Photography: Karin van Gilst

The Night Trippers

Trumpeter Ellister van der Molen finally fulfilled her dream of visiting the prominent cradle of jazz, New Orleans. “Being in the jazz business may equate with blood, sweat and tears but it remains a privilege to be a musician, travel some place and fit right in. Especially in New Orleans.”

As the controversial country star-turned-hilarious-mystery-writer Kinky Friedman said about the dead New Yorker: “He’s not really dead, he’s just currently working on another project.” A similar thing could be said about the New Orleanian. His funeral may seem your trial but the next thing you know he’s dancing on the ceiling of his casket.

New Orleans is rhythm, movement, jubilation. In New Orleans, they don’t play a certain genre, they make music. The melting pot of New Orleans has fascinated myriad musicians and music lovers, not least Dutch trumpeter Ellister van der Molen. Last year, Van der Molen and her long-time jazz buddy, pianist and organist Bob Wijnen, spent an exciting week in The Big Easy. NOLA, sophomore effort of their band RED, which also features tenor saxophonist Gideon Tazelaar and drummer Wouter Kühne, was presented on November 28. NOLA comes as a stylish EP-sized book of drawings by Quirine Reijman and includes a hi-res download of the album that was recorded in front of a small live audience at Muziekomroep in Hilversum by Sound Liasion with one mike, which gives it an incredibly transparant and lively analog vibe. The process brings to mind the pioneering “live at the studio club” recordings of Cannonball Adderley. NOLA is an enchanting evocation of New Orleans music culture. Read the review here.

The Hague is the appropriate meeting point for Van der Molen. More specifically, her practice space in the MOOOF building, where she is at ease amidst an off-white grand piano, keyboard and drum kit and original sketches of NOLA’s artwork. And lest we forget, her trumpet and flugelhorn. Too bad the building is turned over to project developers, who will make it into an apartment block of a brand-new yuppie quarter and see to it that every artist has left the premises at the end of this already troublesome year. Van der Molen was born in The Hague and auditioned at the talent faculty of the Conservatory at age 10, playing Moanin’ in duet with her father. Van der Molen chuckles: “I passed on one condition: that I promised not to play jazz anymore!”

She made her mark as a young, prizewinning talent of classical music but after a frustrating period of embouchure problems returned to her first love of jazz under the wings of Hague staples as Simon Rigter and Eric Ineke. She’s a big fan of legends as Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and her mentor Ack van Rooyen. The residential city’s long-standing reputation as (Hard) Bop City #1 has not been lost on Van der Molen. “Evidently, the cliché of The Hague as the mainstream jazz epicenter is the truth. But we shouldn’t forget that it harbors a lot of artists that perform in other styles as well, such as Wolfert Brederode, who is an ECM recording artist. By the way, recently I was featured on The Hague Songbook Exchange on the Challenge label, which linked jazz and electronic artists from The Hague, having them play each other’s compositions. It finds me dangerously close to free form.”

(Clockwise from l. to r: RED: Ellister van der Molen, Gideon Tazelaar, Wouter Kühne and Bob Wijnen; NOLA – Sound Liaison 2020; Ahooo! – RED 2018)

She speaks warmly of life in her hometown. The subject of New Orleans puts a similar twinkle in her eyes. “I had a couple of new projects on my mind; Latin boogaloo and the culture of New Orleans, which I had never been to before. As it happens, the audiophile label Sound Liaison gave me a call, asking if I had any plans, which kind of won me over. I always wanted to go to New Orleans because of its jazz history and its major jazz legends. Teaming up with Bob was perfect. To be honest, I hesitated about traveling down there as a woman on my own. Bob is half-blind, thus would most likely neither gamble on going single. We’ve known each other for so long and are like twins.”

Van der Molen and Wijnen were quick off the mark. “There’s this weekly magazine, Off Beat, which announces every gig in town. We were in New Orleans in November 2019. There’s live music 24/7, mostly concentrated in two or three streets, predominantly Frenchman Street. We saw drummer Herlin Riley at Snug Harbor. We sat in with Delfeayo Marsalis and his big band. And we played with the legendary local hero, drummer Johnny Vidacovich at the Maple Leaf. We went to jam sessions. In New Orleans, it’s rude to refuse to sit in. They’ll say: ‘You play trumpet? Alright, play!’ Of course, there’s the second line of the brass bands, which usually are not announced. You find yourself on a street where everybody is movin’ and groovin’ and dancin’. It starts pleasantly but after a while things tend to turn shady, with joints and booze and such, which usually is the moment to grab a cab to a better neighborhood. Evidently, there’s still a lot of poverty.”

Hurricane Katrina was not only a human disaster but also a blow to cultural life for the simple fact that many musicians were evacuated. But the musical pulse, if anything a message of resilience and hope in the black community, never completely faltered and post-Katrina gradually regained steam. “New Orleans music remains a strange and exhilarating brew. You have brass bands, traditional NO music, dance music, blues, funk, jazz. I have the impression that there’s a lot of overlap. Musicians do not stick to one genre but play in different bands. That’s probably because they have affinity with the tradition, otherwise they would not have been in New Orleans. Without giving a moral judgment, this is opposite to the suit-tie-handclap-tradition and pigeonholes of Europe and New York. In New Orleans everyone mingles. It is a very lively scene.”

Clockwise from l. to r: It Ain’t My Fault; Just A Closer Walk With Thee; Ahooo!)

Van der Molen, a levelheaded woman who sells a minimum of poker-faced funny asides for maximum effect, a balanced and expressive trumpeter and flugelhorn player who emotes with warmth and the profound sound of apricot, peach, tangerine, thoughtfully reflects on NOLA’s list of songs that she picked and arranged in cooperation with Wijnen. “No New Orleans album would be complete without Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton, The Meters. We wanted to alternate between straightforward interpretations and more transformative stuff. For me, playing along the structure of the fanfare, this good old-fashioned route of theme, middle-section, modulation, theme and coda paradoxically was very liberating. On the other hand, we re-imagined traditionals like Just A Closer Walk With Me. Our altered chords move along that song’s unique ascending bass line. We were worried if it might be too far-fetched. It turned out alright? Thanks. Then there’s Blues My Naughtie Sweetie Gives To Me, with the literal chord sequence but a change of rhythm. We were not familiar with It Ain’t My Fault. Everybody was playing it, night after night. Apparently, this tune of drummer Smokey Johnson, one of the legendary local heroes, is a Mardi Gras hit. This kind of summed up the trip for me.”

