THE JAZZ ORGAN: A BRIEF HISTORY
Copyright © Geoff Alexander 1988
Note: This is a 50+ page document. My web authoring tool doesn't allow pagination, so you'll be scrolling, sorry. A cassette, with keyed examples of musical pieces, accompanied the original text, and is referenced in this document.
Table of Contents:
A brief update to the 1988 edition, written January 2004...
The paper you’ll read below was written, well, in 1988. It was a piece I wrote to test out of a Jazz History class so I could finally get my Bachelor’s degree. There had never been a formal history of the jazz organ written before, and I think it stands the test of time. I have not updated the paper, so you’re getting my 1988 perspective, which was that jazz organ was a dying art form. In the nearly three decades years since the paper was written, some interesting things have occurred in the world of the jazz organ. The paper was picked up by Keyboard Magazine, which published an edited version in the May 1989 issue. For the article, I lent the magazine a copy of Lou Bennett’s "Live at Club St-Germain" record, and they reproduced the cover and transcribed a solo in the issue, and Lou told me sometime after that the article had given him additional recognition and had made a positive impact on his career. This was gratifying, as Lou passed away in 1998.
Most writers will probably cringe a bit when reading one of their older pieces, and I’m no exception, but in spite of the winces, the paper has held up pretty well. I was wrong about the demise of the organ, though, as the B-3 has had a resurgence of sorts; four of the more popular newer players are the Jimmy Smith-inspired Joey DeFrancesco, and Barbara Dennerlein, from Germany. Larry Goldings, and Rhoda Scott. DeFranceso is a very good player in the blues-hard bop tradition, and some of his better work has been in trio format with guitarist John McLaughlin and drummer Dennis Chambers. Dennerlein, in the genealogy of jazz organ, would derive from the European organists and synthesizer players as well as having many of the elements of Larry Young. Compositionally strong, harmonically diverse, and rhythmically adventurous, she combines strong hand technique with stunning pedal work. Her emphasis on the tradition of the B-3 and her willingness to expand the capability of the instrument make her an organist worth seeing. Dennerlein has also embraced the pipe organ, and often plays this instrument in church concerts.
Please send me an email if you note any factual errors in what you read below, and I’ll be happy to correct them.
My relationship with the jazz organ began the day I walked into Madrid's "Whiskey Jazz" club sometime in 1971. I had come hoping to hear Pedro Iturralde's superb Flamenco Jazz group featuring Spain's great hard-bop tenor player, but instead walked into a room containing a slightly beat-up Hammond B-3 organ and a small set of drums. I had never heard of American expatriate Lou Bennett, and wasn't very thrilled at the prospect of sitting through a couple of hours of organ, outside of a couple of Jimmy Smith numbers, the instrument meant nothing to me, but I was stuck --- I'd already paid the admission.
Bennett, however, put on a startling performance of hard-driving bop standards mixed with the occasional ballad, played so delicately that the four or five of us in the club were almost afraid to applaud, for fear of breaking that so intricately-weaved spell. Bennett in fact didn't so much play it as 'possess' it, grimacing, rolling his eyes skyward, and tilting his body almost parallel to the bench to emphasize a screaming ostinato upper octave flurry of sixteenth-notes. I was hooked.
For the next few years, while picking up the occasional jazz organ record, I'd casually joke that in the future, the history of music would be written in two volumes: Pre-Electric Organ and Post-Electric Organ, as I became more intrigued with its capabilities and less sure of myself in terms of having an adequate historical and social context in which to place it. I began this paper as an attempt to answer these questions to my satisfaction, and happily ran over to the library to begin the research.
There was nothing. No books, no magazine articles, not even a paragraph in most jazz history books. I went home and called Downbeat Magazine. They'd never done an article with any kind of historical perspective, just a few on occasional individual players, but suggested I call Dan Morgenstern at the Institute for Jazz Studies in New Jersey. Dan had nothing in his files, and it became apparent that I'd have to start from scratch and try to accomplish it myself.
I began to call everyone who I felt could add something to the history of the instrument, from critics to organists to engineers to producers. Finding no literature on the subject, I combed used record stores in search of out-of-print organ records with meaningful liner notes. And for better or worse, I used my own judgment to put it all together. What I have here, then, is a beginning, not a finished product.
It will become closer to being comprehensive when more information is made
available on recording the instrument itself; or when an associate of Larry
Young's can be found and interviewed, so we can get an idea of where the organ
was to have progressed at the time of his premature death. It will become
historically more justifiable when musicians, critics, and aficionados read this
paper and correct (or discuss) any errors in my perspective.
In particular, I must thank organists Les Strand, Jimmy Smith, and Greg Hatza, producer Bob Porter, historian Dan Morgenstern, and writer Tony Outhwaite for being gracious with their time in allowing me to ask them what must have seemed to be an endless barrage of questions. Jerry Welch of the General Organ Service Company provided valuable technical information on the Hammond B-3 organ that I could not have found elsewhere. Contributions were also made through conversations with Leonard Feather and engineer Rudy Van Gelder.
Special thanks to Lou Bennett.
In selecting organists for discussion in this paper, I avoided jazz musicians who play organ on the side, but are better known for their areas of expertise (e.g. Sun Ra, arranging and composition.) Into this category would fall people such as Carla Bley and Clare Fischer.
There are several organists I've regrettably never heard, such as Doug Duke, Winston Walls, Marlo Morris, and Sir Charles Thompson, who is probably better known for his piano work anyway. These organists are listed here because I can't categorize them. Like any serious collector, your correspondent will continue trying to track
these people down, and will try to remedy this matter in the next revision. I of course welcome all leads, names, and recorded examples.
Those wishing to find good jazz organ records in their favorite record store may be faced with serious disappointment. Outside of a couple of Jimmy Smith discs, and perhaps another by Jack McDuff, the shelves in new record stores are rarely stocked with organ records. Used record shops often prove to be a bonanza, with many older titles drastically marked down in an effort to move them out, and the collector can easily walk out with an armload of worthwhile organ records for under twenty dollars. It of course shouldn't be this way: this magnificent jazz instrument shouldn't be relegated to the cut-out bins and the flea markets, but it is, and one must face facts. The jazz organ is a dying instrument.
One reason for its impending death is that the majority of record buyers in this country are white, and the white community by-and-large has never quite been able to embrace this instrument in a jazz or "hip" context. The conception of the organ in the white community rarely goes beyond organ-and-chimes at Christmas, or "ballpark organ", or Organ-Goes-Hawaiian, or worse yet, slow, meandering organ accompanying spoken romantic poetry. The closest most of these people get to the organ is when they attend "appropriate" functions like weddings and funerals, and they (and their children) are the record buyers.
In the black community, it's a different story. Far from the funereal aura of the organ found in most white churches, the black church has continually fostered what I would term almost a bacchanalian approach to the instrument. In touch the same way as the black preacher verbally walks the line between the sacred and the profane, the organ in the black church often produces highly-charged, emotional, fast-paced, and 'danceable’ music that bears a direct kinship to jazz and blues. Some of the best jazz organists began playing in church (Fats Waller and Charles Kynard, to name two), and in this dying era of the instrument as a true force in jazz, many of its best players will find a haven there. If, after reading this paper, the reader wishes to hear the instrument and yet can't find a room with an organ trio, I recommend going to a black church in Oakland, Akron, Baltimore, or any other urban black neighborhood and attending a Sunday evening service. The organists there are usually quite good, and occasionally magnificent.
