Jammin' On The Hammond: An Organ Summit
New York City
November 29, 2001
Four undeniable masters of the B-3 organ took the stage at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, intertwining generation and genre, tickling on a few classics and joining together for a finger-snappin’, toe-tappin’, hand-clappin’ good time. Original masters of groove Jimmy McGriff and Dr. Lonnie Smith, femme fatale Rhoda Scott and the dynamite Joey DeFrancesco traveled fifty years into the past and back again, providing a musical education with the help of some close friends.
Hosted by Brian Delk, DJ for WBTO All Jazz in Newark, this special event not only featured the work of four great organists, two amazing guitar players, two serious saxophonists and THE funky drummer, it also brought new up-and-coming cats into the spotlight while setting a place for a couple legends to play together on stage for the first time.
Newark’s own, The Barefoot Contessa Rhoda Scott, kicked things off with her sultry blues style personifying the origins of the B-3. Backed by THE funky drummer Idris Muhammad, the rhythm maker for the entire evening, legendary tenor man Houston Person and guitarist Randy Johnston, Rhoda slid through a two song set of dirty blues numbers. The first tune, “Nova,” a Rhoda Scott original, set the tone of the evening perfectly with its classic B-3 feel while she and Houston traded a few licks hitting the head with perfection. “Sweet Sucker” by Johnny Griffin took the tempo down a little further, Rhoda’s selections were heart wrenching as the young lad Randy Johnston really shined as a soloist, giving Houston Person something to smile about. A sweet introduction gave us the low down on what this Parisian Queen is capable of, and now it was time for a little grits & gravy.
Philadelphia has come to be known as the cradle of the B-3 and now we know why. The dynamic trio of Joey DeFrancesco, legendary guitarist and fellow Philadelphian Pat Martino and once again the breakbeat king Idris Muhammad, took things a bit further into time and space as the night really began to open up. Wasting not a moment, the trio took off into a sensational hard bop number as Martino’s opening solo was cooking as always. This group's approach to the music was much more forceful and aggressive as the drumming of Idris took on a heavier shape. DeFrancesco’s soloing peaked at a near deafening zenith, pouring straight from the soul. Taking a moment for reflection, DeFrancesco gave mention of the honor it was for him to be able to play with the people he learned from and how fortunate we all were to join him in this experience. For their second number entitled “These Are Soulful Days,” a tune Martino originally recorded with Don Patterson thirty years ago, the trio brought out the other hot prospect of the evening, tenor saxophonist and multi-reed player James Carter. Similar to the Rhoda Scott quartet, the band brought things down a bit into a more blues-focused frame of mind. Once again, Martino was his classic self, teasing a bit of one his favorites and best recordings “Oleo” (See Pat Martino – Desperado issued on Prestige). The pinstriped James Carter blew a ton on this number, really making the statement that we would be hearing a lot about this cat for years to come. Anchoring the movement, DeFrancesco continued to tear it up as he called on Idris to hit it on the climax along with him in one of the tighter pieces of the entire show. We had traveled from the delta to the moon and we were only halfway.
It was now time to behold one of the most influential and monumental jazz musicians we have come to know. A man who has embraced life and music unlike any other, carrying his words for all ears, giving inspiration and guidance and the man who organized this summit, Dr. Lonnie Smith. He gave a lesson on what one could really do with this organ, get down. With his partner for many, many years Idris Muhammad at side yet again (see Lou Donaldson – Alligator Boogaloo issued on Blue Note Records. Note: before finding Islam, Idris Muhammad was known as Leo Morris) along with guitar legend in the making John Abercrombie, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and James Carter making his second appearance, the always comedic and lively Dr. souled it out. Playing with the drawbars and getting a few laughs, the band started off in a low, grimy blues fashion with Cuber and Carter trading as Abercrombie complimented with some tastes of his own. Swinging into Stanley Turrentine’s “Minor Chant,” the Dr. sang along with the melody, scatting and growling as his fingers spoke universes in sound. James Carter blew remarkably in the shape of Turrentine. Before the next number, the exuberant Dr. Smith informed the audience that the original title, “Play it Back” would be now be known raucously as “F-U-C-K, Tell Her I’m Here.” Idris immediately dropped into the signature breakbeat funk getting the big Ronnie Cuber to shake something. The Dr. settled in and electrified, pulsating rhythms emanating as the band ended in dissonance, then dropped back in to the breakbeat with such ease.