“You’ll notice, at the end of the booklet, there’s a drawing of a cab driver. That is a reflection of my original composition Ahooo! – which is sort of my own way of saying ‘see you later!’ – and our homebound trip to the airport. We were just chatting with the taxi driver and asked if he played music as well. ‘Yeah’, he said, ‘I rap.’ So we said, ‘Won’t you please let us hear something?!’ Off he went into a supple free style flow on a beat from his deck. I really love the image Quirine made from our personal photo album. The concept of the rear-view mirror especially. It does not only reflect the end of the trip but is a metaphor for our band RED as well. We started this thing with Ahooo! three years ago. It has been a great journey but I feel that nowadays we play better than ever. The juices flow, we’re comfortable with one another. It’s a great feeling.”

Ellister van der Molen

The Hague-based Ellister van der Molen is one of the country’s outstanding trumpet and flugelhorn players. She plays in a variety of settings, from soul-jazz outfit RED to her modern jazz groups of Ellister van der Molen Trio/Quartet/Quintet to the Latin/West African-tinged Modji. She is trumpeter in the Jazz Orchestra Of The Concertgebouw, Glenn Miller Orchestra and Dublin Jazz Orchestra. Van der Molen played with Rein de Graaff, Eric Ineke, Ack van Rooyen, Benjamin Herman, Sam Most, Tiny Thompson, Suzan Veneman and Peter Beets, among others.

Selected discography:

Triplicate, Three And One (Self-released 2012)
Ellister van der Molen, Smalls NYC (2014)
New York Round Midnight, New York Round Midnight (Maxanter 2015)
RED, Ahooo!!! (2018)
RED, NOLA (2020)

Bob Wijnen is a mainstay on the Hague scene and sought-after pianist and organist in various modern jazz settings. Check out his record as a leader NY Unforseen with guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Billy Drummond here.

Go to RED here.

Find NOLA on Sound Liaison here.

Mike LeDonne

Funk You Too!

Mike LeDonne’s love affair with the organ goes back to his childhood. “I love to make people dance. Well, at least make them feel like dancing.

For a hard-working jazz musician from New York that has just finished a tightly scheduled tour in The Netherlands and Germany, Mike LeDonne (62) looks remarkably sprightly. His prickly grey beard underlines clear brown eyes. The baritone voice signifies warmth, the smooth flow of his speech plenty of confidence. Aside from his acclaimed career as a pianist and organist, LeDonne runs the Disability Pride Parade, raising funds and creating awareness for the cause of the disabled in the USA. The benefit was inspired five years ago by Mary, LeDonne’s daughter, who is non-verbal and legally blind. LeDonne speaks about her candidly and affectionately.

LeDonne, modern-day piano master who worked with legends such as Milt Jackson, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie, sustains a career as both pianist and organist. LeDonne’s Groover Quartet – including the alternating line up of Eric Alexander, Vincent Herring, Peter Bernstein and Joe Farnsworth – has been enjoying a residency of 15 years at New York City’s club Smoke. A remarkable feat, considering the required differing approach of playing acoustic piano and the electric, tone-wheel-driven Hammond B3 organ.

LeDonne talks about the beginning of his fascination with the organ and funky music while hanging out endlessly at the music store of his father in Bridgeport, Connecticut, how Brother Jack McDuff inspired him to add the organ to his professional life, about heroes like Wild Bill Davis and Don Patterson and some of the organ jazz records that inspired LeDonne to fulfill his calling as premier jazz organist.

FM: “When did you start playing organ?”
MLD: “My father was a jazz musician and he owned a music store. He had a lot of classic jazz records and organ jazz records. I loved the sound of the organ. I listened to Tower Of Power, who had Chester Thompson on organ, Sly Stone and James Brown. Sly and James Brown played organ too, of course! I started out on the Farfisa organ when I was 10. I had a little band going. We did gigs. And we rehearsed in the basement of my father’s store. That’s how I got seriously hooked on making music. One summer a crowd of neighborhood kids were dancing in front of the window. That felt so good! It got me thinking, ‘this is what I wanna do, make people dance!’ As a matter of fact, that’s still how I feel. I love to make people dance. Well, at least make them ‘feel’ like dancing.”

FM: “You grew up in Bridgeport, Connecticut. What was it like?”
MLD: “It was an industrial town and benefited from the World War II industry. But in the fifties, urban renewal passed by Bridgeport. It had good neighborhoods, but pretty funky parts as well. I loved it. There were a lot of clubs and good r&b bands.”

FM: “Sounds like a good breeding ground for soul jazz.”
MLD: “I don’t like that term. It’s about the commercial side. It’s patronizing for all-round, hard-working musicians. All jazz is soul jazz. But I do understand what it tries to convey. It’s about music that comes from experience. In my case, instead of playing How High The Moon, I’ll play Natalie Cole’s This Will Be An Everlasting Love, because it is a great tune that I grew up with. At Smoke I’ll play Michael Jackson’s Rock With You. Our crowd is a mix of old and young. The youngsters know the tune and they go, ‘hey, I didn’t know jazz could be like this!’. I’ve instilled it with swing, of course. My music is underlined by the black American aesthetic. It’s hard to explain. A certain kind of soulfulness. I played with both Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Two extremes of vibraphone playing, same aesthetic… It’s a kind of magic. It’s the feeling Miles Davis describes when he listened to Billy Eckstine’s band with Charlie Parker: ‘It gets all up inside your body’.”

FM: “The groove.”
MLD: “Yeah, groove causes energy, people are attracted to the rhythm. The hard rhythm is a first for me, either on piano or organ, then comes the melody, the solo’s, from there everything has to go up and up.”

FM: “The Groover Quartet – what’s in a name – has been playing at club Smoke for almost 15 years. Plenty of time to polish the pocket.”
MLD: “That’s right! We’re a bit like the Blue Note groups of lore that played together constantly, with the rhythm sections that swing like mad. What we’re doing is not going to re-invent the wheel, but playing together is almost like telepathy and people respond to that, I think.”

FM: “You first made a name for yourself on the piano, the organ came later on.”
MLD: “Brother Jack McDuff is the reason that I play organ at all. I had stopped playing organ in college. I had become your typical idiot college kid immersed in ‘complex’ piano stuff. Then I moved to New York. My friend Jim Snidero, the saxophonist, played with McDuff. He took me to a gig and told McDuff that I played organ. So Jack asked me to sit in. Oh my God! I hadn’t played organ in five years. On drums was the legendary organ jazz drummer, Joe Dukes. I played a blues and McDuff liked it. He said that I was a good organ player and urged me to pursue a career as an organist. You better listen to the man! So I went and bought a new organ. That was the beginning of my career in organ jazz.”

