Monday, October 5, 2015

Eight Organ Trio Albums You Should Hear

Jimmy Smith
The Hammond B-3 organ trio is one of the classic jazz combo formats, originating in the late 1940s with organists including Wild Bill Davis, Milt Herth, and Milt Buckner, and developed in taverns and lounges to provide maximum sonic impact with a minimum of musicians. Usually composed of an organist (who doubles as the bassist by utilizing the low end of the keyboard and the bass pedals), a drummer and a guitarist, the organ trio was at its prime period from the early 1950s through the late 60s, encompassing styles ranging from bebop and hard bop to soul-jazz, fusion and the avant-garde. In addition to those of the artists listed below, classic albums were led by organists Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, “Brother” Jack McDuff, Don Patterson, Charles Earland, “Big” John Patton, Melvin Rhyne, Richard "Groove" Holmes, and Baby Face Willette. Guitarists also favored the format, with great recordings released by Wes Montgomery, Howard Roberts, John Abercrombie, Kenny Burrell, Pat Martino, and George Benson.

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.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Five Things In The Jazz World This Week (9/28-10/2)

  • Two jazz legends left us this week: alto saxophonist Phil Woods (age 83) and saxophonist/bassist Wilton Felder (age 75) of The Crusaders.
  • National Endowment of the Arts, longtime supporters of the SFJAZZ Collective, celebrates its 50th Anniversary.
  • Chucho Valdés and young players celebrate the 40th anniversary of pioneering Havana group Irakere, bring revival tour to U.S.
  • Another Nina Simone documentary? The Amazing Nina Simone promises to be an even deeper exploration of the jazz and folk giant’s career.
  • Bass legend Dave Holland celebrates 69th Birthday at SFJAZZ with Zakir Hussain and friends.

A photo posted by SFJAZZ (@sfjazz) on

Monday, September 28, 2015

Five Things To Know About Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, and Bill Stewart

  1. A working band for over 20 years, Bernstein, Goldings and Stewart are truly a telepathic unit and the most enduring organ trio in jazz, recording eight albums under Goldings’ name, a studio record and live DVD under Bernstein’s name, and a pair credited to all three including their latest, Ramshackle Serenade
  2. Larry Goldings has released 18 albums as a leader and done sideman duty on hundreds of others. He is one of the most sought-after organists (and pianists) in jazz and pop music, performing and recording with artists ranging from Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux to Christina Aguilera and Elton John. Since 2001, he has worked steadily with legendary singer/songwriter James Taylor. And, he may know the true identity of Austrian pianist Hans Groiner
  3. A protégé of the great Jim Hall, guitarist Peter Bernstein gained early experience with masters Lou Donaldson and Jimmy Cobb, and worked extensively with Joshua Redman, Diana Krall and organist Melvin Rhyne. He’s led nine albums and made appearances on over 80. Hall described Bernstein as “the most impressive guitarist I’ve heard”
  4. Iowa-born Bill Stewart is one of the most original, identifiable and influential drummers in modern music. He began working with saxophone giant Joe Lovano while still in college, and had lengthy partnerships with guitarists John Scofield and Pat Metheny, pianists Marc Copland and Bill Carrothers, and dozens of others. He’s recorded five albums as a bandleader, including his two most recent releases that feature an unusual trio lineup of two keyboardists and drums
  5. DownBeat magazine describes the band this way: “This is a killer organ trio barrage that’s deep in the pocket. Bernstein, Goldings and Stewart have a natural feel for this music, laying down a groove that lets each soloist float across the tunes”
Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings and Bill Stewart perform in the Joe Henderson Lab 10/8-11. For more information, click here.