As an example of the "sacred" approach to the organ found in the black community, I call attention to the first selection on the cassette which accompanies this paper. The organist who plays on the selection "On My Way" by Rev. C.C. Chapman is not given credit on the record, but the listener will surely agree that his fiery, almost frenetic style of playing is essential to the emotional feeling displayed by the preacher and the choir on this disc. It's particularly astonishing that this piece was recorded in 1951,during which time Wild Bill Davis was generally considered to be the king of the jazz organ. Davis' big band-swing style of organ who playing is foreign to this player who is closer to the style brought forth by Jimmy Smith just a few years later.
Given this background, therefore, it's of little surprise that jazz organ records have found their biggest audience in the black community, a fact not lost on record producers. Certainly albums such as Brother Jack McDuff's "Hot Barbecue", which features a cover photo of Jack hungrily biting down on a whole side of ribs, or Larry Young's "Heaven on Earth", which was dedicated to Elijah Muhammad, were not marketed with the idea that record stores in white neighborhoods would be mobbed by screaming organ enthusiasts on the first date of issue.
Interestingly, this black-oriented emphasis on marketing had an opposite effect in Europe, where the organ to this day has a venerated spot in the hierarchy of jazz instruments, a topic in itself which will be discussed briefly later in this paper.
To conclude, the organ does not have the crossover appeal from black to white audiences that an instrument like, for instance, the tenor sax would have, and this fact should be recognized as an essential element to understanding the history of the jazz organ in the United States.
Although there are many different kinds of organs in the world which theoretically at least are capable of having jazz performed on them, the classic jazz organ will have two manuals, bass pedals, volume pedal, and various stops. The best jazz organists will usually play melody on the upper manual, comp or sustain a drone on the lower, simultaneously be playing the bass line with the left foot on the pedals and control organ volume the right foot, all the while subtracting and adding stops to change registers within the piece. A number of jazz organists interviewed for this paper mentioned that they began to establish good fundamentals by first learning to play piano.
While traditional organs (e.g. pipe and theatre) have "named" stops which attempt to imitate the sound of various acoustical instruments, such as flute and violin, the Hammond organ does not. When Laurens Hammond introduced his Model A in 1935, he created a revolution by substituting traditional tab stops with numerically graduated slide bars. Besides giving the player a greater ability to add harmonics to the music, he also changed the way the player thought about the organ. Henceforth it would be considered a solo instrument unto itself rather than one thought of as being imitative in the theatrical sense. The Hammond's popularity reached a crescendo with the B3, which was in production from 1955 to 1975, and which has become de rigueur for ninety-five per cent of all jazz organists. This opinion among jazz organists is pervasive: when asked to sum up in one sentence what he felt was the most important idea in modern organ playing, Jimmy Smith immediately mentioned "the pure B3 sound." Smith, like many others, has experimented with non-Hammond organs, only to return, The advent of the Hammond also created a side element in the total modern concept of jazz organ playing. Because the Hammond's AC signal created a noticeable "pop" for each keystroke, specially designed speakers using the roll-off technique were designed by Leslie to smooth out the sharp attack coming from the Hammond's keyboard. Leslie speakers revolved within the cabinet, adding a tremolo effect which, particularly in a small room, added to the unique Hammond sound. The Hammond was the last organ made using AC, and subsequent DC organs no longer MUST use Leslies.
Another unique feature of the Hammond was its method of tone production. Sound in the Hammond was produced by means of some 91 tone wheels, each of which revolved over a magnetic coil, and contained varying numbers of small metal "bumps" which corresponded to the given number of cycles-per-second of the particular note. This made the Hammond an electrical, rather than an "electronic" organ, which produces tones by means of a sine wave formed by an oscillator. To fully appreciate the difference in these technologies, the reader is directed toward selection number ten on the accompanying cassette, in which organist Les Strand plays the Baldwin electronic organ. The baleful quality of the sine wave is apparent, even through the frequency dividers which produce the harmonics in this instrument.
I might add that I've listed the technical aspects of these instruments here in the "technique" section because a basic understanding of how these organs operate is important in differentiating them from other keyboard instruments: unlike the piano, the organ really can fill up a room with sound. In fact, many piano players eventually switched to organ because, due to the bass pedals, they would have one less musician to pay. Club owners were equally happy, because having a B3 and a small set of drums in a room would result in a whole evening's worth of loud, rocking entertainment at relatively minimal cost.
Much later, of course, rhythm boxes were added to the organ: they were tacky, uninspired, did not lend themselves well to the creative aspects of the instrument, and were partly responsible for the unsavory attitude of many people toward the organ in general. The "mall organist" demonstrating auto-rhythm organs has driven more nails into the coffin of the organ than anything I can think of; it's a shame that so many people derive their initial introduction to the organ in this manner, because it fails to increase the potential audience for the few great organ players still performing.
Returning to technique, what the listener should be listening for in order to develop a critical ear and appreciate the instrument are: melody and harmony simultaneously voiced, the latter either through extended chords, single-note drones, or "comping" chords, changes in voicing, increase/decrease in volume, and bass notes. All too often one does not hear all these elements in one piece, but it's certainly something for which the great organists strive. In order not to appear too dogmatic, however, exceptions to the rule do exist: Wild Bill Davis in example six on the tape and Jimmy Smith in example eight are interesting contrasts in that Davis makes great use of volume control while Smith does not, whereas the opposite is the case in terms of the rhythmic complexity of the solos themselves. These are, nevertheless, two very good pieces by innovative organists.
One must also have an understanding of the organist as an individual to appreciate the difficulties in playing the jazz organ. Milt Buckner always used a bass player because he was simply too short to reach the bass pedals. Greg Hatza, in example number 15 on the cassette, was, at the age of nineteen at the time of the recording, probably too young to have realistically mastered the pedals. What he did, like many other organ players, is play the bass by hand on the lower manual, thus giving up certain harmonic capabilities of the instrument. Utilizing this method, the organist would "slap" a random pedal in time with the walking left-hand bass to provide a slight pop to the attack.
Bob Porter, who has probably produced as many jazz organ records as anyone, claims that one of the main reasons for the demise of the jazz organ was the departure of engineer Rudy Van Gelder to the CTI record label. "Nobody else could record the damn thing," said Porter, and in truth, the number of recordings of jazz organ made under Van Gelder is substantial. Van Gelder was naturally reluctant to divulge any of his techniques for recording the organ, but the set of obstacles is formidable. The Hammond has a "booming" bass, which renders it almost inconsequential in even Van Gelder's recordings. The volume pedal takes gain control away from the engineer, as does the constantly changing additions and subtractions of slide bars.
It is for these reasons that appreciation for technique must be tempered by the realities of the recording studio. There are times when the attentive listener will not be able to tell whether the organist is playing the bass AT ALL, much less trying to distinguish the various bass notes themselves. The characteristics of the Hammond bass pedals have been a constant source of concern to players as well as engineers. Jimmy Smith has apparently improved the attack of the bass by removing resistors from the circuitry, although the reality of the electrical theory behind this concept is disputed by General Organ Service Company's Jerry Welch, who, in his many years of repairing the B3, probably knows as much about the circuitry design as anyone. My own suspicions are that Smith and Van Gelder may have discovered something in this area that may warrant further investigation once they let their secret out. In the meantime, the most startling new development on the topic of organ bass in the last few years has been the invention of the "Bennett Machine" by the American expatriate Lou Bennett. In redesigning the lower manual for his B3, Bennett also apparently altered the attack in the bass circuitry as well. Cassette example number 17 is a ballad from his "Live at Club Saint-Germain" album, which not only showcases this remarkable bass design, but also features one of the best engineering jobs on the organ to date. Unfortunately, the engineer was not given credit on the liner notes, but the clarity of articulation in all registers nothing short of phenomenal.