FM: “What’s your secret? I mean, the piano and organ require a very different touch and approach.”
MLD: “I’ve been doing it for so long, it just feel natural. There is a difference, of course. You don’t control the sound with your fingers on the organ, the power is built-in. The piano requires subtle muscle control and needs power. My touch is pretty percussive on the piano and I love to belt out the bass lines on the organ pedals. But at the same time the walking figures on the organ keyboard have to be relaxed to stay in tempo. I probably play incorrectly, because I’m self-taught on the rather complicated organ. You need about four brains to play it!”

FM: “There is such a lot of different stuff going on in your style, on recordings but live especially. The orchestral sweep of Wild Bill Davis, the bebop approach of Jimmy Smith and Don Patterson. And you go from whispers to clusters of crazy notes that make me think of what they infamously called Coltrane’s sheets of sound.”
MLD: “I love the whole history of styles. I’m fond of the orchestral approach of Wild Bill Davis, I love to shout! The other guy I have to give it up to as someone who inspired me to explore is Lonnie Smith. He covers all bases. That made me think, why not? Why get stuck in one bag? I think my life with my daughter also has something to do with that. I come from a humbler place. I serve the music and love to give the audience the whole gamut. It’s not easy, I can tell you that! It has taken a lot of practice and experience. You have to be fully committed if you want to, for instance, incorporate that full drawbar orchestral stuff into your playing. There’s no place to hide.”

FM: “Who are some of your other influences besides Jimmy Smith?”
MLD: “You mentioned Don Patterson. He’s the guy that Jimmy Smith said was the greatest new organist he’d heard. His run of Prestige records is fantastic. It’s a shame that those records aren’t properly re-issued. Patterson had a great understanding with drummer Billy James. That was a unique combination. Patterson is underrated, he really was an innovator. He did things like crossing over the left hand while the right played the melody. The left might be switching chords around or even flutter a chord, a weird effect. I love that stuff. It’s churchy in a way, it has that black American aesthetic I mentioned earlier.”

“I love Melvin Rhyne. He probably was the greatest bebop organ player of all time. He was Milt Jackson’s favorite organist. And Milt didn’t like the organ! Rhyne doesn’t wham you in the head. He’s a horn-like player, stays in the middle register. His sound is dry. He’s all about substance. A big influence on me. I love Charles Earland. I heard his records on the radio but that was nothing compared to Earland live. I became a complete devotee. I once saw Brother Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and Charles Earland on the same bill. McDuff and McGriff were in their prime and they were swinging their butts of, believe me. But I have to say, the swing of Earland was of another level. He belted out that bass line. My bass line is primarily influenced by Charles Earland. I like that heavy, in-the-pocket line.”

FM: “What are your favorite organ jazz records?”
MLD: “Let me think, there are a lot of them. The Prestige records of Don Patterson are high on the list. Wild Bill Davis and Johnny Hodges did tons of great stuff. And the way Davis plays on Blues For New Orleans from Duke Ellington’s New Orleans Suite record is fantastic. He was also a great accompanist of singers. That blues record with Ella Fitzgerald (These Are The Blues, FM) is great. Man, Wild Bill Davis was such a deep artist. Much more than just a good-time big band guy.”

“There’s Jimmy Smith of course. The record that hooked me as a kid was Live At The Village Gate. To me, I Got A Woman and The Champ sounded like they came from a James Brown record! The sounds he got out of the organ intrigued me. I spent hours figuring them out.”

FM: “You played with the late Grady Tate, who was featured on many of Jimmy Smith’s albums.”
MLD: “Yes. Fantastic drummer. By the way, I also had a steady gig with saxophonist Percy France.”

FM: From the Home Cookin’ album.
MLD: “That’s the one.”

FM: “Really? Jazz fans have always wondered what happened to him after his sole performance on that album.”
MLD: “A great player, not just a groover. He was a hip harmonist and great bebop player. I played with him many times in New York. He had a stroke of ridiculous bad luck. France suffered from cancer but recovered. Then, in a twisted turn of events, he got hit by a car and passed away.”

FM: That’s very tragic.”
MLD: “Yes, it is.”

Mike LeDonne

One of the most talented pianists and organists of his generation, Mike LeDonne (62) has worked with a who’s who of legends and contemporary class acts as Eric Alexander, Peter Bernstein, Ron Carter, Doc Cheatham, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, George Coleman, Benny Golson, Benny Goodman, Tom Harrell, Bobby Hutcherson, Milt Jackson, Hank Jones, Sonny Rollins, Stanley Turrentine and Cedar Walton. He’s on more than 100 albums as a sideman and has recorded prolifically as a leader since 1988. The Groover Quartet documents LeDonne’s lifelong fascination with the Hammond organ. LeDonne has teached at Juilliard School Of Music and is one of the founders of the Jazz For Teen program in Newark, New Jersey.

Selected discography:

As a leader:
‘Bout Time (Criss Cross 1988)
To Each His Own (Double Time 1998)
Smokin’ Out Loud (Savant 2004)
The Groover (with The Groover Quartet – Savant 2009)
From The Heart (with The Groover Quartet – Savant 2018)

As a sideman:
Milt Jackson, Sa Va Bella (Qwest 1997)
Benny Golson, Remembering Clifford (Milestone 1998)
Gary Smulyan, The Real Deal (Reservoir 2002)
Jim Snidero, Tippin’ (Savant 2007)
Cory Weeds, Condition Blue: The Music Of Jackie McLean (Cellar Live 2014)

Go to the website of Mike LeDonne here.

Read about Disability Pride Parade here.

Carlo de Wijs

Dutch Design

Carlo de Wijs is crazy. Not as a bat but as the fanatic organist that is dying to take the beloved Hammond B3 to the next level. “It’s a movement I’m concerned with.”

The 56-year old Dutch organist, who recently has found a home in the center of Dordrecht in a neatly-furnished house with a studio in the cellar, is also crazy about Rhoda Scott, a pivotal personality in the development of his career. “I had been playing the electronic organ from age 7. But then my father, who was a parttime amateur musician, brought home an album from Rhoda Scott. Her sound immediately grabbed me by the throat. I thought, this is what I want to do. From age 12, all I did was try to imitate the records of Rhoda, which were presented to me by my music teacher. I even went to Paris to buy a double album of hers! She is my first great love of the instrument. A beautiful woman too. I was madly in love with her! And you know what? Now she is a friend of mine. She kind of knew what I was up to with the Modular Hammond, did a little tour and came to the Codarts institute I’m associated with to do a workshop and talk with fans. Talkin’ she did. Rhoda is a very amiable lady of 79. We had long conversations night after night.”

