Gene Ludwig has remained a local Pittsburgh phenomenon for most of his life, despite some recording and/or touring stints with jazz notables like Sonny Stitt, Pat Martino and Arthur Prysock. Approximately ten years younger than the best of the B-3 masters like Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff, Ludwig is recognized by his fellow jazz organ musicians, as well as by the almost cultish enthuasiasts of the instrument's sound. And Ludwig's outgoing, soulful sound is entirely within the tradition of the instrument. His composition, "Duff's Blue," nails the McDuff sound, complete with effortless swing, the urgent tenor sax lead and the orchestral effect on the organ.
Ludwig is so under-recorded that jazz aficionados interested in his discography have to seek out his albums, including just one on Muse, perhaps the most widely distributed. While the now-legends of the instrument were signing contracts with Blue Note and Prestige, Ludwig was documenting his work on small labels like Travis and Ge-Lu, his own label created in the 1960's.
Ludwig's 1998 Back On The Track is aptly named, for he started once again to record after years of silence beyond his hometown, one of the important stops on the organ circuit of the sixties. Now, with Soul Serenade, Ludwig is on track again with Loose Leaf Music, expressing the feelings accumulated over forty years of musical experience.
Settled into the tradition of the instrument and avoiding modernisms developed by newer-generation practitioners like Larry Goldings, Ludwig emphasizes swing and uncomplicated spirit. "Please Send Me Someone To Love" recollects the 6/8 doo-wap avenues popular in the B-3's heyday but heard less frequently today. Nonetheless, Ludwig unpretentiously brings out the strength of Percy Mayfield's tune in communicating with the soul of the listenersand in the right venue, giving them a reason to get out on the floor and dance. On the other hand, "My Shining Hour" is energized by its faster tempo, Ludwig's upper register punches and the tenor sax flight brightening it.
The Miles Davis chestnut, "Freddie Freeloader," emphasizes the blues feel of the tune over walking bass lines, rather than muting or minimizing its inspirational power with coolness and understatement. Ludwig's own "Rejoicin'" recalls the strong gospel references implicit in the B-3 sound by concentrating on the movement of the rhythm section under the extended notes of the melody.
Interest in jazz organ seems to crest and recede according to the vagaries of the jazz scene, while the dedicated musicians like Ludwig remain constrant. Fortunately, he is continuing to offer exhilarating performances for the unwavering fans of B-3 music...and for the trendier jazz folk who will return to appreciation of the instrument once it's fashionable again to do so.
Track Listing: Duff's Blues, Freddie The Freeloader, Please Send Me Someone To Love, Soul Serenade, Rejoicin', You Don't Know What Love Is, On A Misty Night, My Shining Hour
Personnel: Gene Ludwig, B-3 organ; J. Willis, Don Aliquo, Jr., tenor sax; Ken Karsh, guitar; Tom Wendt, drums
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.