A giant passed today. You may never have heard his name, but I know you've heard his brilliance, maybe all your life.
Wardell Quezergue, the producer, arranger and composer known as "the Creole Beethoven," passed away this morning at the age of 81 after a long illness (but not a "decline"). Even when his eyesight, essential to his work, began failing some years back, Wardell continued arranging and recording. He was truly indefatigable.
Wardell who? Que what?
Okay, here are some names you might recognize:
The Dixie Cups. Jean Knight. Robert Parker. Professor Longhair.
Dr. John. Willie Nelson. Paul Simon. Stevie Wonder.
All of them counted on Wardell's perfect sense of what goes where, when to add, when to subtract, when to whisper and when to wail. He was the consummate arranger, the undisputed king of his craft, his talent shining through such timeless records as "Iko Iko," "Chapel of Love," "Mr. Big Stuff" and "Goin' Back to New Orleans."
Like other true masters of his art, Wardell had both a finely-tuned ear for multiple voices (horns, vocals, keys, etc.) and the ability to simultaneously read and listen to different scores. Watching him work was like watching a superhero movie; his skills were that unreal. I've heard Brian Wilson has the same highly developed sense of voicing, but I've never had the pleasure of seeing him in action.
Having worked some with Wardell, I can attest to another of his strengths: his warm, friendly, generous and funny nature. He loved his work and those he worked with and his greatest joy was to spread his own love of music to others. He listened to others' ideas and always gave credit when he incorporated them into his work. And I can tell you: when Wardell Quezergue said something you'd suggested was good ("Yeah. Yeah. I'll buy that for a quarter!"), it made you feel ten feet tall and twenty IQ points smarter.
His contribution to American music, particularly New Orleans music, is immeasurable and the loss of his talents will be sorely felt by all who know the joy of song.
Goodbye, Wardell, and godspeed. If there's anything to that "band in Heaven" business, I think your next gig's a lock.