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Tony Monaco: Master Chops T

R.J. DeLuke By

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AAJ: So he was responsible for the first CD?

Monaco: Yeah. On the way to my mom’s house we started talking organ. And I said, “Joey, man. I’ve been trying a long time to make things happen. I had a record deal fall through once. I don’t know anything about organ.” He said “You never met anybody like me. You’re going to come to Arizona and I’m going to produce something for you.”

Cause I was telling him I’d like to have a nice CD some day just so my kids can share with their grandchildren. I went over to Arizona, and the recording that became Burning’ Grooves ... it clicked. It was very nice. It was funny, he was just sitting in the control booth watching me play. It wasn’t like he was telling me what to do. He was really cool because he helped me select what he thought were good tunes and good rhythms to put together on a CD.

AAJ: Did he play on that as well?

Monaco: Joey played a little bit of piano on “Girl Talk.” So that came out real good. He played piano on a couple of things with me. But the selection process from Summit Records ended up deleting those tunes and I ended up having to go in and do another session with the guys I normally play with, to fill it in to the format they wanted.

AAJ: That must have helped a lot, having that CD.

Monaco: It helped a lot. Joey’s original intention was to take it to Concord Records because he was on Concord. But Concord already has Joey. So that didn’t happen. But because I had this recording that, up to that point, had been the best thing I put down on tape... when I went to New York I went to the International Association of Jazz Educators convention, I met Darby Christiansen, and me and Darby hit it off real well. That’s how we got Burnin’ Grooves.

The release date on that was September 5. For my first national release to come out on September 5 and then tragedy of September 11, it was weird. But you know Burnin’ Groovesdid very well, I think, for my first CD. It made the charts. I got some nice reviews.

AAJ: I heard about a Battle of the Hammonds in Columbus. Was that before or after the CD?

Monaco: Actually, it was before I signed with Summit Records, but after I recorded with him. So Joey came back and he said, “Let’s have some fun.” What we did, is we brought two Hammond B3s into a club I play in all the time, called the 501. We put the B3s on the stage. Byron, his drummer, was traveling with him. I bought Byron a referee shirt from one of those sports stores. And I had my brother bring a fog machine and a CD of Rocky music. I had some boxing gloves that my dad had. So me and Joey were in the back with robes and boxing gloves and Byron’s with us with a referee shirt and a bell. So we started blowing fog all over the place and my brother started playing Rocky music and me and Joey came out. It was a ball.

It was outrageous. Two screamin’ Hammond B3s and, of course, I’m not gonna let Joey take me, you know [laughter]. Cause this is my town. So I was trying my best to keep up with him, you know?

AAJ: In the 90s there seemed to be resurgence — there has always been Jimmy Smith out there and some others — but there seems to be a real resurgence in that instrument. Synthesizers are so complicated and they can imitate different sounds. They became popular. But the old B3 seems to be hanging in there. Maybe Joey DeFrancesco had something to do with it, after Miles picked him up.

Monaco: Absolutely.

AAJ: But it surprises me a little that that instrument, with all the other electronics available, still has popularity and a sound.

Monaco: Actually more popular today than it has been in the last couple decades previous. My thought is, the majority of my audience that comes to see me when I play are youngsters, in their early 20s to 30s. I think that people got over-stimulated with all this digital stuff. And I don’t think there’s anything more fascinating than the sound of a Hammond B3, because it’s generated by tone wheels. And I don’t think there’s anything that sounds the same as a Leslie actually spinning. I know they make different effects units that are supposed to sound like a Leslie, but I have not found one yet that sounds like a Leslie in a live situation when it’s just cranking, and distorting and throwing that sound all around.

I think the youth are just really into the retro fact that here’s this thing that sounds so darn good. And if it’s played right, the B3 is nasty, man.

AAJ: On the new CD, you’re much more of a composer. Is that something you played with for a while? Do you write much?

Monaco: Burnin’ Grooves is more of a straight ahead, in your face, jazz organ trio CD. Master Chops T is wider. What I wanted to do with Master Chops T is not just present the organ as a lead instrument, but also as a total instrument, because the organ has so many applications possible. So what I tried to do with Master Chops T is write a couple of tunes to highlight it in a different way. In other words, give the saxophone, give the trumpet, give the steel drum, give the trombone space to blow. And then use the organ not only as a comp instrument but actually as a lead instrument behind them, embellishing and moving them where I want it to. In other words, I’m throwing the tone colors at them with different draw bar settings and stuff so they can take their solos to another level. That was my thought process.

I wrote a tune “Ya Bay BEE” which, to me, sounds like something that should be on an Austin Powers movie. It’s kind of got that sidewinder, 60s-ish, trumpet solo, really cool kind of thing happening with it. “Acid Wash,” if you take a really good set of earphones and put them on so that you are totally into the sound, there are a lot of things happening in the background, in terms of new digital effects, that really open that up. “Acid Wash” is my version of Jimi Hendrix. There’s a lot of things happening with some digital effects in there that, unless you’re really listening close, you don’t pick them up. But once you start picking them up, you’ll hear so much more in that tune than you hear on your first glance. It’s a blast.

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