De Wijs is a man with a plan, possessed with a distinct penchant for tickling the senses of the establishment, eager to seize opportunities and stretch limits. Certainly the musical challenges for the young De Wijs of the late 80s and early 90s, who apprenticed with accomplished Dutch mainstream jazz fellows like tenor saxophonist Harry Verbeke, bass player Hein van de Geyn and drummer John Engels, came from a rather surprising scene. “Hans Dulfer really was a gas. I had graduated from Conservatory with Swing Support, a funky jazz band with about three soccer teams on stage. That was a pretty grandiose affair, I was inexperienced and impulsive, but our subsequent tour worked out surprisingly well. (Swing Support is still the current name of the studio production company of De Wijs, FM) But Dulfer was something else. We formed a band with drummer Hans Eykenaar and guitarist Walter de Graaf. A jam band with hi-octane energy. We once did a marathon performance of 24 hours!”

“That is how I met his daughter, Candy Dulfer. She occasionally joined us on stage. She subsequently recruited me. Candy had just hit the big time. We traveled the globe like a major league act. That was really great. Then I started thinking that it wouldn’t last forever. Nothing lasts forever in the music business. So I started D’Wys, a monicker for my own soul and pop-jazz output. That was a really successful period, especially my cooperation with the ladies of Voices Of Soul. But instead of putting my Hammond playing at the service of a group identity, I wanted to have voices, harmony and concepts stimulating the development of my Hammond identity.”

Something was brewing in the back of his mind. The Hammond organ has been celebrating a resurgence once again. But the popular B3 series, brought to the fore by innovators like Jimmy Smith and Larry Young, fundamental to the reign of soul jazz in the sixties and, after a lull in the 70s and 80s, omnipresent in jazz and popular music, is an endangered species, much like the sable tooth tiger. It isn’t exactly clear how many were produced from 1955 till 1975 and how many are around today. And although De Wijs will find out one of these days – he has access to the original Hammond production administration in order to write his PhD on the Hammond organ – the number roughly resembles the amount of inhabitants of the Winesburg, Ohio that lies sleeping just below the brightly lighted big city you live in. Clones are superb, but digital imitations. So how can you update a vintage instrument for the 21st century? An intriguing question that De Wijs gladly grabs by the nuts. No, you won’t see the soft-spoken, slender organist chew on a cigar like the A-Team’s Hannibal and coolly state, ‘I love it when a plan comes together.’ He is pleased when something succeeds, rather jubilant, but instead of resting on his laurels, De Wijs is thinking of the next step. “Let’s just say that with everything I do, I’m presenting opportunities, offering solutions and ways to go.”

His PhD research for Codarts more or less points the way. “It’s called The Micro Dynamics Of Musical Innovation: history and the future of the Hammond organ. It’s about the stimulants of innovation and how to keep innovation going, centered around my core of interest, the Hammond organ. Now, Laurens Hammond was a brilliant fellow, an engineer and inventor who built a big company as a clockmaker in the thirties. But obviously, every innovator deals with the signs of the times. The signs of the times, regardless of the specific skills and special intellect of the innovator, are the actors of innovation. In this case, for instance, the Depression Era. Hammond was eager to find something else instead of the overflowing clock market and the government gladly granted Hammond’s application for a patent of the tone wheel organ, expecting many new jobs. Furthermore, new technical possibilities and ideas about marketing, the upbringing of Laurens Hammond, the role of his associate William Lahey and that of musicians of many creeds and fashions were fundamental stimulants of innovation.”

(Clockwise from left to right: Laurens Hammond; Rhoda Scott; Jimmy Smith)

“Does the thesis concretely include my beliefs regarding the future of the Hammond organ? Well, more of less. It’s scientific research about innovation, not a pamphlet. I have three more years to go! So I can’t reveal all of the content. But between the lines one may find suggestions as to how to update your product for the future. In this case, to stabilize and further develop the current positive Hammond climate. It may look as if Hammond is doing fine. Organ music is quite popular and the instrument is used in all genres. But the company definitely needs innovation in order to survive. When I introduced my ideas to Codarts, there was a lot of skepticism. Carlo’s that guy with a great hobby. Now I have supporters that acknowledge the merit of my research and the value of the concept and benchmarks.”

But De Wijs is not a professor. By his own account, a goodly professor gently led him through the desert of scientific research and thesis construction. De Wijs is a musician. And the demonstration of his philosophy on his Modular Hammond on the day of the interview is thoroughly instructive, if rather puzzling too. Seated on his bench, he looks less an organist than a pilot behind the dashboard of a Boeing 747. And he dashes from one knob to the other like he’s David Copperfield trying new tricks in his practice room. A staggering sight! Basically the Modular Hammond, developed with the help of, among others, Hammond technician Sjaak van Oosterhout, the ‘McGyver’ of De Wijs’s odyssee, is a hybrid of analogue and digital information. New technology is signaled through the unique tone wheel construction and routed back through the organ’s tube amplifier and Leslie speaker. The keyboards, keys and drawbars send MIDI data, separated from each other and thus creating a audio matrix that can be programmed at the operator’s will. The organ is connected with a modular synth, modifier system and computer software, which offers opportunities to sample, loop and manipulate sound while playing in real time. The system is underlined by separately amplified Moog bass technology in order to play independent bass lines.

It’s hard to believe that toying with his instrument once more or less started with implementing a Black & Decker drill in support of the organ’s transit system. Above the crunchy, creepy, sighing or booming sounds underscored by the funky runs or dense voicings he now plays off the cuff on his vintage and modified B3 in his studio, De Wijs will loudly say things like, ‘Listen, I’ve got the acoustic piano’s sustain pedal running through the Leslie speaker, that’s unique!’ or ‘Do you know of the Novacord? Hammond’s other invention built on tube amplification instead of tone wheels? We have programmed it in Ableton, which was really a bizarre experience for the guys of the Hammond company!’.

(Clockwise from left to right: Carlo de Wijs – New Hammond Sound; Harry Verbeke/Carlo de Wijs Quartet – Mo de Bo; D’Wys – First Moves)

The goal of all this seeming wizardry is not tech for tech’s sake. “Absolutely not. It is a complex, continuing experimental process, but it’s still all about the music. This is a Hammond organ that has left the cradle of convention. A stepping stone. And inspiration, hopefully, for the younger generation of musicians, not only in jazz, but in pop, hiphop, electro. It is an invitation to make fresh choices of sound, a gadget paradise designed for creativity. At least I hope it works out that way. I’m also concerned with adding a third component: image. I’m very busy working this out with my buddy, drummer Jordi Geuens. We’ve made video clips with Job van Nuenen, where images correspond with the music and concept. We’re going to take it a step further in live performances, running images through the organ as well, in real time. This way the image will be the third band member.”