The listener would be well advised to purchase a graphic equalizer if he or she intends to understand and appreciate the full spectrum of sound on the jazz organ. I wish to underscore this point as fully as possible: most speaker systems and amplifiers will not carry the full range of harmonics demanded by the Hammond. Jimmy Smith, in describing the beauties of the Hammond sound, said "only two kinds of people can hear the harmonics on the B3---me and crazy people!", at which point he mentioned playing the organ for inmates in an insane asylum, who danced for the first time in anyone's memory, to the sound of those harmonics. The listener can gain similar enlightenment by using the equalizer to boost certain frequencies, particularly in the bass range, and in the 1 kHz and 16 kHz as well. Particularly on organ ballads, in which extensive use is made of the extreme harmonic range of the instrument, the use of the equalizer can be critical. Please consider it.
Although jazz organ properly begins with Fats Waller, it is worth noting that St. Louis pianist Fate Marable was known for playing the steam calliope on Mississippi riverboats during the early years of the century, and included such notables as Louis Armstrong and tenor man Gene Sedric in his groups. Sedric forms a direct link with Waller through his work with the famous pianist during the 1930's. Marable's music was never recorded, and his work is not considered to be particularly influential.
Fats Waller, on the other hand, not only initiated the organ into jazz circles, but through his pianistic influence on people such as Art Tatum, provided the genesis that thirty or so years later would jump over swing-style organ playing into the bold new era fostered by organists such as Jimmy Smith and Les Strand.
Waller, whose father was the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, played the church organ well before learning the piano, and it remained his favorite instrument until the day he died. Waller's early recordings were made on a specially-built Estey pipe organ that included a number of custom-made theatre organ stops. These were of particular interest to him, due to his tenure as theatre organist at the Lincoln Theatre in New York, where for several years he accompanied silent films as well as playing solo pieces during intermission.
In example number two on the cassette, Waller accompanies singer Alberta Hunter on the RCA Estey pipe organ. In utilizing his stride technique on the organ, he emphasizes the strong one and three beats in the measure with bass pedals, playing nothing on the pedals on beats two and four. This augmentation of the strong beats through pedal action is not necessary on the piano, which has a touch-sensitive keyboard. Waller therefore provides a stride solo in a classic sense, with the right-hand melody underscored by choppy, left-handed 4/4 patterns. Of interest is Waller's sensitivity in accompanying Miss Hunter, providing full rhythmic and melodic accompaniment while allowing her to articulate the song over an understated, yet firm harmonic matrix.
Waller recorded on the theatre and electric organ as well, making him somewhat unique in terms of diversity. Late in the 1930's, he traveled to Europe, playing the organ at Notre Dame at the invitation of Marcel Dupré, and stopping by the HMV studios on Abbey Road in London to record spirituals on their Compton Theatre organ. I will add at this point that finding recordings of Waller's organ work is extremely difficult: I would have loved to have heard a Waller solo piece on pipe organ, but couldn't find one, and could only find one or two choruses of "Jitterbug Waltz", with no solo, to illustrate his work on Hammond, The French, who always enjoyed Waller's organ playing, actually have produced a record of Waller on organ (RCA Black and White Series), but little is available stateside.
Waller's recording of "Lonesome Road" (example number three) on the HMV Compton explores the textural capabilities of the Instrument while illustrating the joining together of the sacred and profane, spiritual and stride, that was an essential part of the organist's personality.
In "Jitterbug Waltz", Waller performs what may in fact have been the first recording ever of the Hammond Electric Organ, but uses it in this case only to outline the melody, using the bass pedal to emphasize the 3/4 rhythm by holding it down for all three beats of the measure.
Count Basie, who learned the organ by sitting next to Waller during informal sessions, is the next evolution in jazz organ playing and took the organ from essentially a stride-based instrument to one capable of performing with groups playing swing.
Basie economized Fats' style, as exemplified in the tune "Live and Love Tonight" (example number five), which incidentally features Lester Young on tenor. To illustrate the relative rarity of the jazz organ even then, drummer Jo Jones mentioned that the organ used by Basie hadn't been played in close to ten years and that he had to "kick it to make it go." Basie had a sparse and "jumping" feel to his playing, and I think influenced later organ players such as Wild Bill Davis, Milt Buckner, and Jackie Davis as much with the sound of his band as his playing.
It was during this time that the Hammond organ itself became an instrument of relatively popular appeal, with organists such as Milt Herth, Ethel Smith, and Glenn Hardman (who recorded with members of Basie's band) producing organ records more in a popular vein. The instrument was moved further into the mass consciousness during live radio programming, as all major radio studios used them for background music, musical interludes, and "punctuations" during dramas as well as commercials.
In 1949, Wild Bill Davis appeared with a big-band influenced, rhythm-and-blues based organ style with crescendoing, large chords and a heavy emphasis on volume pedal. Davis, whose previous background had been as an arranger and pianist for Louis Jordan, played the organ like a big-band, shifting constantly through different registrations and, in contrast to Basie, playing really large chords.
Davis' organ was the Hammond C3, which featured a larger console than the B3. About the B3 and C3, organ historian Craig Browning writes: "The C-3 and B-3 were produced about the same time. Both were introduced after the C-2 and B-2 and previous to that the CV & BV. The C was a gothic cabinet and the B was a cabinet with four spindle legs (toed into the pedal contact assembly)."
Consensus has it that the classic Davis recordings were made with guitarist Bill Jennings and drummer Chris Columbus for the Okeh label in the early 1950's, now long out of print. This may be possibly the first appearance on record of the organ trio, one of the two standard configurations (the other being organ-tenor) of organ-based groups during the following three decades.
In example number six on the cassette, Bill Davis uses many of his standard techniques in this recording made with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the late 1960's, especially noticeable are the "fat" chords and wide range of dynamics. Davis' techniques directly influenced players such as Jackie Davis and Milt Buckner; his background in R & B led to the branching off of Bill Doggett (who, incidentally got his first gig as a referral from Davis) from the jazz continuum to lead a host of other organ players through R & B directly to soul and rock. He also (and boy, am I going to hear it on this one) was probably the progenitor of the "ballpark organ" sound, which, in its purest form, is a great example of blues-based music for mass appeal. There is an organist in a National League city (I believe Cincinnati) who is playing good blues-oriented jazz between innings to thirty thousand people at a time, which coincides with the "playing for the people" philosophy of Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff. Eastern cities with large urban black populations are natural venues for this type of ongoing organ concert; in San Francisco, I have to put up with "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" played on an organ with a tacky rhythm box played by a tackier player...