Friday, September 25, 2015

5 Things In The Jazz World This Week (9/25/15)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Jazz Connection to Michael Jackson

When the SFJAZZ Collective presents new arrangements of Michael Jackson’s music in October, they join the ranks of major jazz artists who have found inspiration and fertile ground for experimentation within the late King Of Pop’s oeuvre, going back to saxophonist Gary Bartz’ recording of “I Wanna Be Where You Are” on his NTU Troop album Juju Street Songs in 1972, the same year Jackson’s original hit the charts. Miles Davis recorded the Thriller classic “Human Nature” on his 1985 release You’re Under Arrest, and pianist Vijay Iyer deconstructed the tune on both his 2010 recording Solo and 2012’s Accelerando. Organist Joey DeFrancesco recorded an entire album devoted to Jackson’s music entitled Never Can Say Goodbye, and other artists including Lester Bowie, Mal Waldron, Stanley Jordan, Ramsey Lewis and Chico Freeman have recorded versions of Jackson’s memorable songs.

Fonce Mizell
Michael Jackson was a pop superstar from the time he was old enough to sing, joining the Jackson Brothers band at the age of seven and sharing lead vocal duties with his brother Jermaine a year later, when the band name was changed to the Jackson 5. Although Jackson’s music and that of his siblings had little to do with the improvisational basis that marks the jazz tradition, the Jackson 5’s early hit-making career at Motown had established connections to the jazz world, including the utilization of Motown’s stable of jazz-associated sessions musicians such as keyboardist Joe Sample, bassist (and saxophonist) Wilton Felder, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and drummer Earl Palmer.
A primary member of the production and songwriting team working with the Jackson 5 at that time, known widely as The Corporation, was Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell; a composer, keyboardist, and producer who co-wrote and performed on nearly all of the group’s early hits including “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” “Maybe Tomorrow,” “One More Chance,” “The Love You Save,” and “Mama’s Pearl.” Mizell studied with jazz trumpet great Donald Byrd as a young man, and when Motown relocated to Los Angeles from Detroit, Mizell and his brother Larry began their own production company that worked closely with a number of the era’s greatest jazz artists, releasing a procession of albums that defined the soul-jazz sound of the early 1970s including Byrd’s Black Byrd and Street Lady, Gary Bartz’s Music Is My Sanctuary, and flutist Bobbi Humphrey’s Blacks and Blues.

Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones
On the set of Sidney Lumet’s 1978 musical The Wiz, Jackson met producer and composer Quincy Jones, who was doing arrangements for the film’s score, and enlisted Jones to produce his next solo album – a project that would change the course of Jackson’s career and make music history over their three album partnership.
Jones began his musical life prodigiously, beginning as a trumpeter at 12 and playing with a National Reserve band by 14 – the same year he met a young Ray Charles, who would be a huge inspiration to the budding musician and composer. Jones was fully immersed in the jazz world by his late teens, touring Europe with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, and later with bebop pioneer and trumpet giant Dizzy Gillespie. By the time the two music giants met, Jones had already gained fame for producing and arranging Frank Sinatra’s albums with the Count Basie Orchestra and composing the soundtracks of In Cold Blood, In the Heat of the Night, and The Italian Job. Jones was responsible for some of the most memorable tunes in popular culture, from “Soul Bossa Nova,” a 1962 tune that became synonymous with Mike Myers’s hugely successful Austin Powers franchise, to 1973’s “The Streetbeater,” theme to the iconic TV comedy Sanford & Son. He is a seven-time Oscar nominee, holds the record for most GRAMMY nominations at 79, was named an NEA Jazz Master in 2008, and was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

Jackson’s creative partnership with Quincy Jones was one of the most fruitful in music history, producing three albums that stand not only as the high watermark of the singer’s career, but of American popular culture. The compositions on all three records bear Jones’ stamp of sophistication, featuring guest sidemen from the jazz world including guitarists Eric Gale and Larry Carlton, keyboardist George Duke, saxophonist Tom Scott, drummer N’dugu Chancler, and jazz organ titan Jimmy Smith, who provided a soulful solo on the title track of Bad. Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad won eleven GRAMMY awards among them and sold in excess of 120 million copies combined, with Thriller remaining the best-selling album of all time in the U.S.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Billy Strayhorn Centennial: 5 Deep Cuts

Portrait of Billy Strayhorn
William Gottlieb Collection (c. 1946)

Billy Strayhorn's centennial is coming up in November! We're getting the celebration started early with Allan Harris Quartet with Eric Reed's Tribute (10/1-4). And to ready ourselves for the music of one of America's greatest composers, we've dug deep into Strayhorn's discography to bring you five deep cuts you must hear.

