Mozart referred to the organ as “the king of the instruments.” In his day, the sacred sounds of the pipe organ were found mostly in cathedrals. This leaves one to wonder what Wolfgang Amadeus would have thought of the much more portable Hammond organ, which started popping up in jazz clubs in the 1950s.
No synthesizer has ever been able to duplicate the organic sound of a Hammond B-3, with its rotating Leslie speaker. In the sixties, its use in Black churches coincided with its presence in jazz clubs throughout the country, thereby allowing a cross-pollination of musical influences. Thus, the spiritual sound developed in church blended with the funky riffs of the bop improviser. By using the instrument’s foot pedals, much of the work of a conventional rhythm section was economized. The guitar, however, proved to be the indispensable and vital companion to the sound of the Hammond B-3. Many great guitarists, including George Benson and Pat Martino came from trios and quartets led by masters of the B-3, including Brother Jack McDuff and Charles Earland.
The Hammond was adopted by Fats Waller as early as 1939, but Jimmy Smith emerged in 1955 as the instrument’s first international superstar. Smith’s many Blue Note albums brought the label wider recognition and influenced many great players who followed his recipe of organ, tenor sax, guitar and drums.
Smith’s style merged elements of the Black church with Rhythm and Blues and bebop sensibilities. He played a walking bass line with the instrument’s pedals while developing chordal accompaniment with his left hand to support the virtuosic technique of his right.
Check out the soulful energy on Smith’s 1965 recording of “Organ Grinder’s Swing” with guitarist Kenny Burrell and drummer Grady Tate.
The funky sounds of Jimmy McGriff, Groove Holmes and Shirley Scott all emerged in the ‘60s and they continue to influence today’s rising and established stars, including Joey DeFrancesco, who recorded with Smith in 2000 and again in 2005.
DeFrancesco has recorded over 30 albums as a leader and has worked as a sideman with John McLaughlin and Bobby Hutcherson.
He’s also an accomplished musician on trumpet and tenor sax and was one of the youngest musicians to be recruited by Miles Davis. In 1995, Joey helped ignite guitarist John McLaughlin’s version of “My Favorite Things.” He really locks into the rhythm with McLaughlin and drummer Elvin Jones.
In June of 2021, Mike LeDonne (who alternates albums featuring himself as a pianist and master of the Hammond B-3) dedicated his album “It’s All Your Fault,” to Dr. Lonnie Smith, another pioneer of the instrument.
LeDonne features his “Groover Quartet'' on three tracks, but it’s the big band tracks featuring arrangements by Dennis Mackrel that really showcase LeDonne’s ability to swing. As Mike told KCSM’s Pete Fallico, “With the organ if you don’t have ‘the feel,’ the whole band is screwed.”
Brian Charette has had several great albums for the Posi-tone and Steeple Chase labels. His latest offering, “Jackpot,” comes on Canada’s Cellar records and was recorded at the famed Van Gelder Studios. (The late Rudy Van Gelder recorded many of Jimmy Smith’s best efforts). Brian is joined by an all-star group, including Cory Weeds, Ed Cherry, and Bill Stewart. Check out “High Ball,” one of nine originals Charette wrote for this date.
So far, most of the tracks presented have been real soulful up-tempo tunes. But the Hammond B-3 doesn’t always have to cook. Sample this beautiful ballad from Caesar Frazier’s “Tenacity” CD, featuring guitarist Peter Bernstein.