Keyboard Voyager

John Novellob

For every great musician, life is an ongoing journey with an evolving story of artistic growth through highs and lows. Opportunities can come in random fashion, and the uncertainty can be challenging. There is, however, always a passion that keeps propelling the movement forward. For keyboardist extraordinaire John Novello ’73, the passion is playing music with others.

Novello grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and at the age of nine began playing accordion before moving to the piano and ultimately falling in love with the Hammond B3 organ. Experiencing success with his first band, he decided to immerse himself in music and attend a Berklee summer program. He loved the school and the city and opted to continue as a full-time student.

He looked forward to studying with such teachers as Gary Burton, Ray Santisi, Larry Monroe, Dean Earl, and Charlie Banacos, but his finances began running low. He landed a job in Boston’s infamous Combat Zone playing jazz standards on the B3 every night behind exotic dancers and honing his bass pedal skills. Berklee friends such as drummers Steve Smith ’76 and Vinnie Colaiuta ’75 occasionally played with him on that gig.

After Berklee, Novello moved to Los Angeles in 1978, and within three months he became the musical director for A Taste of Honey. That band soon had a worldwide hit called “Boogie Oogie Oogie.” While on tour with the group, he met iconic disco singer Donna Summer and soon joined her band. That led to a succession of gigs with major artists including the Manhattan Transfer, Ramsey Lewis, Edgar Winter, and Richie Cole ’67.

Back in Los Angeles, he formed his own solo project called Threshold, featuring Eric Marienthal ’79 (saxophone), Melvin Davis (bass) and Rayford Griffin (drums). Novello’s original music for the group blended rock, funk, and blues. The outfit experienced radio success with Novello’s tune “Celebration.”

Playing recording sessions led to Novello’s friendship with rock bassist Billy Sheehan. They clicked musically and began writing together, leading to their first CD titled Niacin in 1995. “We envisioned this project as a power progressive rock organ trio,” Novello says, “and called Dennis Chambers to play drums.” Under the band name Niacin, the group has recorded nine CDs and toured the globe. The B3 is the focus of the trio, a clever, veiled allusion to vitamin B3 (a.k.a. niacin).

In 2008 Novello hit a new stride with his CD B3 Soul with the title song becoming a contemporary instrumental hit single. Novello’s subsequent collaboration with renowned songwriter and producer Andy Goldmark led to his solo recording Ivory Soul. As the name suggests, the instrumental flavor has changed from B3 to acoustic piano and the songs have a pop, R&B focus. Ivory Soul’s first single “Crush,” featuring Gerald Albright on saxophone, blends old-school jazz with soulful pop. It recently entered the contemporary jazz top 10.

Novello continues his musical journey, driven by a love for performance, great songs, and music that grooves.

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