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Most Strayhorn fans are well aware of "The Star-Crossed Lovers" off Such Sweet Thunder (a suite very personal to Strayhorn, an avid reader of William Shakespeare). However, this Johnny Hodges feature was actually recorded a few years earlier on Hodges' Creamy under the title "Pretty Little Girl."

Late in his career, Strayhorn gravitated toward classical composition. "Suite for Horn and Piano" might be the most beautiful thing Strayhorn ever wrote. Although classical in form, it is unmistakably Strayhorn in its dense harmony and ponderous, gorgeous melody.

While "Lush Life" is without a doubt his most famous composition, this lesser-known recording features Strayhorn himself on piano and voice. It's far from perfect. His voice cracks, and is out of tune at times. But this matter-of-fact, conversational rendition captures the essence of the song more than any other recording.

Strayhorn wrote "Upper Manhattan Medical Group" for the medical staff (in particular Duke Ellington's personal physician, Dr. Arthur Logan, a dear friend) who took care of him after his cancer diagnosis in 1964. Ellington & His Orchestra recorded "U.M.M.G" on ...And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967) shortly after Strayhorn's death.

Strayhorn was especially talented at writing ballads. "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" stands as one of his most beautiful ballads, in particular a 1961 recording done in Paris, featuring the Paris String Quartet and Strayhorn himself on piano (originally released on The Peaceful Side in 1963).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Modern Jazz Quartet's Tribute To Django Reinhardt

One month after Django Reinhardt passed (May 16, 1953), the Modern Jazz Quartet (Milt Jackson, vibraphone; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; Kenny Clarke, drums) entered the studio to record its third album for Prestige Records. The initial tracks put to wax included two Lewis compositions—"The Queen's Fancy" and "Delauney's Dilemma"—as well as standards "Autumn In New York" (Vernon Duke) and "But Not for Me" (George & Ira Gershwin). Over a year passed before the second session (December 23, 1954) when the MJQ laid down Lewis' iconic title track, "Django" (a tribute to the gypsy jazz legend), as well as "One Bass Hit" (Dizzy Gillespie) and "Milano" (Lewis). The MJQ added Lewis' "La Ronde Suite" a few weeks later (January 9, 1955) to complete the album, first released on two ten-inch albums, before the full LP dropped in 1956. To date, Django remains one of MJQ's most celebrated albums, in large part due to the popularity of its titular tribute to Reinhardt. In fact, "Django" has since been recorded by Grant Green, Vince Guaraldi and even Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks self-titled debut album.

Bay Area multi-instrumentalist Smith Dobson V plays material from the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Django for SFJAZZ's monthly Hotplate Tribute on Septemeber 24, 2015.

Monday, September 21, 2015

PLAYLIST: 15 Active Jazz-Rock Groups

From Hiromi's head-banging math-jazz and Mehliana's (Brad Mehldau & Mark Guiliana) atmospheric fusion, to Marc Ribot's edgy Ceramic Dog and Darcy James Argue's indie-rock big band Secret Society—here's a compilation of 15 groups in the intersection of rock and jazz you should hip yourself to.

Hiromi's The Trio Project performs at the SFJAZZ Center September 24-27. Dave Holland performs with Zakir Hussain October 1-4. The Brad Mehldau Trio performs November 10-11. The Bad Plus (Joshua Redman) performs December 10-13.