 1989 for his haunting rendition of "Healing Chant" on the Yellow Moon CD. But the instrument's history goes way back for this artist with five decades of musical experience, long predating the formation of the family band in 1977.
Charles Neville formed Turquoise with brother Art and some friends in the early '50s. Life and the Navy led Neville out on the road, gigging with everyone from Jimmy Reed to B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland. A member of the house band at the renowned Dew Drop Inn, Neville played with some of the biggest names in his hometown, including Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Huey "Piano" Smith, and Ernie K. Doe. A drug conviction landed him a stay in Angola prison, whose alumni roster reads like a who's-who of New Orleans musicians. With influences like these, no wonder Charles Neville became the eclectic musician he is today.
Living in New York exposed him to the major artists of his instrument, from Sonny Rollins to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. Claiming Louis Jordan as his inspiration, Neville gigged in the Big Apple with George Coleman and Billy Higgins.
He returned to New Orleans to play with his brothers in 1977. Being a member of the First Family of Funk has made him world famous. But for years, the Nevilles produced great music that was seldom heard outside of the Crescent City. Some of their best work is on Treacherous (1986), which incorporates everything from Mardi Gras Indian songs to Aaron Neville's top-charted "Tell It Like It Is." Little they have done since can compare with the album's gospel finale. When Aaron Neville asks his brother Charles the Horn Man to blow for them one time, he really does. Or witness his burning sound on "Fever" on the same CD.
Much as they were revered in their hometown, the Neville Brothers' ascent to superstardom had to wait until the musical collaboration between Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt woke up the rest of the world to what they had been missing. Aaron Neville's career as a soloist points up a key fact about the Neville Brothers. Each has his own separate musical identity: Cyril Neville with his reggae rhythms, Art Neville with the Meters, and Charles Neville with his group Diversity.
Known for ethereal performances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Diversity followed the masterful lead of Charles Neville. Drawing from the immense pool of fine musicians in New Orleans, from Johnny Vidacovich to Michael Ray, anything became musically possible. The group produced a CD in 1991 entitled And Diversity, which gives the listener a good overview of their amazing range.
Diversity is still part of Charles Neville's repertoire, along with the huge body of recordings and personal appearances the Neville Brothers have made in the past decade. Charles Neville's talented daughter, Charmaine Neville often joins her father on-stage.
In 2001, Neville released The Painter, in which he truly does paint with music on classics and original tunes. Also released in 2001 was Safe in Buddha's Palm, in which a seasoned and spiritually minded Charles Neville pays homage to eastern philosophy, the healing power of the feminine, and the wealth of his musical tradition. ~ Rose of Sharon Witmer, Rovi