Newell Schindler and his old friend, the beautiful and curvaceous Young Chang, are together once again after a long, Katrina–induced separation and, just like old times, Schindler and the long-legged Korean are making beautiful music together.
For now, suffice it to say that music and the 80-year-old Schindler, who grew up in Gentilly practicing the piano while other kids practiced football, are hand-in-glove, the perfect fit – the blue note alive, in pianissimo at 2 a.m. in a smoky lounge.
“My music is something that seems like it’s always been part of me,” Schindler says. “I’ve] been playing piano since I was 10. I came from a music family; my mother was a honky tonk pianist. She was a banjo player and a flamenco dancer. I watched my mother and father dance at [Veterans of Foreign Wars] functions and socials.
They were great. It amazed me because my mother’s left leg was about four inches shorter than her right. The way she moved always thrilled me. It was poetry on the dance floor. But later on, I didn’t see much of my mother’s musical talent. She became something of a recluse.”
Schindler’s father was a student athlete in the Navy, taking out more than his share of opponents on the Navy’s boxing and wrestling squads. He also made the All-Navy West Coast team and was so good when his Navy team scrimmaged Stanford that the legendary Cardinal Coach Glen “Pop” Warner offered Charles Schindler a scholarship. “Unfortunately, [my] dad never finished high school,” Schindler says. “He was my hero. I wanted him to teach me how to box and how to wrestle. So what does he do? He sends me to piano lessons.”
Schindler splays his fingers on the table as he talks. It isn’t an affectation, rather a natural movement from a lifetime of dancing those digits over the keyboard. His fingers are long and bony and they each seem to be searching out their own different direction at every knuckle. Schindler’s angular body is topped off by a thinning, unruly mop of white hair. The whole package is a publicist’s dream. He looks the part of the quintessential former Eastern bloc classical pianist, having grown up in Kiev rather than Gentilly. That mentioned, somebody throws out a quip about “Schindler’s Liszt” and the pianist breaks up. “That’s a good one,” he says. “I’ll have to use that line.”
Schindler divulges that after he followed his father into and out of the Navy, he took advantage of the GI Bill to earn a degree in music education with a minor in journalism from Loyola University.
In truth, Newell Schindler spent a lifetime in corporate and newspaper journalism, all the while pursuing his first love: music; Classical jazz to be precise. The kind served up with a smooth, velvety passion by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis and Schindler’s idol, the blind keyboard and composer genius, George Shearing. This was the kind of music meant to make a profound statement in another era when “cool” meant something and wasn’t just another tired cliché spewed out at every feigned moment of amazement by thumb-weary, BlackBerry-ophiles. It was a language spoken on keyboards in the wee hours by people who had something to say and to people who understand what was being said. Those who did not understand simply went home early … and unfulfilled. Those who did understand, however, stayed until the very last note filtered out the door and down the street. For most of his life, Newell Schindler has been the designated speaker. He’s been on that planet. And through a wife (now deceased) three children (now grown) and countless newsrooms, deadlines and promotional pieces, Schindler has stayed true to
“I remember going to the dedication of the Communications-Music Complex at Loyola,” Schindler says. “I told Father Carter [former Loyola President, James Carter, S.J.] It was interesting that in this one building we have the studies of music and communication. Actually that was the way my life worked out. I went to Loyola to study music and fell into journalism. Father Carter pointed out that it made sense since both music and journalism are forms of communication.”
Schindler has communicated with words in such diverse media as United Press International wire service, the newspaper in Rawlins, Wyo., (where pronghorn deer reign supreme), Chevron and the Clarion Herald, the Catholic newspaper of New Orleans. All the while he’s kept his “other voice” in top shape, playing jazzy favorites at hotel lounges and private parties around New Orleans. He’s studied with the legendary New Orleans music master Roger Dickerson and he’s been a volunteer choir director at Christ the King Parish in Terrytown.
Schindler’s hands are flat on the table and his fingers are splayed again and a child’s “I-just-cheated-at-marbles-and-you-didn’t-catch-me” sly smile crosses his face. You know something’s coming.
“I served on the alumni committee at Loyola and they asked me to run for president,” he says. “Somebody on the committee told me, ‘This is the first time we’ve had three minorities run for president: a black, a woman and a music student.’ Well, one of the nuns at Christ the King told me, ‘Newell, we got all these ballots sent here from Loyola. A lot of them are for sisters who have either died or left the order. But we filled them all out with your name and sent them in. That should put you over the top.’ It did.”
Schindler’s fingers are drumming in sequence over the table in tune to his laughter.
“Right now, I’m one of about eight people who plays volunteer piano in the atrium at Ochsner (Hospital) up on Jefferson Highway,” he says. “I’m scheduled to play on Tuesday and Thursday morning[s]. But I was going in on Saturday and Sunday when nobody else was scheduled. It was a great time to practice. I was without a piano at the time and I didn’t want to get rusty. I was living off Hayne Boulevard when Katrina hit and although I didn’t have any water damage, my neighbor’s pecan tree came right through my roof. But my piano wasn’t hurt. It survived the humidity.”
Like many post-Katrina, Schindler bounced around the country – three weeks living with his sister in Birmingham; then moving to Sunset, north of Lafayette where his son Newell Jr., has an engineering firm, then finally back to Metairie.
“I had had my piano in storage and I was going to sell it,” Schindler says. “But my son convinced me not to. He said, ‘Dad, you’ve had that same piano for over 25 years. It’s part of you.’ Well, I listened to him … and I’m glad I did. I had it tuned about six months ago and moved it back into my home just recently. It’s a wonderful piano and my son was right, it’s like part of me. I just feel so at ease with it. It’s a small grand and I love it. Right now, I’m giving lessons on the language of jazz. Everything feels so right … with the lessons, with my music. I couldn’t be happier.”
The leggy, curvaceous Korean?
That would be Schindler’s Korean-made Young Chang piano, the grand he made beautiful music with for so long pre-Katrina. The one he just retrieved from storage.
After a painful separation, they’re together again.
Play it again, Newell.