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Jack McDuff: Brother Jack

Douglas Payne By

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Organist Jack McDuff (b. 1926, Champaign, Illinois) got his start playing piano in his father's church. But, oddly enough, he began his jazz career as a bassist in several mid-west bands. Eventually he switched to organ, earning the name "Brother Jack" for his gospel-style burning on the Hammond B-3. He acquired notoriety as part of Willis Jackson's group (1957-60) and made his solo debut with 1960's Brother Jack, the first of two full LPs featured on this set and his second in Prestige's "Legends of Acid Jazz" series.

The first eight tunes, which make up the LP called Brother Jack, offer a fiery, often rousing program that offers plenty of evidence of why McDuff was such a popular club attraction at the time. The groove is much influenced by rock and roll and indebted to the catchy, soulful styles of Earl Bostic, Willis Jackson and King Curtis. McDuff fronts a horn-less quartet here, essentially Jackson's rhythm section. He brings a solid, sustaining swing to the program, aided in no small measure by guitarist Bill Jennings, whose clean, crisp and rockish lines significantly contribute to the music's success. There's a healthy dose of solid McDuff originals here too, from "Brother Jack" and "Noon Train" to "Drowsy" and "Mack 'n' Duff."

McDuff personalizes his groove a bit more by the remaining tracks: 1961's "Godiva Brown" from Steppin' Out and the five tunes that comprise his fourth LP, Goodnight, It's Time to Go (1961). This was McDuff's first working group, boasting the talent and contributions of guitarist Grant Green, soulful tenor man Harold Vick and underrated drummer Joe Dukes. McDuff pulls it all together here, offering a soulful brand of boppish blues that allows for rocking, often well considered blowing. It is Vick and McDuff who most dominate this session but Green is afforded some tasty spots and Duke's drive is a significant catalyst to the session's success. Green left for solo fame shortly after this session and after several McDuff sessions with Kenny Burrell, was eventually replaced by the young George Benson. Vick stayed through 1963, when he was replaced by Red Holloway. This, of course, formed the basis of, perhaps, McDuff's finest and most popular group. But this quartet was certainly one to hear, especially as they testify on an early version of McDuff's classic "Sanctified Waltz." McDuff went on to record some 20 records for Prestige between 1960 and 1966, and to this day, they remain some of the best in his career. The two featured on Brother Jack are high points.

Songs:Brother Jack; Mr. Wonderful; Noon Train; Drowsy; Organ Grinder's Swing; Mack 'n' Duff; You're Driving Me Crazy; Light Blues; Godiva Brown; Goodnight, It's Time to Go; Sanctified Waltz; McDuff Speaking; A Smooth One; I'll Be Seeing You.

Players:Jack McDuff: organ; Harold Vick: tenor sax; Bill Jennings, Grant Green: guitar; Wendell Marshall: bass; Alvin Johnson, Joe Dukes: drums.

Title: Brother Jack | Year Released: 1999 | Record Label: Prestige Records


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