Another influential organist who gained popularity in jazz circles immediately before the arrival of Jimmy Smith was Milt Buckner. Buckner's "locked hands" technique, in which parallel chords were played with both hands "locked" together, was originally developed by him while a pianist, and was pervasive enough that even avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor credits Buckner as an inspiration. As mentioned earlier, Buckner's physical stature prevented him from playing the organ bass. He made up for this in natural exuberance, and his later records with tenor man Illinois Jacquet are classics in the "swing party" genre (he even plays organ with his "big fat belly" on one of them, which, from a chromatic point of view, renders "locked hands" obsolete.) Buckner also talked and growled throughout his performances, which the listener will recognize while reviewing Buckner's "Bouncing at Dawn", example number seven on the cassette. In many ways, this is the quintessential swing organ solo, beginning with a straight-forward swing solo in chorus one, continuing over a high drone in chorus two, leading to added voices in the drone in chorus three, to a locked hands section in chorus four. Incidentally, this recording was made in 1961, and I haven't been able to identify the first organist to use the "drone" technique, but it could have very well been Buckner. On the other hand, since this recording was made after the advent of Jimmy Smith, Buckner could have easily assimilated it from Smith, who used it continually. Probably the drones most recent advocate is Charles Earland, who, more than any other modern player, uses it as an effective means of creating tension over a series of bars building up to the final anticipated resolution, By the beginning of the 1950's, then, there was a certain agreement as to the features, language, techniques, and appropriate group setting for the organ. Influenced mainly by Swing and R & B, it had managed to avoid the rumblings over on 5?nd Street. But the neighborhood wasn't going to stay "quiet for long...
In 1953 a young Philadelphia pianist, frustrated because of the proliferation of out-of-tune pianos to which he had been subjected, began to study the rudiments of the jazz organ. After hearing Wild Bill Davis, Jimmy Smith was initially attracted to the organ because it couldn't go out of tune, and was determined to find a teacher of organ technique. He couldn't find one in his area, and instead took a two year hiatus from the piano to teach himself the Hammond, But Jimmy Smith was no ordinary young musician: not only were both his parents pianists, but Smith himself had studied the bass and harmony in music school, and at the age of twenty-eight, appeared to have a clearly defined idea of what he wanted to accomplish on the organ. First of all, his main influences weren't other organists, they were pianist Art Tatum and bop altoist Charlie Parker, and it would become Smith's task to bring the organ under the influence of be-bop: before Smith's debut in 1956, it had not been done.
In fact, when Jimmy Smith burst upon the organ scene in 1956, his impact on the instrument was so great that he was being immediately compared with Charlie Christian in terms of the maximum influence any musician could possibly have on his given instrument. Through new voicings, pedal technique, and rhythmic concepts. Smith was able to revolutionize his instrument in much the same way that Christian changed the direction of the jazz guitar. For one thing, Smith modernized the organ bass by becoming the first organist to use the "walking" bass motif, which was probably as a result of his string bass background prior to playing the organ. He instituted bop phrasing on the instrument, and in pieces such as Dizzy Gillespie's "The Champ" (number eight on the cassette), he punches a seemingly relentless fury of 16th notes into his solo, using the rhythm stops on the Hammond in a manner never used before to increase the "hard edge" of the instrument. Smith utilizes extreme rhythmic variations in "The Champ", even ending the piece on a more traditional coda that may have been completely tongue-in-cheek, as is the quotation in the middle of the tune from Grofé's "Grand Canyon Suite", which jazz aficionados may recognize as a direct tribute to Dizzy's famous trumpet solo in the Massey Hall version of "All The Things You Are". Special note should also be made of Smith's comping capabilities over Thornel Schwartz' solo, as well as his amazing one-hand chord solo during the last part of "Champ".
Although standardizing heavily on blues-oriented playing in the last few years, he has proved his versatility by making albums of ballads, has done a tribute to Fats Waller in the Waller style, and has even recorded several piano pieces. He was also the first jazz organist to be embraced by the commercial world, and several of his albums on Verve from the 1960's are marginal at best. While having a real affinity for the jazz organ in small group settings, I confess to a personal distrust of organ with big band; the organ is almost a band in itself, and much of the time the harmonics are buried under charts that I feel are dubious in value. One glaring exception is the "Peter and The Wolf" recording of Jimmy Smith on organ, with arrangements by Oliver Nelson. The writing is fresh, in keeping with Prokofiev's ideas, and does not overpower Smith, who instead plays several of the best (and fastest) solos ever recorded. "Meal Time", from this album, is a typical hard-driving solo from Smith, during which in several places he plays a repeating phrase motif that has been used by virtually all jazz organists since. This repeating phrase builds in intensity during a chorus and quite often is accompanied by a drone played by the left hand prior to resolution.
The organists influenced by Smith are legion, and along with Smith constitute a group that truly created a "golden age" of jazz organ. A partial list would include:
Before discussing these organists, it is worthwhile to note that Smith himself, while indicating that he has not been directly influenced by any other organ players, does admit to enjoy listening to only one other, an obscure organist named Les Strand, who he refers to as the "Art Tatum of the organ."
Strand, whose father spent most of his career as a musician playing in shows on the theatre circuit in Chicago, taught himself to play the Hammond at the age of fourteen. He began playing in a funeral home before hitting the lounge circuit, and was probably the purest bebop organist who ever played the instrument. His obscurity results from a combination of factors: an inappropriate record label (Fantasy, which had nothing in their catalogue remotely like Strand's jazz organ, and which refused to give much promotion to him), a non-traditional organ (he recorded mostly on the Baldwin, which is not a "bluesy" instrument), and technique, which was so complex that the basic jazz-blues oriented organ trio setting would simply not have worked well with his Tatum-Tristano influenced style. Strand rarely traveled out of the Chicago area, and never appeared in a large East Coast city. He is rare among jazz organists in that his first instrument was the organ itself (he started with the Hammond at age 14), and his total recorded output consists of three albums on Fantasy, two of which feature the Baldwin organ, and a promotional album for Yamaha. Interestingly, neither Leonard Feather, who produced his Yamaha record, nor Chicago jazz radio programmer Dick Buckley, who wrote the liner notes for one of his records, knew Strand's whereabouts, and small wonder: he retired from active playing at the young age of 40 to pursue a teaching career in 1964, has since retired from teaching, and now lives in Kansas City.
Strand's version of "If I Had You" (example number 10 on the cassette) is a tour-de-force of dynamics, comping, and just plain magnificent keyboard technique. The "cool" sound of the trio is a result of the fact that the guitarist 'and the drummer were currently then working with accordionist Art Van Damme's group, and were accustomed to playing in a relatively quiet setting (the drummer, in fact, uses brushes throughout the album.) Although he preferred the Hammond, Strand's father worked in the Chicago Baldwin store and was able to introduce him to the wider dynamic range of that organ. The Baldwin, however, did not record as well as was expected, and therefore he returned to the Hammond for his final recording on Fantasy, "Les Strand Plays Ellington".) The Baldwin does emphasize Strand's horn-like quality, and in using the "vibes" setting, actually evokes the sound of a guitar more than anything else.
Two other organists who fall loosely into the non-Jimmy Smith category are Les Doyle and Marlo Morris. The former played a bop-style organ in the Chicago area prior to Strand, but apparently never recorded. Morris, who I understand was influenced heavily by Tatum, did make a record for Columbia in 1963 called "Play That Thing", which, according to jazz writer Tony Outhwaite, is apparently quite good. The influence of these organists on other jazz organ players was quite limited, and I have yet to find another player who bears any degree of stylistic similarity to Strand. The Parker to Strand link through bebop can be compared with the later influence of John Coltrane through free playing to organist Larry Young: they stand almost alone as great innovators on their instruments, and have few imitators.
While Strand was gigging in Chicago, playing before increasingly fewer people appreciating bop organ. Jimmy Smith was cutting a wide swath through major cities with his more blues oriented bop, and later hard bop playing. He was also making great early influential recording on the Blue Note label, and soon the aforementioned generation of players was busily trying to discover for themselves what ingredients Smith had put into the B3 in order to achieve that kind of "cooking."
