Led mainly by organists Joey DeFrancesco and Mike LeDonne in the late 1980s, the instrument and format has had a resurgence, with artists like Larry Goldings, Barbara Dennerlein, Wil Blades, Sam Yahel, and Pat Bianchi giving it new life.
Below are eight pivotal organ trio albums – recordings that made a major impact in jazz and/or represent a cross-section of the format’s diversity. Many of the seminal albums made by the likes of Jimmy Smith and Larry Young expand the trio to a quartet or larger with the addition of a horn player, bassist, and other musicians, but this list concentrates on the trinity of organ, guitar, and drums.
Jimmy Smith: Groovin’ at Smalls’ Paradise – 1958
Arguably the Hammond organ’s single greatest champion, Jimmy Smith ushered in a revolution. These sounds and this approach had never been heard before he burst onto the scene, and this raucous live date with guitarist Eddie McFadden and drummer Donald Bailey is a perfect demonstration of Smith’s genius.
Grant Green: Talkin’ About – 1965
This date by guitarist Grant Green featured the explosive drumming of Elvin Jones and the innovative playing of organist Larry Young, who was the first to expand beyond the blues organ style pioneered by Jimmy Smith and embrace the modal approaches of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Trudy Pitts: Introducing the Fabulous Trudy Pitts – 1967
Along with the great Shirley Scott and Barbara Dennerlein, Trudy Pitts was one of the only prominent female organists in jazz, and her debut featured guitar master Pat Martino and drummer Bill Carney. Pitts recorded her final album, Live at the Great American Music Hall, during the 8th Annual SFJAZZ Spring Season.
Tony Williams Lifetime: Emergency – 1969
Not a classic hard bop trio to be sure. The virtuosic former Miles Davis drummer formed this fire-breathing unit with organist Larry Young and guitarist John McLaughlin, and their debut was a barely contained, rock-influenced bolt of lightning at the birth of the fusion movement.
Medeski, Martin & Wood: Friday Afternoon in the Universe – 1995
The funk-fueled trio of organist John Medeski, bassist Chris Wood, and drummer Billy Martin is an exception to the organ/guitar/drums format, but they are singularly responsible for the introduction of the organ trio to a new generation of rock music fans who hadn’t grown up with jazz.
Joey DeFrancesco with special guest Jimmy Smith: Incredible! – 2000
Guitarist Paul Bollenback and drummer Byron “Wookie” Landham accompany DeFrancesco, the man largely responsible for the resurgence of the Hammond organ in jazz. A true meeting of the generations, DeFrancesco’s trio is joined by Smith, making one of his final recorded appearances.
Dr. Lonnie Smith Trio: Spiral – 2010
The veteran organist has been one of the most original, funkiest and visionary musicians in jazz since the mid-1960s. This groove-heavy release also represents a bridge of generations, featuring the masterful young guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Jamire Williams, who in addition to his quicksilver drumming is also a cutting edge producer blending the worlds of jazz and hip hop.
Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart: Ramshackle Serenade – 2014
The most enduring, telepathic organ trio in jazz, guitarist Bernstein, organist Goldings and drummer Stewart have set the standard for the last 25 years, carrying on this proud tradition. Each a respected bandleader, they are among the most influential figures on their respective instruments, and this album is their first studio recording in 12 years.
Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart perform in the Joe Henderson Lab 10/8-11. For more information, click here.