That’s much more than 74 miles away from mainstream jazz, the groove and grease of lore. Even from the clean contemporary non-smoking venues that present jazz, theatre or comedy for the loaded babyboom generation. “Yes, I’m pretty much of on a wild tangent, have been experimenting extremely for the last few years. Generally, I have been rather invisible for jazz fans. My concept is jazz-friendly but ready-made too, especially perhaps, for other genres and audiences. For me as an artist, this fact makes for a relatively hazardous transition from a stable fan base to a more eclectic and younger audience. I’m traveling new ground here, it’s quite scary! I imagine me and Jordi playing more fashionable venues, like electronic music festivals. Quite a liberating prospect. But at the same time, looks and sounds deceive. This music and concept hasn’t appeared out of the blue. They’re grounded not only in my special interest in the Hammond machine, but in my experience as an artist as well. Above all, I would say. I was immensily stimulated by my musical heroes.”

Perhaps like all inspired, serious journeymen, the young De Wijs wanted to become ‘the best organist of the world.’ A healthy yet romantic outlook that soon developed into the more level-headed aspiration to form a distinct personality under the wings of ‘the gods’. In the case of De Wijs: Jimmy Smith, Rhoda Scott, Joe Zawinul, Eddy Louiss, Quincy Jones and Prince, among others. “You’ll always hear Jimmy Smith in my playing, even during the wildest experiments. No matter how excellent his followers were, he’s the boss of mainstream organ jazz. At the other side of the spectrum, there’s keyboard player Joe Zawinul. He’s my greatest inspiration in the search of a New Hammond Sound. Zawinul dedicated his life to this kind of experiment in a more complex era, since the technology was more primitive. It was amazing how he found his own voice with all that equipment on stage. His son was a wizzkid and had to solder more than one connection between Rhodes, Arp, pedal or mixer. Lest we forget, it required the original vision and endless creativity of master musician Joe Zawinul to squeeze viable artistic statements from the gear. He’s a unique musician that defies imitation.”

(Clockwise from left to right: Joe Zawinul; Stan Getz – Dynasty; Rhoda Scott – Take A Ladder)

Eddy Louiss is not the most obvious ‘hero’. “He is to me. Louiss also was an unconventional player who defied ready-made categorization. Born in Matinique, this Frenchman had a bit of Africa in him. He’s classically trained. His touch is amazing and he’s always looking for different colors. He made some excellent records with Kenny Clarke, the trio album with Clarke and guitarist Rene Thomas stands out. But the greatest records to me are the ones that stray away from orthodoxy. There’s one with Stan Getz that’s out of sight, Dynasty: Live At Ronny Scott’s. It reveals his sing-songy lines, unusual timing and sound.”

The unorthodox approach is what attracted De Wijs to Rhoda Scott as well. “Rhoda’s craft of execution, voicing, arranging is unmatched. Perhaps never more so than during her early career. She really developed a very personal style. Those early albums, like Take A Ladder, A ‘l Orgue Volume 2, Live At The Olympia, don’t have an exclusively straight-forward jazz conception. Her phrasing is a bit angular, but her orchestral approach is very striking. She really makes the organ sound ‘complete’. The sound is massive, voluptuous! That sound really turned me on.”

“Do I know of the Bennett Machine from organist Lou Bennett? Yes. Talkin’ about a pioneer. Bennett was a bass pedal virtuoso and his invention (Bennett added electronic special effects which allowed him to multiply the voices of his instrument and achieve a double bass sound as well, FM) was groundbreaking, if very unstable. It regularly broke down during performances. In general, his ideas weren’t picked up. Bennett wasn’t your best marketer, unlike Rhoda Scott. Interesting that you ask, cause, coincidentally, Rhoda is finishing her master thesis on the Hammond organ. Do you know what? Lou Bennett, who like Rhoda was based primarily in Europe, is a key figure throughout. Amazing, right! When I told her about and demonstrated my Modular Hammond, Rhoda gasped: ‘Oh, Lou would’ve been overjoyed! The things he was trying to work out with his raggedy construction, you are accomplishing here and now.’

Looks like Carlo de Wijs is slowly but surely becoming an actor of innovation himself.

Carlo de Wijs

Hammond organist, composer and producer Carlo de Wijs (56) recorded and performed with Harry Verbeke, John Engels, Candy Dulfer, Steve Lukather, Gary Brooker, Rhoda Scott, Red Holloway, Benjamin Herman and Jesse van Ruller. He has been leading several successful groups, notably D’Wys with Voices Of Soul. De Wijs was artistic manager of the pop and jazz department of Codarts in Rotterdam till 2014 and is the initiator of the Hammond bachelor and master.

Selected discography:

Harry Verbeke, Mo de Bo (Timeless 1985)
Swing Support, Avenue (Polygram 1990)
D’Wys, First Moves (Move 1999)
Trio Engels/Middelhof/De Wijs, Live At North Sea Jazz Festival (Munich 2001)
D’Wys, Turn Up The B! (Red Bullit 2002)
Benjamin Herman, Deal (Dox 2012)
Carlo de Wijs, New Hammond Sound (Rough Trade 2012)

Check out New Hammond Sound Project’s (Carlo de Wijs, Jordi Geuens, Job van Nuenen) brandnew clip Element Cm on YouTube here.

Go to the website of Carlo de Wijs here.

Eric Alexander

Take Three with Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander picks some of his favorite recordings. “Do you want to go on a two-month vacation to discuss?!

Alexander, artist-in-residence at the Rabobank Amersfoort Jazz Festival from May 24-27, strolls through the square on a blistering hot Sunday evening, crisp and booming sounds from Henk Meutgeert’s Youth Orchestra emanating from the stage. He’s talking to the promising pianist Timothy Banchet, who listens intently. Erect posture, dark sunglasses, black suit. One could easily mistake Alexander for Vic Vega from Quinten Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. The tenor saxophonist means business. But he also has a soft spot as the family man that he is at heart. “Playing acoustic jazz is a tremendous joy. If what I feel strongly about makes someone step out of his everyday routine, that’s a blessing. The greatest joy in my life other than being with my family.”

Now Alexander is backstage, buried in his chair. In between the festival’s Sunday jam sessions. “Then I’ll fly home on Tuesday and get to work on kicking this Grolsch habit. So, let’s focus on the records that I like and maybe a lot of people haven’t heard. Of course I can say I love A Love Supreme, but everybody will, and does. I’m going with the weird ones.”

Good idea. Join in?