Richard "Groove" Holmes, who achieved commercial success with his version of "Misty" a few years back, and who replaced Smith in the Don Gardner trio even before that, realized the danger of becoming a pure imitator of Smith, and freely experimented with different textures, effects (wah-wah), and organs (Hammond X-66 etc.). Many of these sounded like little more than gimmicks, and some of the organs sounded just plain awful ("Dueling Organs", with Jimmy McGriff, for example: a great idea, but the instruments are almost unlistenable due to their lack of tonal depth and range.) Holmes and McGriff, although probably great in person, are often overly commercial on record, with weak material and generally uninspired technique. Holmes did however buy a second-hand Cadillac hearse, in which he hauled his Hammond cross-country, gig-to-gig while moving west from New Jersey a few years ago, which put him in the top category of organ lore.
Another interesting enigma is Johnny "Hammond" Smith, who now refers to himself as simply Johnny Hammond, and whose funk records now grace the cut-out bins of too many record shops. It's hard to believe that this is the same organist who displayed a great feeling for hard-bop organ soloing during his tenure at the Riverside label, and from the recent discs one also will find nothing to indicate that he was one of the great composers in the genre either. The Johnny "Hammond" Smith story is not untrue: as the B3 became harder for record companies to "sell", more and more organists traded their instruments for clavinets and synthesizers, and their hard-bop and blues licks for funk and soul. This is why it is essential for the serious collector of jazz organ records to go back in time, be wary of any disc recorded after 1975, and to try not to be too judgmental of an organist based on hearing only one recording. I have for this reason included a small discography in this paper, which, although not comprehensive, will at least give interested listeners a place to start.
A number of organists display virtuosity in one aspect of playing, but leave something to be desired in other areas. Lonnie Smith (not to be confused with pianist Lonnie Listen Smith), has never performed a solo on record that I have liked, but gosh can that guy comp! He has an ear for accompaniment that in my opinion overshadows that of almost anyone else (listen to his early recordings with guitarist George Benson on Columbia) in terms of rhythmic subtlety, and I have heard that he is a decent soloist in a club setting, but his soloing just doesn't seem to transfer to disc.
Charles Kynard, on the other hand, who died on the stand just a short time ago, left a legacy of very good recordings, most of which were produced by Bob Porter at Prestige. He had a "fatter" sound than most of the other post-Smith organists, and had a remarkable sense of dynamics in terms of building a solo to an emotional crescendo, a trait which he may have honed to a fine point during his years as a church organist in Los Angeles. In "Song of Delilah" (example number eleven on the cassette), Kynard clearly displays Smith's influence on the first chorus, and thereafter makes his own statements with varying degrees of subtlety on the slide bars, including a nice left-handed chord drone on the 'B' section. Many of the compositions on his recordings were written by Richard Fritz, who also had a great talent for arrangement in an organ-led group, Kynard was also successful at making "pop" tunes work in a jazz setting: a Beatles song is usually the kiss-of-death on any jazz record, and yet Charles Kynard was able to record one of the great solos in jazz organ history over a tune as insipid as the Beatles' "Something", building one layer of tension upon another, and using the orchestral aspects of the organ in a thundering, yet magnificently musical manner.
Brother Jack McDuff, like Jimmy McGriff, has made his share of uninspired, commercially-oriented albums, so I was constantly amazed at the high regard in which he is held by musicians and critics alike. After buying a number of unimpressive records (all at a low cost, I can assure you), I finally ran across the gem: "The Honeydripper" with Jimmy Forrest on tenor and a very young Grant Green on guitar. This record is a beautiful example of what great organ-tenor groups should sound like, from the raucous, biting tenor of Forrest to the powerfully stated tonal textures and dynamics of McDuff. McDuff is one of the few B3 players left gigging on a regular basis and, despite his high regard for Coltrane-inspired organist Larry Young, prefers to play blues. "You wouldn't listen to our group with a score card and pencil," he says, "we play that good-time thing."
By contrast, organist Don Patterson, like McDuff an alumnus of the Smith school, developed a forceful hard-bop personality on the organ. While playing within the organ/tenor matrix, Patterson’s interactions with tenors such as Sonny Stitt and Booker Ervin often verged on the manic. Patterson's "Sister Ruth," (number twelve on the cassette), has the organist driving Ervin's opening solo with a fast walking bass played on the pedals while comping with powerful chord bursts more in the style of a drummer dropping "bombs" than an organist. Patterson's own solo is a tour-de-force of hard-bop organ, featuring tremendous flurries of notes in exact phrasings, finally ending in a repeat-run over a drone followed by a beautiful crescendo-decrescendo-crescendo on the volume pedal that marks this as one of the great solos in modern organ. The right-hand solo over the left-hand drone, backed by the pedal bass and right-foot volume pedal, are among the characteristics of the B3 that make it the most versatile and certainly one of the most difficult instruments to play in the jazz idiom, and Patterson was a master. I use the past tense because due to personal problems, he hasn't been heard from in many years, but one can always hope for a resurrection. His album "Hip Cake Walk", produced by Ozzie Cadena on Prestige, which and contains both "Slater Ruth" as well as a phenomenal trio version of Earl Hines' "Rosetta", is a landmark of organ recording that sounds as new and fresh today as it did when pressed (1964).
Another post-Smith organist who has transcended the realm of pure blues playing is Charles Earland, who is probably also the greatest arranger for small jazz group in the organ genre. Earland's background is as a tenor player, and he tends to carefully arrange creative parts for the horns, which usually consist of trumpet and tenor, occasionally augmented by trombone. In his "Is It Necessary?" (piece number thirteen on the cassette), Earland uses the horns to build tension into the final chorus or so, the organ soloing over a repeated horn riff. A particular characteristic of his organ style is the use of constantly building tension, usually created by what he refers to as "walking around the drone," which is created by the left hand setting up a note or chord that drones while the left foot walks the bass and the right hand either solos or runs a repeated riff. This technique, which was begun by Jimmy Smith but developed to its present stage by Earland, is gradually brought to a boiling point by the increasing pressure on the volume pedal, or, as in the case of "Necessary", by other techniques such as adding a second chord drone with the right hand. This heavily "emotional" style of Earland's was realized to its greatest extent in his live recording of "Joe Brown" (cassette example number 14.) The chart itself consists of a repeated pattern climbing throughout the 'B' section, while the 'A' section serves as both a base and plateau, and has no real melodic structure.
These "riffs" are mirrored in Earland's solo, which uses all the above techniques in a highly concise and emotional fashion, reminding me somewhat of the Illinois Jacquet JATP days in "terms of the effect on an audience. Earland's playing was some of the best and most consistent of the post-Smith crowd, and his arrangements were refreshing. In recent years, however, his records were a sorry amalgam of strings, background vocals, funk, and whatever else the record company had lying around the studio and under contract at the time. I know Earland didn't like this; he had recorded a good soundtrack ("The Dynamite Brothers"), made good, artistically successful organ records, and still couldn't make what passes for a decent living these days. The frustration drove him into the commercial world, but as Larry Young was to find as well, a great jazz musician may not necessarily have the tools to make a truly good, creative "pop" record, nor, even worse, may his producer have the "vision" to understand how his musical star is supposed to fit in. Earland was one of the bright lights of the jazz organ world; it's a shame he no longer records nor, to my knowledge, plays.
