Written by Bernie Brink
This month, we are digging the soulful sounds of the Hammond B3 organ on Jazz 93.5. Debuted in 1935, the Hammond organ was developed to offer small community churches an inexpensive alternative to the traditional – and much more costly – pipe organ. But with so many jazz and blues musicians growing up in the church (both literally and musically), it didn’t take long for the Hammond organ to be adopted by jazz players as a primary instrument. The timing of its introduction also coincided with another musical shift: the popularity of Swing-era big bands began to wane as their economic viability was threatened by the Great Depression. The orchestrational possibilities of the Hammond organ could fill a similar role, club owners found they could hire an organ combo for much less than a full big band, and thus it was also dubbed the “little big band” early on.
Many famous jazz musicians were early adopters. Harlem stride pianist Fats Waller made his living at least partially playing the Hammond organ for silent films, and pianist and bandleader William “Count” Basie studied the organ under Waller. Among these early adopters, it was Philadelphia-born Jimmy Smith who put the Hammond B3 on the map when he began recording in the 1950s, adapting the revolutionary new Bebop sound for organ. Utilizing the full capabilities of the instrument, Smith took it upon himself to play bass lines with the foot pedals and accompany himself chordally while also playing melodically with his right hand, so in his trio he employed only a guitarist and a drummer, thus inadvertently setting the standard instrumentation of an organ combo. Throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, many more organ players came to the fore, and not only in the realm of jazz. Several artists found crossover success, like Brother Jack McDuff and Reuben Wilson, while Booker T. Jones (Booker T. and the MG’s) and Art Neville (The Meters) influenced countless soul, R&B, and rock groups for decades.
The tradition continues today with incredible players like Joey DeFrancesco, a Jimmy Smith disciple who has further incorporated the post-bop language of Chick Corea and others; Barbara Dennerlein, who connects European avant garde sensibilities to the soul jazz tradition; and Akiko Tsuruga, a fabulous straight-ahead player from Osaka, Japan who continued to weave the Hammond B3 into a variety of jazz contexts.
Following the trend of marrying jazz with soul, R&B, and hip hop idioms, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio continues the super funky soul-jazz tradition, and you can feel the visceral groove of this hard-swinging group when they stop here in Colorado Springs later this month, appearing at the Black Sheep on September 28th. If you can dig it, you’ll also want to be sure to tune into Jazz 93.5 on Saturdays at 5:00 PM for an hour of organ-led jazz with Dan Adams. Don’t miss it!