Trudy Pitts: Meeting the Next Keyboard Challenge
AAJ: Now, when you were coming up, was there a standard organ that you guys played?
TP: Yeahthe Hammond B3 organ. It's still the standard. There are some new ones with new technology. Hammond itself has come out with updated organsJoey [DeFrancesco] is on top of that game. But my favorite is still the Hammond B3. It was the only one they used for many years with the sound of the Hammond organ. The percussion, the soulful bluesy sound.
AAJ: OK, let's move forward to the present dayyour upcoming concert at the Kimmel Center. A year or so ago, Mervon Mehta, the Kimmel VP for Programming, was seeking a jazz organist for the new organ that was being built in Verizon Hall by Lynn Dobson. In my AAJ article about the organ and its construction, I'm proud that I then advocated for the use of the organ in jazz concerts. At the time, Mr. Mehta was having informal conversations with top jazz organists, and he told me that some of them were intimidated by the new Kimmel organ and didn't think they could perform on it. Yet, you've accepted the challenge. So, I'm wondering if you can tell us what is involved in going from that portable Hammond B3 that you can bring around to clubs, to taking on this mammoth instrument in Verizon Hall.
TP: Well, when I was asked to do this, Vic, there were several things that made me consider it. First of all, I had done pipe organ as a child. And I played many pipe organs in both church work and theater, where the organs are even more profound and more massive than in churches. I still prefer pipe organs in churches, although they're using Hammond organ a lot now. It's the Jimmy Smith influence. Wherever you hear the particular B3 sound, it's because of Jimmy's efforts, talents, foresight, and creativity.
AAJ: You're really whetting my appetite for your concert. Are you going to use the console on the stage or the one that's just below the pipes [The organ at Kimmel has two keyboard consoles available]?
TP: The console on the stagethat's the one I'm going to use. Now, throughout my career, what has been very exciting and electric for me is to accept challenges, whenever they have come to me, and they have come left and right, things that I wonder if I'll accomplish, but then I never doubt that I'll do what I've been asked to do. So this event on the Kimmel organ is a different kind of challenge, to use their instrument, and I've accepted the commitment, and I'll do it well. Even though their organ is not tailor made to do jazz, but rather is tailor made to pipe organslow, like any pipe organ, except that it is more extensive. It has the air, the slowness, the delayed sound, etcetera. Although I understood that this organ was not going to be as slow as a traditional pipe organ, I've been on it, and I'm saying that "It is." It's massive, it's incredible, it's a monster. But it's still a pipe organ in a very contemporary, high-tech way.
AAJ: Do you like the sound?
TP: Oh, the organist has to define the sounds, like I do on any pipe organ, you dig? Even though I committed before I had a chance to see it and play it, and find out its possibilities for lending itself to jazz, what I've made up my mind to do is that I cannot make it a jazz instrument, but I have to adapt whatever I'm going to do to that organ and what that organ is able to respond to, which is not an easy task. But I hope to come up with a format that's acceptable to me to present what people will be looking for in jazz on that organ.
Currently, I'm finding the sounds and voicing and programming. It's exciting. With the way the organ is put together, the more I can feel that out, then I'll come up with my repertoire. That organ has no propulsion, so I can't actually swing, because swingin' is percussion. I probably can't do too much walkin' bass on it, because bass walkin' is swingin.' On a pipe organ, there's a delay.
AAJ: Well, in my humble opinion, J.S. Bach was the first jazz musician, and he used a pipe organ, so I think it'll be quite a jazz thing.
TP: Yeah, what is jazz? And everybody will come up with a slightly different interpretation of what jazz really is. It ain't just one thing. Because jazz is a feeling, and everybody doesn't have the same feeling, so the definition will vary.
AAJ: And the definition is so expanded today, to include world music, etc.
TP: That's right. So that's why I don't call myself a jazz musician. I think of myself as simply "a musician," because when I'm playing solo, I'm mixing classical all throughout. Then it becomes something else. I don't go for no titlesI'm a musician.
AAJ: Well, I sincerely hope the musicians themselves come to this concert, because I think it will be very enlightening and exciting for them.
TP: They're already told me they're getting their tickets, and they're telling me how thrilled they are that I'm doing it.
AAJ: You're on the same bill opposite Nancy Wilson.
TP: Nancy is an old friend from back in the day, and still now. Nancy is a pro. But getting back to the organ, my main focus is being able to control what I have to do and not allow any part of it to control me. I have to have total control and negotiation and manipulation with that instrument.