Without a doubt, one of the strangest stories in jazz organ lore is that of Greg Hatza. Possessor of a fiery technique as well as a seemingly innate concept of jazz phrasing, Hatza was auditioned by Sonny Stitt to fill the place of the ailing Don Patterson after having played the jazz organ for only 1˝ years. Stitt would have hired Hatza on the spot but for altruistic reasons not usually associated with musicians in the jazz field: Stitt wanted the new organist to finish college first. Hatza was nineteen years old.
There is a certain degree of poignancy to this story because Greg Hatza showed real signs of genius on an instrument that was, by the time he arrived, already on the way out. One can draw parallels here between people like Buddy De Franco on clarinet and perhaps Art Van Damme on accordion, musicians who were quite probably the greatest jazz practitioners on their instruments ever, and yet had the rug swept out from under them by a public ennui for their instruments. This is not to put Hatza in their class, but is merely an attempt to illustrate the world of the jazz organ just when he was starting to blossom. He studied piano at an early age, was initially interested by a Ray Charles organ disc, and was enthralled the first time he heard Jimmy Smith. Hatza's "Summertime" (number 15 on the cassette) displays quite a bit of the influence of Jimmy Smith, and is important from a historical perspective as well in that finally the music had begun crossing over to young, white players in the U.S. Hatza's first manager was former Baltimore Colt football great Lennie Moore, who found Hatza work in many of the clubs in the Baltimore area, driving him to and from the train station on gig nights. "Baltimore was a great organ town --- every room had a B3" reflected Hatza in discussing his early years. By contrast, when asked what instrument he played immediately after giving up the Hammond ten years later, Hatza replied "the Farfisa piano. I couldn't afford a Rhodes," giving added emphasis as to what the financial picture looked like for the organist of the early 1970's. In his last days on the Hammond, Hatza was fronting a Coltrane-oriented organ trio, playing a freer jazz much in the same category as Larry Young. Besides teaching music in his native Baltimore, Hatza today leads a fusion; group on the verge of a recording contract with a major record company.
Of all the organists In the post-Smith school, Lou Bennett has probably had the greatest impact on the instrument, both in terms of influence on other players as well as technical improvements to the Hammond B3 organ itself, Bennett was an early prodigy on the piano, and by the age of twelve was giving lessons at his church in Baltimore. Later he learned the tuba, giving him a particular appreciation for bass lines that he would use eventually on the organ, which he began playing after hearing Wild Bill Davis, although stylistically his early work is more reminiscent of Jimmy Smith. What is unique about Bennett is that from 1960 onward he played exclusively in Europe, thus directly influencing a generation of European organists who otherwise may never have had an opportunity to hear an American B3 player in a live setting. He regularly played on the Madrid-Barcelona-Paris circuit, briefly operated his own club on the Costa Dorada, and eventually bought a small farm outside of Paris. Smith has said that Bennett left the US to get away from Jimmy Smith, and has joked that every time he flies over Paris he looks down "just to let Bennett know I'm here." In truth, Bennett's departure for Europe may have been a combination of the relative glut of jazz B3 players in the US as well as the traditional respect that European jazz enthusiasts have for American expatriates. To my knowledge he has returned to the US once, in an attempt to visit his mother, and found his neighborhood blocked off by police, at which point he returned immediately to Europe. As an indication of Bennett's reputation overseas, several years ago he headlined a bill which featured Catalan pianist Tete Montoliu as the opening act! After his set, Montoliu returned with his tape recorder to record Bennett's closing set, an event which took place in Terrassa, just outside of Montoliu's home city of Barcelona.
Bennett regularly toured with guitarists such as Philippe Catherine, André Conduant, and René Thomas, making several recordings with the brilliant and underrated Belgian guitarist, and generally featured another expatriate, Billy Brooks, on drums. He also recorded with guitarist Jimmy Gourley, who accompanies Bennett on his version of "Brother Daniel" (cassette example number 16). In this classic example of early Bennett, the organist uses extremely tight voicings with emphasis on the percussion stops, giving a biting edge to his solo. Of particular interest is his impeccable phrasing, especially in the "trading fours" segment. In this I960 recording, Bennett uses a separate bass player, and has little input from the lower keyboard, which I will soon contrast with a later recording, but still exposes the essence of the instrument. His comping is superb and almost a solo in itself, powerful and understated.
In 1978,'Bennett designed and constructed an organ to his own specifications, a B3 hybrid which he called the "Bennett Machine." The improvements were most noticeable in two areas; the lower keyboard was now used for multiplying various textures such as strings and vibraphones, and the bass pedals were now capable of a fuller sound, with purer attack and decay. It is interesting to note that after years of research and development, Bennett's organ would be rendered realistically outmoded with the advent of relatively low-cost keyboards using microprocessors. Bennett’s device, therefore is unique in space and time; in the two-hand, two-foot school of jazz organ playing, it is the most magnificent instrument ever developed.
I have always maintained that the organ ballad was the truest measure of the ability of the artist on the instrument. All inadequacies surface, so many players refuse to play them or cleverly avoid the inherent problems by adding a bass player so that the left foot won't have to be used and chord voices can be addressed by the left hand. And yet, because of the difficulties, the jazz organ retains a certain superiority over the other instruments in that one musician can carry almost an entire orchestra, without sacrificing the immediacy that is so much a part of the music. Jimmy Smith and Lou Bennett are the two masters of the ballad, and Bennett's version of J.J. Johnson's "Lament" (example 17 on the cassette) is a classic, performed before an audience at the Club Saint-Germain in Paris in 1980. After the bass and lower keyboard introduction, Bennett adds the upper keyboard for the melody, all the while varying the volume via the right foot, gradually moving into a wonderful double-time solo with the right hand in chorus two, played over a firm yet tasteful foundation of brushes and high-hat by drummer Brooks. The third chorus may represent the definitive jazz organ bass solo, and the listener is advised to note the unique attack, decay, and slide properties of the left foot bass on Bennett's Hammond. The truly astonishing characteristic of "Lament" is that it is, after all, a duet. The only instruments are organ and drums.
Bennett is difficult to find these days, and usually shows up as a brief mention in a small ad for a jazz club in Paris or Madrid. None of his recordings are available in the US. As mentioned before, his influence will be mainly felt in the playing of continental organists such as Eddy Louiss from France (whose "Dynasty" recording with Stan Getz and René Thomas a few years ago was quite good).
While Smith and Bennett were influencing continental organists who were also digesting quite a bit of the music of tenorman John Coltrane, a different school was taking shape in England. Inspired by Smith and Bill Doggett, organists such as Brian Auger, Graham Bond, Dave Greenslade and Steve Winwood were forming their own groups, which had roughly equal amounts of jazz, blues, and R & B in the mix, and ultimately led to a uniquely British style of rock. Organists such as Keith Emerson, whose deeper inspiration was probably along the lines of Austrian classical/jazz pianist Friedrich Gülda, led these keyboardists eventually to the synthesizer.
One the continent, an impressive array of young organists found equal inspiration in jazz organ and their own local burgeoning avant-garde scenes to form a distinct European concept of modern jazz organ playing. In Germany, pianist Joachim Kuhn's experiments with the organ in the "Mad Rockers" group (with brother Rolf on electric wah-wah clarinet!) were a direct link to the free playing of John Coltrane, and yet showed none of the form of U.S. organist Larry Young. The Dutch, always at the leading edge of the avant-garde, were represented by Jasper Van't Hof and his group "Association PC", and Fred Van Hove. England's Mike Ratledge, although better known as a pianist while fronting the "Soft Machine", nevertheless created some non-traditional solos on the Lowrey organ, and would be more considered a "continental" player than one using the then-current British approach.