“You know that record of Eddie Harris with Jimmy Smith, live at Keystone Corner? (All The Way Live, 1981, FM) The first tune (Alexander hums the line) is a blues in F, I forget the title. (You’ll See, FM) Eddie’s solo is outrageous. Most young players don’t even know who Eddie Harris is. That’s ridiculous. The man is a combination of sorts. He plays bebop, like Sonny Stitt at points. He plays so bluesy it hurts, he’s a real blues player. Then he is funky. And plays ‘out’. This blues in F might be one of the greatest blues-in-F-solos at this tempo ever.”

“Most people don’t know about Clifford Jordan’s Glass Bead Games. (Strata-East 1974) It’s epic. It eschews musical bullying, it’s totally organic. No musician is more important than the other one. They’re floating around like pals on a magic carpet. That’s interesting, because most groups aren’t like that.”

“Sonny Stitt? He did so many records, literally hundreds. Take the money and run. So there’s bound to be some lesser-known gem. Probably the greatest alto saxophone solo of an uptempo tune is I Know That You Know from the album New York Jazz. It includes Ray Brown and Papa Jo Jones (Verve 1956: it also includes pianist Jimmy Jones, FM) Ray Brown is challenging Sonny Stitt to see who’s going to rush, who’ll be more on top of the beat. Papa Jo is a bit freaked out and a little behind. That’s not his fault, he’s playing it where he wants it, but it’s Ray Brown and Sonny Stitt off to the races. It doesn’t matter though. The solo that Stitt plays… He never misses, does he? We’re talking about a hard tune to play, for a variety of reasons. The fast tempo is one of those. Stitt’s articulation and conception, the way he plays through the changes and his creativity are incredible.

“To this day, a lot of people talk Stitt down. I don’t understand it. They say, ‘well, he just plays perfect, that’s not hard and boring.’ Really? Well, you do that! I want to hear one of these people play four bars at this tempo like that. Opinions like these constitute one of the great, disgusting injustices perpetrated in jazz music. A lot of the time, the musicians are opinionated. They cold-shouldered Phineas Newborn, for instance. Cold music, supposedly. Well, you try it. Everything he plays is improvised. Same with Stitt, he’s improvising. Sure, he has pet phrases. Who hasn’t? But he never purposely played a wrong note, then fixed it, like Herbie Hancock. But I don’t give a shit. That’s not the way he played. His version of I Know That You Know is a masterpiece. This is sacrilegious: it’s an improvement of Bird. Well, nobody’s better than Bird. Bird is number one. But that solo is right up on Bird.”

Eric Alexander

Eric Alexander (49) is one of the most outstanding (hard) bop and post bop tenor saxophonists of his generation. Ever since finishing 2nd at the 1991 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition (behind Joshua Redman, in front of Chris Potter) and his apprenticeship with organ masters like Charles Earland, Brother Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff in the early 90s, Alexander has been performing and recording very prolifically. He has released more than 40 albums as a leader, is featured on at least 100 albums as a sideman and has cooperated with, among others, Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb, Cecil Payne, Cedar Walton, Junior Mance, Melvin Rhyne, Charles Earland, Idris Muhammad, Pat Martino, Rein de Graaff, Mike LeDonne, David Hazeltine, Grant Stewart and Jim Rotundi. The New York-based Alexander regularly performs abroad and is a mainstay in The Netherlands.

Selected discography:

As a leader:
Straight Up (Delmark 1992)
The First Milestone (Milestone 1999)
Wide Horizons (with One For All, Criss Cross 2002)
Dead Centre (HighNote 2004)
Song Of No Regrets (HighNote 2017)

As a sideman:
Charles Earland, I Ain’t Jivin’, I’m Jammin’ (Muse 1992)
Pat Martino, Stone Blue (Blue Note 1999)
Jimmy Cobb, Cobb’s Groove (Milestone 2003)
Mike LeDonne/The Groover Quartet, Keep The Faith (Savant 2011)
Harold Mabern, To Love And Be Loved (Smoke Sessions 2017)

Go to the website of Eric Alexander here.

Greg Lewis

Organin’ In

Gregory Lewis is Organ Monk, a passionate champion of the dazzling catalogue of Thelonious Monk. “I hummed his melodies by heart as a kid and played them for the girls in high school.”

Ever since the organist and pianist’s first album, 2011’s Organ Monk, the beginning of what seems to have become a lifelong dedication to interpreting the music of Thelonious Monk with the Hammond B3 and C3, Lewis has gained plenty attention. Few have tread this path since Larry Young, a major inspiration for Lewis, recorded the epic Monk’s Dream in 1964. No one has transposed the work of Monk to the organ with the distorted twist of the 48-year old fixture on the New York jazz, blues and funk scene, whose grasp of the wonderful compositions of the modern jazz genius is spot on and whose gritty, dynamic approach updates them excitingly for the 21st century. The hi-octane energy of Lewis works through in his live performances, where the audience is certain to witness Lewis hanging over his keyboard like a tiger over his prey. But the organist tries a little tenderness as well, occasionally caressing the organ like a vet stroking a wounded kitten.

Lewis is currently preparing the release of his fifth Organ Monk album. His latest album, The Breathe Suite, still lingers in the mind. A tour de force, it’s a mix of elaborate tunes, colorful organ playing and a twisted, groove-meets-fusion-type edge. The provoking set of Lewis compositions, including titles as The Chronicles Of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, boldly addresses the ongoing troubles of African-Americans in American society. Understandably, it’s been the grimmest theme during the telephone conversation Flophouse Magazine had with the candid, both serious and cheerful New York Native about his career and inspirations.

FM: ‘You were born in New York City. Which borough?’
GL: ‘I was born in Queens. And grew up there.’

FM: ‘I heard that you were into hiphop as a teenager, even prowled the streets as a human beatbox. Did you also play piano around that time? At what point did jazz and the piano come into your life?’
GL: ‘My father was a pianist, on the side. He had a lot of records of Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Bud Powell. As kids, we grew up to the sounds of Coltrane every Saturday morning and danced and ran around.’

‘In my teens, I liked the music that was on the radio, like Sugarhill Gang. I was playing piano, but nothing crazy serious, it was more like something to do. Then I got into the human beatbox thing in high school. But I got seriously into music because I noticed that the girls used to like it when I played the piano. I had many interests, the first album I bought, for instance, was by Funkadelic. But simultaneously, I was always listening to Monk and I was able to sing all these melodies, because my father played them all the time. Unfortunately, he died when he was 49, when I was 9. My mother says that he lives through me, because I’m doing what he always wanted to do.’

