March 22, 2004 by

Chuck Niles

16 comments

Categories: Actors, Media, Military, Musicians

Chuck Niles, the velvety voice of jazz in Los Angeles, died on March 15 from complications of a stroke. He was 76.

Born Charles Neidel, Niles learned the clarinet when he was seven years old, and was playing the saxophone professionally by the time he was 14. He joined the Navy in 1945 and served briefly in the South Pacific. After returning to the states, he played alto sax in the jazz band, the Emanon Quartet, earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from American International University and landed a job playing music on WTXL in Springfield, Mass.

In 1956, Niles moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. He appeared in a few films (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Teenage Zombies”) and stage productions until his friend Sleepy Stein recruited him to be an announcer on KNOB.

He would remain on the air for more than 40 years.

Niles hosted shows on several L.A. stations. Known as “Be-Bop Charlie,” “Mr. Jazz” and the “Minister of Cool,” he spent the past 14 years making the afternoon drive time a pleasant and informative experience for listeners of KKJZ. His love of the genre also endeared him to jazz artists, who wrote songs like “Niles Blues,” “Nilesology” and “Bebop Charlie” in his honor. Niles is the only jazz disc jockey to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

16 Responses to Chuck Niles

  1. RICH DIAZ

    I MOVED TO FRESNO CA 14 YRS AGO AND TELLING A FRIEND OF MINE JUST NOW OF AN EXPERIENCE OF MINE WITH CHUCK DECIDED TO LOOK HIM UP ON INTERNET SADLY I FOUND OUT THAT HE HAD PASSED, I HAD LISTENED TO KBCA SINCE I WAS ABOUT 11 YRS OLD AND IN 1975 OR SO I HEARD CHUCK SAYING “THAT TUNE WAS SAMBA TRISTE” AND SPELLED IT AND SAID I’M NOT SURE IF THATS THE WAY YOU PRONOUNCE THAT OR NOT. I QUICKLY CALLED KBCA AND TOLD HIM HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT AND THAT IT MEANT “SAD SAMBA”, HE THANKED ME AND WE SAID GOODBYE. A FEW MINUTES LATER HE TOLD THE LISTENERS HOW TO PRONOUNCE IT AND THANKED ME “RICHARD DIAZ” OVER THE AIR. I MET SOME OF MY FRIENDS LATER AT A CLUB AND THEY SHOOK MY HAND AND PATTED ME ON THE BACK SINCE SOME OF THEM WERE LISTENING TO THE SHOW, AFTER THAT THEY’D KID ME AND ASK HOW MY BUDDY CHUCK WAS AND I’D PROUDLY TELL THEM THAT HE WAS COOL. I’M NOW 50 AND TILL NOW THAT IS MY CLAIM TO FAME, I WILL NEVER FORGET CHUCK AND AGAIN I MUST SAY THAT IT SADDENS ME TO KNOW THAT MY FRIEND CHUCK IS NO LINGER WITH US. I SURE WISH THAT I HAD RECORDED SOME OF HIS SHOWS.

  2. Steve Shafer

    Just listening to his voice was music to my ears. I would almost rather listen to him talk than to hear the music that he played. I miss him.

  3. Austin Provisor

    Chuck Niles had a very special voice that I miss to this very day. His voice was pleasant to listen to. Chuck, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.
    Austin Provisor
    PS You were a CLASS ACT, CHUCK!

  4. Jeff Bevan

    Dear Chuck,
    Just thinking of you and the wonderful music, memories and friends at the Grand Avenue Bar. I’m sure if Heaven needs to record a public service annoucement…they’ll ask you to do it!
    Thanks for all the memories!
    Jeff

  5. Norman Johnson

    I remember hearing Chuck read the news on KBCA, in 1963. He finnaly joined the other DJ’s on that station, Al Fox (Fox’s Den), Tommy B (micside), Gentleman Jim Gossa(sp?), etc. He was the guy who survived all the moves to KKGO and KKJZ, but alas, nobody gets out of this alive. Thanks for sharing a lot of good times and personna. Save us a spot near Miles, Trane, Bird, Diz, Cal, (there are too many now). Save us a taste. You must be groovin’ now.

  6. Christopher Gallas

    I remember playing the trumpet in Elemntary School, and in middle school, and one day in High School turning away from an L.A. Rock station and listening to “Real” Jazz “Straight-ahead”, and the voice of Chuck! My musical tastes has changed immensely and I also recieved an education into tradional Jazz history. It was so inspiring because I am a history buff,that I even began to study broadcasting briefly before my Stint in the Military, and would of course try to mirror Chuck! But I got a grasp of my own. I have’nt made it,…but..my life today thanks to Chuck is spending much time listening to my Sonny Rollins, Jackie McLean, Shirely Horn artists…and boy no one expounded on them better than the Master!
    Thanks Chuck! From a fellow Navy man..”Fair winds and fair sails”.

