Charlie and I had a blast recording my arrangement of Gershwin’s classic Summertime. At times it was hard to believe that I had a legend of New Orleans standing next to me but he was so humble and generous that it never seemed to be relevant. I have to say it was one of the easiest recording sessions I have ever had as he knew exactly what I wanted. Oh and did he swing!!!
Vocals and clarinet by Charlie Gabriel. Here he discusses his early years and mentors…
“RE: It dont mean a thing…”. Youtube.com. Uploaded by daveandrewvideos on Dec 13, 2011 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWLO3WV5Opk>.
After what seemed like an eternity in the car Charlie, who I thought was asleep the whole time, opened his eyes and a smile broke on his face. “Let’s get this done!!!”. With that he headed off for his rehearsal and I ecstatically drove home to prepare for our session the next day before heading out again for the show.
That evening the Mardi Gras festival come to us!! Incredible musicianship with big beats, sub sonic Tuba riffs, swinging tenors, talking trombones and wailing clarinets that combined into an irresistible groove. Half way through Charlie kicked off on solo clarinet then broke into song. What a voice!!
After one of the best concerts I’ve been to we met up and he reminisced about his early years and I complemented him on his vocal prowess. I also tried to eek out any information on my heroes like Professor Longhair, Huey “Piano” Smith, James Booker and the good Dr.John, all giants of New Orleans piano all of whom he knew. Nursing a bourbon he regaled one fascinating story after another whilst I complemented him on his vocal prowess.
The evening came to an end and Charlie took his last sip, bid his farewells and with a sly grin said that he would be more than happy to do the vocals on the album as well.
I felt like a low class grifter!!
That night the stars seemed to twinkle that much brighter.
About to abandon the song 6 months down the road I found out that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band were coming to town for a two day stint. Not only was this a sheer coincidence but it was also featuring Charlie Gabriel, a legendary New Orleans clarinet player who played with the Lionel Hampton Band at age sixteen!!
Managing to get in contact with him he agreed to meet me when he landed in town but would like to hear my arrangement before he would commit to anything. It didn’t really matter as both ways I would get to spend time with a true legend.
The day came when I nervously walked through the foyer of the hotel to meet Charlie. Dressed in a dapper suit, clarinet case in hand he let out a huge reverberant chuckle when he noticed me waving. Knowing I had ten minuted before he had to head to his sound check we exchanged pleasantries while walking to my car for the audition….
Summertime I always knew would have a mid tempo New Orleans groove to it. Having already worked with Neil Conti I knew that the rhythm section was covered as he already was a huge fan of New Orleans drumming and had that second line rhythm down. The part I was going to have the most problems with was finding the right singer and clarinet player.