NEW ORLEANS ( Associated Press) — The senior member of New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band has created what’s described as his first album as a band leader, and it’s titled for his age — 89.
Charlie Gabriel’s first professional gig was in 1943, sitting in for his father with the Eureka Brass Band. When he was a teenager living in Detroit, he played for Lionel Hampton, alongside the young Charles Mingus. Musicians he’s played or toured with include Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennet and Aretha Franklin.
“I’ve been playing since I was 11 years old,” Gabriel, who plays clarinet and saxophone on the album, said in a news release. “I never did anything in my life but play music. I’ve been blessed with that gift that God gave me, and I’ve tried to nurse it the best way I knew how.”
The recordings on “Eighty-Nine” grew out of Preservation Hall leader Ben Jaffe’s attempts to bring Gabriel out of a depression that had led the older man to stop playing for the first time, after his brother and last surviving sibling died from COVID-19 on Oct. 27, 2020.
Jaffe regularly had Gabriel over to his home studio to play chess. During one of their games, the news release said, Joshua Starkman sat off in a corner, playing his guitar.
The next day, Gabriel brought his saxophone.
“I was just inspired to try it, to play again. It had been a long time, and a guitar makes me feel free. I do love the sound of a piano, but it takes up a lot of a space, keeps me kind of boxed in,” he said.
With Gabriel on the album are Starkman on guitar, Jaffe on bass and keyboard, Walter Harris on drums, and Djallo Djakate on percussion.
Gabriel also is the vocalist on three tracks, including “I’m Confessin’.”
That’s among six jazz standards on the album, which also includes two newer pieces, “The Darker It Gets” and “Yellow Moon”.
Gabriel said older musicians like himself have played the standards throughout their careers, but that doesn’t mean endless repetition. “Every time I play one of these tunes the interpretation is a little bit different,” he said.
The recordings, made in 2020 and 2021, were released online in late February by Sub Pop Records. CDs and vinyl records will be available July 1, the label said.