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Eight Questions for Skip Heller

By Published: March 12, 2004
Nikki Teasley, the point guard of the Los Angeles Sparks, made me understand the importance of going to work for your team. She can do anything'great ball-handling, impossible player to totally cover, can shoot three-pointers from across town if she has to'but the thing she takes the most pride in is her ability to set up another player for a perfect basket. It keeps the game fresh for everyone playing and watching. To me, someone like that is a perfect role model for anyone in an ensemble. She's unselfish, but she also knows how to step up. She is the Bill Evans of basketball. I got to shake her hand at a game last season, and I was just star-struck.

8. Your last three recordings, including the newly released Fakebook, are among the most exciting organ jazz recordings that I have recently heard. What organ jazz influenced you?

The original Wild Bill Davis Trio music on the old Okeh label was among the first organ jazz I warmed up to mostly because I loved Bill Jennings' guitar playing so much. That was the first organ trio in the sense that we use the term now. Bill Jennings' playing was as close to perfect as any I've ever heard. Also, Bill Davis really imposed a sense of arrangement on everything that band played, which gave that band a certain distinction. They really had a sound. It wasn't just blowing. I admired that. The other early organ combo I liked was Bill Doggett's group. They were more Rhythm & Blues, but had great arrangements.

There was a guy in Philly'Craig Baylor'who worked at Sound of Market Street, a record store in Philly. He's still there. He's kind of a legend for turning people onto the right records. He hipped me to Grant Green's Blues For Lou album, which was a trio record with Big John Patton and Ben Dixon. I really loved their chemistry, so any record with Grant and those two fellows is great for me. The Harold Vick album they're on together, Steppin' Out , hit me hard back then. Craig converted me in about 1984, when Grant was not exactly the height of fashion, so I bought all this stuff as French or Japanese imports. That rhythm section is still important in my heart.

Larry Young's Unity represented a big step for me, just to hear an organ band that wasn't blues based. That gave me a lot to think about. That album, plus the stuff that Larry did with Tony Williams and John McLaughlin did a lot to broaden the perception of organ jazz past the usual 'Back At the Chicken Shack' concept. John Abercrombie's records with Jan Hammer' especially Night 'and his recent albums with Dan Wall'especially Open Land 'really influenced me further in that direction. Not an organ band but a huge influence on the way I saw rhythm sections, space, and arranging in a small group: the Ahmad Jamal Trio with Israel Crosby and Vernell Fournier. The arrangement of 'Nika's Dowry' on Homegoing is not a coincidence.

So, that is it. Urbane, erudite, amiable, and opinionated: Skip Heller is a great teacher. I, for one, hope to hear much more from him. Skip, Thank you.

Visit Skip Heller on the web at .

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