The Troy Street Observer

John Neves: “His Time Was Impeccable”

Photo of John Neves in 1959
John Neves in 1959

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.

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The Trio With That “Zephyrous Cognomen”

Photo of the Soft Winds
The Soft Winds (l-r) Herb Ellis, John Frigo, and Lou Carter

Come the month of March, all New England is yearning for the warmer southern winds. One year, however, our balmy breeze was a musical one. Metronome magazine, in March 1950, referred to the Soft Winds as the group with the “zephyrous cognomen,” which probably prompted more than one reader to consult the dictionary. But “zephyrous” was an apt word, because the group’s quiet swing was mild and breezy, and from June 1949 to December 1951, that zephyr soothed Boston. Later, as a duo, the Soft Winds refreshed Boston again, in 1953 and 1955.

Guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist John Frigo, and pianist Lou Carter formed the postwar rhythm section in the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, but when Dorsey furloughed the band in 1947, they set out on their own as the John Carlis Trio. They modeled themselves after Nat Cole’s group. As the Soft Winds, they arrived in Boston in June 1949. By then Frigo had written his most famous song, “Detour Ahead.”

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