University City

Charlotte jazz musician carves out a career

Gabriel Bello, 31, comes by his musical talents naturally.

His father is a professional percussionist, his mother sings professionally, his older brother is a base player, his younger sister is a professional singer, and his two uncles are professional musicians.

Bello grew up wanting to be Michael Jackson, and he now shares a distinction with his childhood idol – topping the Billboard charts. His first album, self-titled Gabriel Bello, was the No. 1 smooth jazz album in the country for 11 weeks last year.

Bello recently returned from New York City, where he was awarded a prize by the SESAC for his chart-topping achievement.

“I dethroned Michael Buble for a few weeks,” Bello says. “That was awesome, even though he sold a heck of a lot more records than I did.”

Another thrill was seeing his name listed alongside “all these great jazz guys I know and respect.”

Bello was raised in DeLand, Fla., by his parents, who were immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He grew up playing the saxophone, his musical instrument of choice, and added the flute at age 10, at his father’s request. He is also proficient on the keyboard, which he uses along with the saxophone to accompany his singing. He writes all of his own music, which he creates “to encourage others to persevere” as he has.

Bello isn’t just drawing from his experience as a struggling artist but also the perseverance that he needed to get through a cancer diagnosis.

He was in his second year at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., where he was majoring in music performance, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease in 2001. He endured five months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation therapy.

While he was recuperating, Bello played a concert with a Christian artist and was given a clean bill of health shortly afterwards.

“I took it as a sign,” Bello says.

He left college to pursue music ministry, which involves directing choirs, leading the church orchestra, and working with the church musicians. He worked at several churches in North Carolina until 2002, when he moved back to Florida because “I was ready to make my own music.”

After a year of learning the ropes of audio engineering, he took another music ministry job with a church in Virginia for one year before moving to Nashville to “work in the industry.”

Bello became proficient in producing, mixing and arranging music, working with other artists as well as writing and recording his own music, but he decided that Nashville was not a good fit for him stylistically.

“I’m not a country artist,” Bellow explains, adding that his style is more “soul-infused R& B with jazz, hip hop and a pop twist.”

Returning to the Charlotte area in 2006, Bello worked on his first album while doing more music ministry. He now lives in the University City area.

“There are no big money deals in jazz,” he says, “so it takes a long time because you have to work a day job and make a record on the side.”

His album debuted at No. 1 on the smooth jazz charts when it was released in June 2011. He is working on his second album, which will be a gospel music album since “most of the music I play these days is in churches.”

Bello is proud of his accomplishment because, as he puts it, “it’s just me and my manager.”

With his first album’s success, he now knows his second will be nationally distributed.

“I am,” he says, “starting to establish myself as an artist.”