Thursday, May 7, 2009

Organ Grinders

It's been a tough few weeks at work. Music is, as always, my refuge. But somewhat to my surprise, I have found that organ grinders have provided me with more serenity and enjoyment that any other musicians lately. I'm talking, of course, about practitioners of soulful, intellectually undemanding jazz featuring the Hammond B3 organ. I've been listening to Big John Patton, Lonnie Smith, Freddie Roach, Baby Face Willette, Jack McDuff, and the daddy of them all, Jimmy Smith.

Like I said, I'm kind of surprised at myself. In the past I have only liked to occasionally sample this kind of organ jazz, as a respite from more challenging music. I've always loved organist Larry Young, but he was a different animal from the guys listed above; he was more influenced by Coltrane, Miles, and McCoy Tyner than Jimmy Smith. But something about the organ grinders is speaking to me right now.

The basic unit these guys favor is the organ trio: Hammond, guitar, and drums. A bassist is not needed; the organist plays bass lines with his left hand, or on the foot pedals on ballads. The guitar fills out the chords during the organ solos, and provides a contrasting solo voice. Often a tenor sax is added to the basic trio; occasionally, even more horns are added.

These guys all tend to play simple, blues-based material, but I'm enjoying the subtle differences between them. Baby Face Willette (much beloved by organ fans, and pretty much unknown to everyone else) is the bluesiest, with a wonderfully grungy sound. Freddie Roach is more concerned with color and texture - his use of the drawbars on ballads is masterful. Lonnie Smith is not content to stick to the organ grinder formula - he wants the audience to meet him at least halfway. I particularly like his Turning Point album, where the horn soloists are Lee Morgan, Julian Priester, and Bennie Maupin - all players who could play the blues, but who had at least one foot in the avant-garde of the time. And I'm developing a new appreciation for Jimmy Smith - I had always thought of him as just scattering bluesy licks across any chord progression, but I have to admire him for his sound and drive.

An added bonus with this stuff is the guitar - it's often played on these albums by Grant Green or Kenny Burrell. Both of these guys are just as bluesy as their organ-grinding employers, but often more sophisticated. Their solos provide nice contrast.

Organ grinding may go back to being an occasional thing for me. But right now, I'm really enjoying it.

1 comment:

robo said...

I've enjoyed a lot of the Burrell and Green recordings over the past year or so. Not real groundbreakers, but each has his own quickly recognizable sound, and that counts for a lot.

Condensed conclusion...

Green has great church/funk time and a nice bite in his tone.

Burrell has a much more sophisticated vocabulary (Green tends to repeat himself quite a bit) and a tone like honey butter.

Either way, good strokes for your organ binge.