The flight of the European organist into the world of the synthesizer can perhaps be best typified by the story of the Czech keyboardist Jan Hammer. Hammer was equally proficient on both the piano and organ, but his organ playing by 1968 already displayed the characteristics of the stripped-down style that would become the norm for the synthesists of the seventies: no pedal bass, and very little left-hand embellishment, and a heavy emphasis on complicated right hand flurries of notes, reminding one of Coltrane's "sheets of sound" playing on the tenor. Hammer's "Goats-Song" (example number 18 on the cassette) was recorded in 1968 on what I believe to be the Wurlitzer organ, and contains so much of a Coltrane influence that one wonders also whether Hammer had heard Larry Young's "Unity" album, which had been recorded three years earlier. Hammer's lack of reliance on what had, until then, been traditional methods of jazz organ playing, were indicative of the impending disappearance of the jazz organ in Europe. The difficulty of transport, initial expense of purchase, and problems of maintenance on an aging analog instrument were all factors in its decline.
Perhaps the final blow to the organ as a creative force in jazz was the untimely death of Larry Young. Young was the sole major transitional figure responsible for shifting away from the blues-based style of Jimmy Smith and moving toward the free approach advocated by such musicians as tenorman John Coltrane and pianist Cecil Taylor, and he revolutionized the instrument comprehensively, in composition, arrangement, and technique. Like Coltrane, Young (also known by his Islamic name, Khalid Yasin) embraced spirituality to such a degree that he would often burn incense during his performances while an open Koran lay on top of the organ. In what may seem wholly incongruous, Young dedicated his raucous, blues-based organ/tenor disc "Heaven on Earth" to Elijah Muhammad and was inspired by such unlikely spiritualists as Albert Ayler (Young's "Means Happiness" on the Contrasts album is almost totally based on Ayler's sound, and Young often used Ayler's altoist, Byard Lancaster, as a sideman).
Young was pervasive: he was an important third of Tony Williams' Lifetime, often considered to be the first jazz fusion group, and played and recorded with Latin rocker Carlos Santana. The fact that Young was able to record successfully in an avant-garde setting was an inspiration to younger organists such as Greg Hatza, and in truth, since Young's death, no organist out of the Smith mold has made an artistically successful album to my knowledge.
He was technically superb, playing pedal bass, and independent left and right hands, but with a lighter touch than previous organists, often preferring to solo pianissimo, sometimes being only slightly audible over the drummer. Many of Young's pieces have a strong eighth-note feel, with a heavy emphasis on the odd beats, giving his music a surging, rocking Quality that differs tremendously from the bop-inspired sixteenth-note feel of his predecessors.
Young also differed from his contemporaries in that he loved to play duets with the drummer, who was invariably his Newark pal, Eddie Gladden. On "Major Affair" (number 19 on the cassette), he weaves a matrix of tonal colors over the incessant, hard-driving drumming of Gladden, a piece that is more reminiscent of the duets performed by Coltrane and drummer Rawhide Ali than anything else recorded by any other organist up until that point.
Young frequently used the bass-pedal drone in a solitary long note in which to introduce a piece, ignoring the traditional way of treating a bass line, as in "Trip Merchant" (cassette example number twenty), which eventually evolves to the eighth-note pattern discussed above, and then remains the constant over which all solos are suspended. Young's first solo has a wandering, almost Eastern feel, at one point punctuated by rapid-fire bursts on the bass pedals in two-note phrases that the microphone can barely pick up.
In part two of the solo, he briefly restates the theme before plunging into a solo based on Young's chording technique of emulating the bass-pedal action with first left hand, then right, in a push-pull effect that gradually builds in volume to the final riotous exclamation, in which chords flash by in great bursts of speed buoyed by short rhythmic passages that signal the end of this searing, emotional solo.
Young's groundbreaking album is considered to be "Unity", with Joe Henderson and Woody Shaw. He recorded an unreleased 15-minute jam with Jimi Hendrix, and made a couple of embarrassing, commercial funk albums toward the end of his life, in an attempt to emulate the financial successes of lesser musicians. His death in 1978, at the age of 37, robbed the world of a great musician and even worse, drove one of the final nails into the coffin of the jazz organ by removing the one man who had successfully brought new jazz music into its repertoire.
The organ world has maintained the status quo in the ten years since Young's death, with a few of the older ones dropping by the wayside every now and then. It's been thirteen years since the last B3 rolled off the assembly line, and today's keyboard player programs his bass rather than plays it. The players discussed in this paper wrote a unique and majestic chapter into the book of jazz; it's such a shame that so few people have read it.
In proofreading this paper, I recognize that my own opinion as to the future of the jazz organ is quite apparent, and perhaps a little dismal. The death of Larry Young, the advent of the synthesizer, and Bob Porter's own feeling about lack of proper recording techniques are all good reasons for my less-than-satisfactory outlook. Not everyone shares my belief; Jimmy Smith is among the people who feels that the organ will return, and that the hiatus is brief.
Well, we'll see. The bottom line is that the listener should get out and hear as many of these players as he or she can, and do it now, while there is still time. The organ is unique in that one musician controls harmony, melody, rhythm and dynamics, does it all in real time, and has the ability to add a wide range of overtones as well as a variety of bass line effects. And no studio can adequately reproduce what one will hear in a "live" organ room. By seeing as many players as possible, whenever possible, the reader can cover his bet if he disagrees with me as to the future of the instrument.
I'll see you at the club.
Some explanations are in order for the genealogy that follows. It is meant to be a useful guide to stylistic differences, and not dogmatic, as many organists and styles have crossed, sometimes only briefly enough to engage in an album or two. The headings indicate the next theoretical step upward, and is again general; in the case of the synthesizer, for instance, both Larry Young and the "British" organists eventually used it, so it should be considered that these categories be examined in a horizontal context as well.
To illustrate the futility in trying to set a definitive genealogy, consider the following: few would disagree that there is no apparent link between the respective organ styles of Milt Buckner and Larry Young. Yet, Larry Young considered avant-garde pianist Cecil Taylor one of his biggest influences, and Taylor in turn cites being heavily influenced by the locked-hands approach of Buckner.
While the end result differs, one fact remains unchangeable; everyone listens to everyone else.
A graphical note: names encircled by ovals represent non-organists who influenced the linked organists.
The collector will sadly find that most great jazz organ recordings are out of print. These pieces are no exception. Fortunately, many of these can be culled from the stacks of used record stores at below-market prices (store owners may even pay you for cleaning out the organ section). Those traveling to Europe, particularly France, will be surprised at how many good organ discs are currently available in stores: the French love the organ, so bring along plenty of francs...
Examples on the accompanying cassette are as follows:
Side One:1) Rev. C.C. Chapman, unknown organist. NEGRO RELIGIOUS MUSIC, VOL. 3 SINGING PREACHERS,
BC # 19 (edited by Chris Strachwitz)
2) Fats Waller: "Sugar". WOMEN OF THE BLUES, RCA LPV 534
3) Fats Waller: "The Lonesome Road". FATS WALLER IN LONDON, Capitol T10258
4) Fats Waller: "Jitterbug Waltz". A LEGENDARY PERFORMER, RCA CPLl-2904(e)
5) Count Basie: "Live and Love Tonight". SUPER CHIEF, Columbia G 31224
6) Duke Ellington, Wild Bill Davis on organ: 70th BIRTHDAY CONCERT, Solid
State SS 19000
7) Milt Buckner: "Bouncing At Dawn". CHICAGO, MARCH 1961 Musidisc 30 JA 5166 (France)
8) Jimmy Smith: "The Champ". JIMMY SMITH, Blue Note Re-issue Series BN-LA400-H7
9) Jimmy Smith: "Meal Time". PETER AND THE WOLF, Verve V-8652.
