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When the Neville Brothers play together, the mix is as rich as a New Orleans gumbo.

Family Fusion

Charles Neville, the saxophone-playing member of the Neville Brothers band coming to Innsbrook Wednesday, says he and his brothers bring a deep well of resources into play when they create their popular funk 'n' roll sound. Oldest brother, Art, has had pop hits, and his history includes doo-wop and gospel. Charles says he's the jazz-influenced guy in the band. Aaron brings ballads and country music to the group, and Cyril's roots are in James Brown and Otis Redding. List nearly complete, Charles pauses before softly adding the bottom line.

"Of course, we all got some Ray Charles in us."

A bit of soul here, soaring falsetto and heavy rhythm there, the Neville clan's music is pure magic, and, for many, the group embodies the essence of New Orleans. Nationally, the brothers have come to represent the city to many, but Charles says his band was merely in the right place at the right time when it formed in 1977. Aside from all the great New Orleans musicians of the '60s who never made it out of town, he points to Doctor John and brother Art's Meters as earlier influential artists who paved the way for the Neville band. Pair these and other New Orleans players who are popular in Europe with the Cajun cooking boom and increased media attention on the region, and the timing worked out well for Charles and his brothers.

"When we came along, we combined something that was (already) happening in New Orleans. We just got lucky … (and) got good exposure."

The siblings decided to form the band after the sessions for their uncle's Wild Tchoupitoulas Mardi Gras Indian band recording in the mid-'70s. But, prior to that, Art was a fixture in New Orleans from the '50s through the '60s and had gone on to national attention in the Meters, a band that eventually opened shows for the Rolling Stones. Cyril "Tell It Like It Is" and Charles had played saxophone in jazz and soul bands in New York City in the'60s.

Charles remembers each of them turned to music as children. With many opportunities limited, that was the only viable outlet for many African- American kids back then. There was even a kindergarten music program for a young Charles where he learned about rhythm, and where he learned to sing scales.

"Everybody played something … something musical," the 63-year-old sax player says. "Music was something everybody did in New Orleans."

Years later, after long individual careers, the brothers decided to pursue common musical goals, each had ideas and separate experiences that brought originality and emotion to the music. Charles notes that the business of making music demands that the brothers put egos aside.

"What we do requires us to be together spiritually on stage."

Each brother maintains a side band. But put together, this shared spirituality indelibly stamps the Neville style with unique warmth. Charles Neville says there's no secret about the music's message.

"What we share is what is in our hearts."

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