FM: ‘What was your father’s occupation?’
GL: ‘He did a lot of odd and end jobs. He played music and performed in his spare time. There were always friends who came by and they would go into the other room, listen to music, have a ball.’

FM: ‘So you liked hiphop, funk, and at the same Monk and Coltrane were everywhere at your quarters.’
GL: ‘Yes, it was part of our culture. We would go to my uncle and he would put on jazz and learn us to play chess.’

FM: ‘What triggered you to play jazz? Was hearing Thelonious Monk the event that essentially convinced you to become a musician?’
GL: ‘I got to thinking when people started to ask me how I knew all those melodies. They always asked, “hey, where did you learn that Monk stuff?” For some reason, back in the eighties, people knew who Monk was, but it seemed like they weren’t into him like today. Being a teenager that knew those tunes by heart, it got me into the New School Jazz Program. I didn’t know many other tunes. I was playing Monk’s music for the girls in school. “Oh, you know Thelonious Monk, you’re like a different kind of guy!” (laughs, FM) They would say: “Well, Greg’s a jazz guy, you know.” Playing Monk kind of came natural to me. Certainly his rhythm. Even to this day, when I arrange someone to sub for me, he might trip over these rhythms that Monk threw down.”

FM: ‘What kind of gigs did you do initially?’
GL: ‘When I was 16, I performed Prince songs. I loved Prince. Of course! We all wanted to be Prince after seeing Purple Rain. I did funk gigs in the neighborhood. My first professional gig in jazz was at age 18 with a group called The Family. It was founded by an artist who’d been in jail for doing heroin. Cleaned-up, he wanted to do something nice for the inmates. So we played in prisons. That was quite an experience. Then I started taking lessons from Gil Goggins. (Goggins played, among others, on the session that spawned the Miles Davis Vol. 1 & 2 albums, FM) Goggins was a really great pianist. He showed me how Monk actually played compositions like Trinkle Tinkle, which blew my mind. I had the right rhythm but a few wrong notes! He taught me a lot and also sent me to gigs.’

FM: ‘It was through Goggins that you got into organ playing, right?’
GL: ‘Yes, that’s a funny story. Goggins didn’t tell you what kind of gig it was, you just had to obey and show up! (chuckles, FM) Goggins sent me to a gig as a substitute. However, it turned out to be an organ performance. There was no piano, which presented a problem. I had never touched an organ in my life. Nevertheless, I fulfilled the obligation. I didn’t know how to handle the machine and fell flat on my face! But I was intrigued. From that day on, I puzzled out the functioning of the organ: the touch, bass pedal lines, drawbars. It took me approximately six months to fully master the Hammond organ.’

FM: ‘Did you got tips from other organists?’
GL: ‘Well, there was a real selfish thing going on in New York back then. I would go to a session where George Benson always went when he was in town. He’d park his Bentley on the curb and nobody, not the police anyway, would bother because it was George Benson! He would play, the organist would get up and notice that me or someone else wanted to sit in. The organist would push all the stops, so that you couldn’t figure out his secret. I would sneak behind, check out the stops and drawbars, memorize and then try at home!’

FM: ‘That’s pretty ludicrous! Then what did you do, study records?’
GL: ‘Yes, I studied practically everyone, from Jimmy Smith to John Patton. I checked out a lot of Chester Thompson, the funky stuff he did with Tower Of Power. Squib Cakes, whoa! And I loved Powerhouse, his solo album. Those grooves were crazy. I also loved the older cats, the r&b-drenched cookers, like Bill Doggett. But the one that blew me away, and I guess helped creating Organ Monk, was Larry Young. Monk’s Dream from Unity, where he played the duet with Elvin Jones, (Lewis hums the melody, then proceeds to play it at the organ in his practicing room, FM) hit me like a lightning bolt. I purchased all his albums. Well, mostly CD’s, the records were hard to find!’

FM: ‘How would you define your style?’
GL: ‘One thing, I was never good at copying. I was always taught that copying is no good, rightly so. As far as playing Monk is concerned, it was self-evident that my style went quite the other way. Perhaps because of the ingrained funk and groove. I met Donald Byrd and he told me: “That ain’t what Monk did!” I was like, “So what did he do?” Byrd answered: “I don’t know but that ain’t it!” Haha! I always felt, if I can get the rhythm, I don’t have to worry about the notes.’

‘To be honest, I just try to have fun with sound, dynamics. My style really developed after I started believing in myself more at a certain point. During the embryonic stages of Organ Monk, some people were still questioning my obsession with Monk. But some favorable reviews of my first album gave me a little boost. The feeling that I was on to something.’

FM: ‘How much time do you strictly devote to jazz?’
GL: ‘As much as I can. I practice a lot and perform regularly. I have also always played a lot of spirituals, gospel. I play at church meetings or tour with gospel groups. Then I try to incorporate it in my playing. A no-brainer, of course. When you throw that stuff out at the audience after you’ve played Monk, their minds get blown away!’

FM: ‘You mean, it’s a logical switch from one to the other?’
GL: ‘It’s intertwined. Playing spirituals grabs people. I play Testifyin’ by Larry Young in church. The signature line, the descending four measures at the end of the tune, it’s very churchy. That’s why he called it Testifyin’, of course. I repeat that line, build up tension and every time the audience goes berserk!’

FM: ‘There were a few self-penned tunes on your Monk albums, but The Breathe Suite is your first album that consists entirely of original compositions. It was a step forward, stylistically and conceptually. I wouldn’t say the vibe is exactly angry, but upsetting, to say the least.’
GL: ‘Being African-American, I can relate to the horrific stuff that has been going on. I also had cops pointing guns at me. My father and mother instilled in us from when we were little that when a cop pulls you over, you freeze, because he will shoot you and will kill you. You do not move, you do not say anything, you do as he says, so you can go home safe. That’s the way I was raised. The cold-blooded killings of the last few years are crazy. It upsets me as an African-American citizen. As a human being. It should upset anybody. Unfortunately, America is still not my friend yet. Yes, I can make money here, play my music and travel the world. But it’s still not fair. There remains a lot of sabotage, like in getting regular stuff such as bank loans. I tell my kids that there’s a big world out there, we don’t have to stay here.’

FM: ‘Your bewilderment rings through on the album.’
GL: ‘Classic works like Coltrane’s Alabama and Mingus’ Fables Of Faubus have had their influence one way or another, on a subliminal level. Once I started writing with these provoking works of art in mind, the songs just poured out of me. I can at least put my discomfort in my music and I guess that’s what you’re hearing. I can’t protest because then I will be fired from my teaching job at university, go to jail and won’t be able to feed my kids. So I can’t offer a solution but I hope that the album sustains the ongoing discussions and creates awareness.’

