I Hear the Sound…of Jazz Organ

I love jazz history. I also love the sound of a Hammond B3 organ.

And I love playing one too!

I and perhaps many of you first experienced the unmistakable sound of this legendary instrument in church…the piercing wails that make you jump or the soothing tones that evoke all kinds of emotions are unforgettable and always recognizable.

A quick venture into the past…. In the beginning, traditional pipe and theater-style organs ruled the organ universe. However, an organ revolution began when Laurens Hammond introduced the electric Model A organ in 1935. This revolution escalated in 1955 with the first Model B3, which remained in production until 1975. Today, the Hammond B3 (or, its “A” or “C” cousin) reigns as King of Organs for jazz, gospel, blues and rock organists. As a matter of fact, you can hear the Hammond sound in pretty much ANY popular music genre. Coupled to a Leslie cabinet with its rotating horn and bass speakers, this instrument produces that sound (and I mean “THAT SOUND”) which is like no other. Even the best electronic simulations on the market are no match.

Fats Waller, the son of a Baptist preacher, is considered by many to be the pioneer of jazz organists. His early recordings feature him playing a custom Estey pipe organ, and for several years he was the theater organist at New York’s Lincoln Theater where he accompanied silent films and soloed during intermission. Most of us, however, are familiar with more recent jazz organ giants such as Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, “Dr.” Lonnie Smith, and the barefoot-pedalin’ Rhoda Scott – as well as a slew of others.

Fast forward to the present….Organists are still prominent on the jazz scene, such as Joey DeFrancesco and Roger Smith. Organ-rich combos such as Chicago’s Deep Blue Organ Trio are also making waves. Deep Blue Organ Trio’s chart-topping CD release “Wonderful” pays homage to Stevie Wonder; their music and existence celebrates African-American experiences through the classic jazz combo configuration of B3 organ, guitar, and drums.

On that note, I will “Hit the Road.”

PS: I play the organ in my socks.

Reference: Jazz Organ History, http://www.afana.org/jazzorgan.htm

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