Creative, distinctive, self-assured and trendsetting are just a few of the adjectives attributed to one of the most fascinating individuals in jazz, Hammond B3 legend John Novello.
JAZZREVIEW: I would like to talk a bit about your most recent release B3 Soul. This is a different sound. What inspired you to create the soul jazz sound?
JOHN NOVELLO: It wasn’t something that I premeditated. It’s simply the sound I hear inside my head and I guess it was time for it to come out. It expresses all of my roots--blues, soul, jazz, funk, R&B, and a little hip hop to bring into contemporary times. In these times of sax, guitar and electric piano, I never stopped playing the Hammond B3 organ and so here we are. The Hammond organ has inspired some of music’s greatest hits: Procol Harum’s " A Whiter Shade of Pale," Hush’s "Deep Purple," Steppenwolf’s "Born To Be Wild," Jimmy Smith’s "The Cat," Booker T. Green’s "Green Onions," ELP’s "Tarkus." And the list goes on and on so I guess I’m carrying the torch, as well.
JAZZREVIEW: It has been said that B3 Soul is a "return home" or returning to your roots project. Can you elaborate on this for us?
JOHN NOVELLO: Well, as mentioned above, I was drawn to the Hammond B3 when I was young and to all of these amazing artists. It made quite an impact on me and became part of the fabric of my soul.
Although I love burnin’ B3 licks like I do with my collaboration project called Niacin featuring Dennis Chambers on drums and Billy Sheehan on bass, I love even more just grooving’ in the pocket. When I began playing the B3, I was mostly playing R&B, funk and blues not hard core fusion. I observed that the most basic response to music by almost everybody was its rhythmic element first and foremost! I also became aware that when I was in the "zone of the groove," I was transported into another time and space where everything was effortless. Boy did I love that, and I wanted others to experience it! In actual fact, B3 Soul is therefore really about going back to my roots ..not about mellowing down. B3 Soul is humbly intended to make your life groove just a little bit more. God knows we need this right, given the current planetary situation.
JAZZREVIEW: Was there any one thing or person that inspired you in the development of B3 Soul?
JOHN NOVELLO: Well, one day, by accident, I began listening to The Wave here in Los Angeles, which was something I hadn’t done in a while as the Smooth Jazz format had become pretty tame for my ears. After a few tunes, I got the bug to re-enter this format. I say re-enter, as I had a hit in 1988 in Smooth Jazz called "Celebration" with my concept of funky B3 playing. Most B3 playing was either blues or straight ahead, or background colors and pads as in the great rock acts (exception being Keither Emerson and Brian Auger). So I wrote a few sketches and played them for a friend of mine, Andy Goldmark, who was a veteran producer and hit songwriter. He dug what I was doing. With his inspiration and ideas, B3 Soul was born as he noticed my passion for the instrument and the almighty groove. But, the biggest inspiration of all is when I play the instrument. It always makes me feel good, which allows me to transfer that feeling to others. That’s what it’s all about for me. In other words I’d pay to play!
JAZZREVIEW: Can you tell us a bit about your back ground, how you got into playing the B3 organ, what other music did you grow up on, what were/are some of your favorite artist or performers?
JOHN NOVELLO: I grew up on everybody from the Beatles to Tower Of Power, Sly Stone, Steppenwolf, Earth, Wind & Fire, Deep Purple, ElP, Yes, Genesis, Isaac Hayes (rest his soul), James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Edgar Winter, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson, Quatermass, Larry Young , etc. Regarding the B3, one day I simply heard its primordial sound and felt like I was home. I found out what it was and immediately begged my parents to get me one. Amazing!
My father passed away last year. He worked in a factory from when he was 19 until 65 years old, when he retired. He passed away at age 87 and is my true inspiration, role model and hero! Thanks dad! You’re the best!!! I was blessed that they [parents] were very supportive of my musical dreams.
Once I got hold of the monster, I began trying to tame it, but to be honest, I couldn’t, and that’s what I love about it. Once you wake it up, it’s a bit out of control and the best you can do is channel its energy to the audience. After every performance, I’m totally mentally and physically exhausted even though I’m sitting down!
JAZZREVIEW: How much of your work is composed versus improvised, or perhaps how structured is your music?
JOHN NOVELLO: When I write, I always improvise for hours to contact my soul, and I record everything as I have my own studio. I then take the bits of that and use it as the genus to write a finished song, which is definitely a process of carving until the vision pops out of the mental universe and into the physical universe. Although time consuming, it always blows my mind when a new song is given life! I’m honored to have such patience and talent and I’m driven to share it!
JAZZREVIEW: When you compose, do you have a specific instrumentation (or specific musicians) in mind?
JOHN NOVELLO: Generally, yes, as I compose for many situations, my trio band, Niacin, and its players and style, which is quite one thing versus this new B3 Soul project. Sometimes what I compose is for full orchestra or if it’s for a film cue, etc. But many times, I just sit at the organ or piano and improvise freely. As I said earlier, I record what comes out and later decide what project this might be right for, and then confront the arrangement at that time.
JAZZREVIEW: Is there any one cut on the B3 Soul album that you enjoyed playing most?
JOHN NOVELLO: The simplest and most basic core track on the record is the title track "B3 Soul." I love that melody and its overall vibe. It’s a real, feel good track. However, my new single about to be released, "Feelin’ the Beat," is very special as it was the first song written that started the project.
JAZZREVIEW: Who were some musicians who influenced you as far as sound conception? Your sound is funk, blues, jazz...how do you put that feel good sound together?
JOHN NOVELLO: I’d say Chick Corea, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Smith, Keith Emerson, Edgar Winter, Herbie Hancock and Booker T. to name a few. I carve all my material in my own studio called "Studio 2B3," as there are two Hammond B3s in the control room. I use Logic Pro as my recording software. I simply improvise, then listen and improvise some more. When I think I’ve contacted my soul and have some magic, I begin the craft of carving out a song. That can take three or four hours or quite a lot longer, but time is not a factor. By that point, I’m in the zone of the creation where there exists no time. When I come out of that trance, I’m always humbled that I was "allowed" to create a new life! I’m still very humble at the process.
JAZZREVIEW: Other than your own, what music have you been enjoying lately? What plans do you have for the near future?
JOHN NOVELLO: I love all great music. Lately, I’ve been listening to an awesome Cuban pianist, Gonzalo Rubalcaba. My favorite CD of his is Paseo. He’s quite an inspiration and talent.