by rick grant
Many years have passed since I talked to Noel Freidline. So, when I found out he was emceeing the Jazz Piano Competition as part of the upcoming Jazz Festival program, I called him at his home in Charlotte, North Carolina to catch up on his music career. As a composer and jazz pianist, Noel was part of the Jacksonville scene for many years.
Noel has performed at many of the past Jazz Festivals as a main stage artist, and has hosted the Piano Competition at least nine times. Noel eventually left Jacksonville and moved his family and band to Las Vegas where he played a house gig at a big hotel and casino.
When that job ended, Noel went out on the road for some years. The rigors of touring had an effect on his family life which led Noel to make a major career decision. He left the road and settled in Charlotte where he now teaches music at North Carolina College. He still plays local clubs and is an integral part of the active Charlotte arts and music scene.
“Today,” says Noel “my band lineup includes me on piano, Renee Ebalarosa on vocals, Ron Bendle on upright bass, Al Sergel on drums, and Sam Skelton on saxophone. Although I don’t travel these days, I’m playing steadily on weekends in the Charlotte region. So between my teaching job and my live gigs I stay busy, but I come home every night to my family, which comes first with me.”
Noel has found the perfect balance of family and playing his art without making any compromises. Teaching offers job security and a stable base for Noel to compose and perform his music.
I asked Noel about his role in the upcoming Jacksonville Jazz Festival, which will be held around the Downtown quadrant as a street festival (May 21-May 24.)
Even though he’ll be emceeing the Piano Jazz Competition for what seems like the umpteenth time, it’s always something he enjoys. To put a new spin on things, says Noel, “This time I’m bringing Renee Ebalarosa, my lead singer. We will hook up with the house rhythm section and play a program while the judges deliberate. I will also be playing at the Old Church Synder Memorial building at 11:30 am on Sunday for the Sacred Jazz presentation. There, I will have my entire band-the Noel Freidline Quintet and a Choir.”
“Having the festival in downtown Jax with various stages is how jazz festivals are held in Europe. Frankly, I can’t wait to participate.”
Noel is a consummate jazz pianist but more importantly, he is a crowd pleasing performer who interacts with his audiences and plays popular music as well as jazz to reach a broader audience. He will again be a major asset to this year’s Jacksonville Jazz Festival.
by rick grant