10) Les Strand: "If I Had You". PLAYS JAZZ CLASSICS, Fantasy 3242
11) Charles Kynard: "Song of Delilah". PROFESSOR SOUL, Prestige 7599
12) Don Patterson: "Sister Ruth". HIP CAKE WALK, Prestige 7349
13) Charles Earland: "Is It Necessary?". INFANT EYES, Muse 5181
14) Charles Earland: "Joe Brown". KHARMA, Prestige P-10095
15) Greg Hatza: "Summertime". THE WIZARDRY OF... Coral CRL 757493
16) Lou Bennett: "Brother Daniel". QUARTET, RCA Camden 900.078
(France) May have also been
17) Lou Bennett: "Lament". LIVE AT CLUB SAINT-GERMAIN, Vogue VG 405-502609 (France)
18) Jan Hammer: "Goats-Song". MALMA MALINY, MPS 15217 (Germany)
19) Larry Young: "Major Affair". CONTRASTS, Blue Note BST 84266
20) Larry Young; "Trip Merchant". MOTHER SHIP, LIBERTY/UNITED/BLUE NOTE CLASSIC LT-1038
Once again, this is not comprehensive, but instead contains a number of records "tried and true." All titles are listed alphabetically, by performer.
WILD BILL DAVIS
RICHARD "GROOVE" HOLMES
BROTHER JACK MC DUFF
JIMMY MC GRIFF
DON PATTERS ON
JOHNNY "HAMMOND" SMITH
THOMAS "FATS" WALLER
As mentioned earlier, source material for this topic is scarce, and at least one pertinent article (Tony Outhwaite's "Organ Trios Still Roar", in the Winter '78 Jazz Magazine) I've yet to see.
Berendt, Joachim; translated by Morgenstern, Dan. The Jazz Book. New York: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1975
Douglas, Alan. The Electronic Musical Instrument Manual. Fifth Ed. London: Sir Isaac Pitftan & Sons, 1968
Feather, Leonard. The Encyclopedia of Jazz. New York: Bonanza, 1960
Judd, F.C. Electronics in Music. London; Neville Spearman 1972
Machlin, Paul S. Stride: The Music of Fats Waller.
Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1985
Hennessey, Mike. "Organic Groove: The Natural Soul of Richard Holmes." Downbeat, 5 Feb. 1970, 16
Morgenstern, Dan. "Mellow McDuff." Downbeat, 1 May, 1969, 19
Peterson, Edward. "The Rich History of the Electronic Organ." Keyboard, Nov. 1983
Siders, Harvey. "Jimmy Smith: A New Deal for The Boss." Downbeat, 15 Oct., 1970
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Some of the best information on jazz organists is still to be found in the liner notes on the recordings. While granted that the job of the writer is to sell records, it still is refreshing to note a bias in favor of the organ for a change. Notes such as Michael Cuscuna's on Larry Young's ‘Mother Ship’ LP serve a real historical function. I encourage the enthusiast to give careful consideration to the notes on the albums listed in my discography, above.
For any eventual or current jazz organ enthusiast, I cannot recommend highly enough Jimmy Smith's first three albums (1512, 1514, 1525) on Blue Note. While Smith's technique probably has improved somewhat over the years, his conception of what to do with the instrument from an improvisational point of view was never fresher nor more original. These are exciting works that remain powerful and innovative even by today's standards, and while every piece on these records deserves consideration, two ideas that may not at first be apparent are noteworthy. The first, Smith's version of "I Cover the Waterfront," seems incongruous to the otherwise bop-oriented flavor of the album (1512), and yet its stylistic similarity to Errol Garner began a "branch" of Smith-influenced playing that one still hears in virtually all other modern organists. The second issue is the startlingly obvious emphasis on the value of comping by engineer Rudy Van Gelder. Smith's left hand has a volume at least equal to (if not greater than) that of guitar soloist Thornel Schwartz. The rhythmic inspiration to Schwartz is therefore highlighted by an engineer who clearly understood that Smith's mastery of the instrument would require a new way of listening to the instrument. Smith's "punching" of the notes during the comping sequences is really a full-scale physical attack on the keyboard. For clarity of purpose, excitement, and purity of innovation, these sides have yet to be equaled in the jazz organ milieu. Incidentally, these three discs were culled for the contents of "Jimmy Smith Plays the Standards " on the Sunset (Liberty budget) label, which was pressed during the '60's.
A couple of updates:
I finally heard a great solo by Lonnie Smith, from one of the "lost" sessions produced by Sonny Lester. Smith displayed some fine Larry Young inspired soloing and his usual formidable comping... really top notch. I have heard allegations that Lester never paid the musicians in several sessions, and that "people are looking for him." While this could be simple hearsay, most organists are highly complimentary of the producers who took the time to put their sessions together, so this story bears further investigation, but of course is outside the scope of the paper.
Contemporary Pipe Organ Dept: Most modern attempts to play jazz on the pipe organ have been almost useless because of the keyboard-to-pipe time delay, which "swallows" most of the notes in any reasonably fast solo (listen to George Gruntz' "St. Peter Power" on MPS for a woeful example of the almost insurmountable technical problems the musician must face.) I have recently encountered a recording which features Clare Fischer playing a pipe organ specially modified by Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer which offers the organist faster sound throughput. This remarkable recording offers probably the only significant continuance of the pipe organ sound usually identified with Fats Waller, and Fischer can be congratulated for not falling into the trap of being content to do nothing more than replaying Waller's stride solos: Fischer effectively uses post-bop and classical structures on this instrument, which is never allowed to sink into gimmickry. To my knowledge, this recording ("Clare Declares" on MPS,) was never released in the U.S. Additional update: French organist Benjamin Intartaglia notes that reverberation is perhaps the biggest challenge to organists working in high-ceilinged churches (May, 2007). Barbara Dennerlein writes (September 9, 2007) that she is actively presenting concerts on church pipe organs: "As you know, I almost play 50% of my concerts with jazz (mainly my originals) on pipe organ (concert organs and church organs). If you take a bit of time and have a look on my website www.barbaradennerlein (direct link: http://www.barbaradennerlein.com/de/presse/index.php and then click on "Kirchenorgelkonzerte") then you find a bunch of press reviews about my church organ activities. I am sorry those are only available in German language but if you check out http://www.barbaradennerlein.com/en/projects/index.php and click on "Jazz Meets Church organ" you find other info in English. As my pedal playing is very essential for my playing I would say that it is quite unique how I play the pipe organ including hands and feet."
Addendum #3: April, 2007
Since I posted this article, 12,000 or so people have visited the page, and it's gained legs, being referenced on Wikipedia and a few other places as well. I've been contacted by several contemporary organists, and I'm going to begin listing them here. If you're a B3 player working now, and have a website, please contact me.
Dan Fogel is an East Coast organist, who, starting at 13, worked with, or around, everyone from Don Patterson to Wild Bill Davis. His website has a great bio, and samples of his playing.
Addendum #4, January, 2009
Jim Alfredson hosts an interesting blog on all things B3.