  7. David Cherson

    I used to do a lot of business travel to Southern California in the early 1990’s and also had friends there to visit as well. The first thing that I would usually do upon coming to a town was to check out the jazz radio, and one of my fondest memory was finding KLON. (In fact to this day I still refer to it with those call letters…)
    And finding Chuck Niles on KLON was just too much as we would say. Besides his hipness and knowledge of the music, I thought that I detected the accent of my home turf New England in his melodious voice. I knew he was from my area when I heard him pronounce “Caliphonia” (that is how some natives pronounce California).
    His loss has been a great loss for all of us particularly now that we can listen to KKJZ/KLON from anywhere on the net.

  8. Bob White

    I am so sad to hear that Chuck Niles has passed away (I didn’t know he passed away a couple of years ago). I just found out now because I just googled his name to see what he was up to, and sadly I read the news.
    I lived in LA in the early 80’s and always enjoyed listening to KKGO when it was all jazz, amazingly I had taped some KKGO back then, and right now (Nov 22, 2006) I am listening to a reel to reel tape of the Chuck Niles show from September 1983, this is the first time I have listened to this tape since 1983 (and what has made me do the google search today)!
    Chuck’s voice is velvety smooth, with a laid back feel, that of a friend that just showed up at your door with an armful of vinyl records to listen to.
    Chuck and KKGO was a great station back in those days, I always remember working with an old-timer back in the early 80’s named Fred Hoatlin (now I’M THE OLDTIMER IN 2006!!!), Fred always said his radio at home was cemented in place on KKGO!! Good place to be stuck!!

  9. Lenny LaForgia

    One of the best things about Southern California in the ’80s was KKGO and one of the best things about KKGO was listerning to Charlie Niles, espicially on a cool summer night, driving through the orange groves with the windows down. Thanks for the memories, Chuck.

  10. Davy Hoffman

    Sitting here half a world away with KKJZ streaming through Bose cans and feeling pangs of emptiness that Chuck Niles has gone to that big board in the sky, one is deflated and senses that somehow Los Angeles is a little smaller these days. Niles being gone from the city of angels has left a void that will never be filled. Only Symphony Sid compares historically in the propagation of jazz to the masses. I remember Chuck coming to my studio in Santa Monica and later photographing him at the Playboy Jazz Festival at Hollywood Bowl. What struck me most about this man and talent I admired, having spent 8 years on the air myself, was how genuinely sincere and calm he was with everybody. Chuck invited me out to hear Supersax at a club in Pasadena and he treated everybody like an old friend, not only the old friends but also the intoxicated pushy folk. The first time I heard Chuck correctly say, “High Sierra,” not Sierras as all the young “how do I look” forecasters say; and when he correctly pronounced temperature, not tempachur, like today’s weather kinder, I always said to myself, way to go Chuck, keep the language alive like you keep jazz alive. It is impossible, especially now listening to KKJZ, to hear “All Blues” and McCoy Tyner and Lee Morgan and “Song for My Father” and David “Fathead” Newman and Marian McPartland and “Young Rabbits” without expecting Chuck to pot up–not snap the mic switch like so many amateurs with jobs on the air–and add to the experience and knowledge of what you had just heard in a vocal segue to the perfect sequitur in his evening’s lyrical eloquence. Chuck never talked down to people; not to listeners, not to anybody. It would have been easy for him to do, with his vast experience and knowledge of jazz, language, radio, and human nature. He read liner notes, but he told you he was reading liner notes, not pretending, like the amateurs with jobs that stumble trying too hard to authenticate themselves. For Chuck, it was never about him. It was always about the sanctity of the art form indigienous to America that can be appreciated by fans, but can only be “known” by players. Chuck Niles never fell into the trap he might have, being a reed man, of playing an imbalance of sax tunes. You would hear as much Lee Morgan, Miles, the occasional Clifford Brown (who else plays Clifford Brown?), John Faddis, Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy, Woody Shaw, etc., as you would hear Charlie Parker, David Newman, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Dave Koz, Coltrane, “Cleanhead” and Gerry Mulligan. Chuck almost single-handedly kept big band jazz alive at a time when it was not economically viable to travel a dozen players to big city venues with so many other entertainment options competing for the night-out dollar, or to the hinterlands where jazz afficianados were a little too distant between. Chuck, player that he was, always seemed to be in the present. You cannot invent spontaneous jazz thinking of anything else other than what you are doing at that moment. When Chuck spoke, it was always in the moment, and it was always the voice of an old friend.

  11. Mike McConnell

    I am writing from Southern France. I grew up in L.A. in the early sixties and when I would get back from the beach in the afternoon around 3:00 o’clock, I would put on a jazz radio station that was in the middle of the FM dial (as I recall) and the disk jockey would play Miles Ahead by Miles Davis + Gil Evans as his theme song between cuts. It would create such a slow, languorus mood while I would lay back in my dad’s arm-chair that I will never forget it and L.A will always be that album for me, wherever I am. Was that KKGO and was that Chuck Niles? Whoever it was, I will always be indebted to him for being a part of what I am. Thank you.

  12. Sean

    Way late to pay tribute, but I used to love listening to Chuck, aka: Carlito Niles. He was one of the great Jazz aficionados and genuine voice of Jazz on the radio. He will be missed, as he already has been for the last 8 plus years.

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