It had seemed that so far all that all was covered, but this was told to be untrue. Inviting back “the bad young lion” Pat Martino to join him for the first session they had ever played side-by-side, tenors Carter and Person and guitarist Randy Johnston, Dr. Smith introduced the prodigal son of the Philadelphia organ family, the one and only Jimmy McGriff. He may have needed a little assistance to get out on stage but sitting behind that B-3 he was a dancer. Opening this session with Sonny Rollins’ Caribbean classic “St. Thomas,” it was all smiles in Alice Tully Hall; musicians and listeners alike felt the spirit, McGriff’s touch turning hearts to gold. The pair of tenors blew something mean and Randy Johnston once again impressed. Giving it to THE funky drummer, Idris took it out with the ill breaks and brought the groove back with percussive supremacy.
After a short break, the evening continued with the amazing collaborations that had been hoped for at first word of this event. The first lineup consisted of the organ duet of Dr. Smith and Joey DeFrancesco, dueling six-strings Pat Martino and John Abercrombie, staple of the evening playing for three plus hours drummer Idris Muhammad, and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber. It began with a little give and take between the Dr. DeFrancesco, teasing each other with lightning speed and sensitivity; the duel illustrated the dichotomy of styles complimenting the B-3 tradition. This continued into the first collaborative number greatly received by the audience, “Impressions.” The space allowed all of the instrumentalists to display their dexterity as both soloists and rhythm players, showing what it takes to flourish and become a great artist in the true sense. Trading places, the second round, comprising the talents of Rhoda Scott and DeFrancesco on organ, Randy Johnston on guitar, tenors Person and Carter and of course Idris was much the same as all the musicians were brilliant. For the grand finale, everyone took the stage for one final blues session because now it was party time. Jimmy McGriff took center stage as he tore it up, getting the Dr. and DeFrancesco to start dancing and clap along. Once again, James Carter sung powerfully at his turn, as did Rhoda when she was given the floor. A dream come true for all on this evening, musicians and listeners alike, all united through the harmonious strength of music as all of the performers were thanked with a standing ovation.
Seeing Joey DeFrancesco and Jimmy McGriff sharing an organ, a feeling of bliss as the past, present and future were all told. This was the consistent theme for the entire evening, transcending time and generation through the music and the instrument that inspired and united these artists. Years between them, past experiences with players and new, all of these books were opened, but it certainly does not end here. As each of these amazing individuals can still be found playing and paying tribute, they still seek to find inspiration in music elsewhere and bring it out into the world as they always have. Dr. Lonnie Smith has joined forces with seasoned guitarist Rodney Jones as a member of his Soul Manifesto project, along with Idris and legendary alto player Arthur Blythe, breathing new life into the groove movement with their self-titled album out on Blue Note Records. The Philadelphia Experiment, started by Roots drummer and producer Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, features Pat Martino on guitar, bassist Christian McBride and organist Urie Caine. Delving into the electronic movement and expanding upon the endless possibilities of creation, ?uestlove guides this project into the future with their self-titled release on the Rope-A-Dope label. Guitarist Randy Johnston and multi-reed man James Carter have been cooking things up a bit as well, adding their names to list after list of hot players to soon join in the rankings of the greats.
Retrospection and progression, remembrance and persistence, these are the themes of today, of what we have before us. Please be aware of what is being created around you and become an active participant.
Licensed with permission from JamBase.com. Copyright © 2001 JamBase and Robert Krevolin