John Neves: “His Time Was Impeccable”
John Neves thought he was going to be a baseball player. He had the tools—agility, focus, strong arm, good hands. A gifted athlete at East Boston High School in the late 1940s, he starred as an all-city second baseman. After that, he played semipro ball around New England, then spent a season as a professional in 1951. He played in North Dakota, with the Fargo-Moorhead Twins, a minor league outpost in the Cleveland Indians system. His jersey number there, as it had been in East Boston, was a backwards 7. The man had a sense of humor!
John’s older brother, pianist and arranger Paul Neves, introduced John to the bass. John studied privately and played with Paul—but he played more baseball than bass in East Boston. Then came Fargo. And then came army service in the Korean War, where a back injury ended his dream of a baseball career. But he didn’t abandon the Old Ball Game completely—he was known as a fierce competitor when he played on Al Vega’s softball team in the 1950s. By that time, though, he was already a professional musician.
The Stable/Jazz Workshop Years
When Neves returned to East Boston in 1954, he focused on playing the bass at the Stable, the haven for modern jazz. It was a long streetcar and subway ride down to the Back Bay, but he did it to sit in with the trio there. Saxophonist Varty Haroutunian and pianist Ray Santisi knew a good thing when they heard it. They hired Neves, and the house trio became a quartet. It became a quintet when trumpeter Herb Pomeroy arrived.
Most jazz fans who know John Neves associate him with Herb Pomeroy, and with good reason. Neves was the bassist in the celebrated Herb Pomeroy Orchestra from 1955 to 1960, and again from 1977 to 1983 when Pomeroy re-formed it. They played together nightly at the Stable in the 1950s, and in Pomeroy’s quintet in the early 1960s. Finally, the two were faculty colleagues at Berklee from 1975 until Neves’s death in 1988.
Here’s John Neves with the Pomeroy big band, with “Wolafunt’s Lament,” from the album Life Is a Many Splendored Gig. John walks us in and out of this one.
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