FM: ‘There’s a new album coming up, right?’
GL: ‘I just finished the album with Marc Ribot, who also played on The Breathe Suite. The new album will be released at the end of the year and called Organ Monk Blue, including more blues-based tunes like Raise Four, Misterioso. We put a twist on those tunes, because, you know, Ribot likes the funk, the groove. And he’s a crazy guitar player. I had a lot of fun playing with him because he’s nuts!’

Greg Lewis

Organist and pianist Greg Lewis is a mainstay in New York City’s jazz, blues and funk scene and tours abroad with gospel groups. As accompanist of several blues artists, his cooperation with singer Sweet Georgia Brown is striking. His thorough background in modern jazz – Lewis was teached by past masters Gil Goggins, Walter Davis Jr. and Jaki Byard – and love for groove music has resulted in a distinctive identity as an organist. As Organ Monk, Lewis has recorded a number of albums containing Hammond organ interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s music. His fifth album, Organ Monk Blue, will be released in December, 2017.

Selected discography:

Sam Newsome’s Groove Project, 24/7 (2004)
Organ Monk (2011)
Uwo In The Black (2012)
American Standard (2013)
The Breathe Suite (2017)

Check out YouTube clips of Greg Lewis, drummer Jeremy “Bean” Clemons and guitarist Ron Jackson playing roaring versions of Monk’s We See and Trinkle Tinkle.

Go to the website of Greg Lewis here.

Ferry Knijn Fotografie 2015

Song For My Kids

Charming, talkative Peter Guidi guides us through his adventuresome career as flutist, saxophonist, bandleader and educator. “I teach my students the rudiments, thereafter it’s up to them. It’s essential to follow your heart and play what you believe in. Because the audience can hear that.”

Teach your children well, sang Stephen Stills. That’s exactly what Peter Guidi has been doing for thirty years now. Well, more than well. The Scottish-Italian, Amsterdam-based Guidi, like one of his all-time heroes Cannonball Adderley, a likable, outgoing gentleman, displays boundless, devoted enthusiasm for nurturing young jazz talent. Don’t come around suggesting to Guidi the popular view that jazz is dead or bereft of a promising future. His slightly curled hair shakes back and forth, his eyes widen: “Are you kidding?! Not when you’re hearing all those youngsters in my orchestras. They play with their heart and soul. With joy and guts. Even with a not yet fully-developed technique they regularly catch me by surprise. Their purity is heart-warming. I send them on stage as early as possible, let them make a lot of flying hours. You can’t learn jazz from a book. You know what Einstein said, and he’s a pretty smart fellow: ‘The only true knowledge is experience, everything else is merely information’. Who’s gonna argue with that? Not only do I feel that jazz is alive, there is the bigger picture. Some of those boys and girls have become friends for life because they share a passion.”

“Jazz provides a great lesson in life. Especially during these times of ‘me, me, me…’ I-this, I-that, the faces in front of the computer screens… Without communication and interaction with other people, life isn’t worth much. Practicing technique to become the fastest gun in the West, alone in your room, makes no sense. Playing together does. Playing jazz involves mutual respect, listening skills, sharing. Furthermore, and this makes it so beautiful, it involves the growth of a personal voice. You have to tell your own story. But, again, within the framework of the group.“

“I’ve had parents come up to me and tell me that their son or daughter, whether he or she has pursued a career in music or not, has grown as a human being. They learn to work as a team and improvise. And life is all about improvisation. We don’t know what the heck is going to happen tomorrow! Some time ago, I encountered a lady who had been in my Jazz Juniors band. She has a very hectic, important job and told me that she always thinks about my lessons in stressful situations, that her motto had become: use your imagination, improvise! You know how good it felt to hear that? Wow!”

Guidi’s accomplishments in the Dutch jazz educational landscape are unmatched. He’s sort of a Dutch equivalent of educational legends in the classic age of jazz, like Captain Walter Dyett from DuSable High School in Chicago, who showed the way to Nat King Cole, Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Richard Davis and many others. Guidi built up the Jazz Department of the Muziekschool Amsterdam from scratch in the mid eighties, running numerous prize-winning youth orchestras in the process and kickstarted the careers of countless major talents such as Joris Roelofs, Lars Dietrich, Ben van Gelder, Gidon Nunez Vas, Gideon Tazelaar and Daniel Keller. Guidi has always taught using an unbeatable method he calls ‘the three F’s’: Firm, Fair and Funny. Strict but sincere, with some humor thrown in to illustrate important points. “And never bullshit. Kids can smell bullshit a mile away! If you find yourself at a loss in an educational situation, just say so. Say, ‘well, I don’t really know, but I’ll get back to you with an answer next week.’ They accept that and like you for it because it is honest.”

An optimist at heart, Guidi nevertheless expresses worry about the prospects of contemporary students. “Long term engagements have become practically out of the question. Most young players play one-offs. And later when they’re not young talents anymore, a different reality sets in. The club wants you, but your next performance will be two years later! It’s heartbreaking because the amount of talent today is amazing. What’s my advice to young players? Follow your heart, follow your dreams, always. But at the same time, keep one foot on the ground. In the conservatory, everybody digs Coltrane and Chris Potter but outside few people even know who Louis Armstrong is, let alone Charlie Parker or Lee Morgan. So? The world is your oyster, you have many choices and opportunities. You can of course diversify and do commercial stuff to help you financially, but if you want to dedicate your time exclusively to jazz, then try to get a teaching job or go study something else as well. All of these young jazz students have the talent, dedication and creativity to become anything he or she wants to be. If they studied the equivalent amount of time with the same amount of effort and discipline they could become brain surgeons. That shows you how hard they work. But at the end of it medical students have a career ahead of them whereas jazz students don’t know where the next gig is coming from.”

“What kind of jazz do I teach? Mostly hard bop! It has groove, blues, great chord sequences, instantly recognizable melodies, energy and integrity. My youngest students are nine, ten years old. They’re little jazz barometers, so to speak. I’ve been doing this a long time, I have a pretty good idea of their mindset. Often without any interference on my part, these kids request to play pieces like Work Song, Moanin’, Sister Sadie, Blues March, The Sidewinder, Song For My Father, Sugar! Tunes that are not too complex where you can improvise using pentatonics or a blues scale. Chronologically, bebop comes first of course, but in educational terms, it’s better to start with hard bop. And earlier some catchy blues like C-Jam Blues. It gives them security and convinces them to jump off the diving board. Not to be afraid of ‘wrong’ notes. Duke Ellington said: ‘There’s no such thing as a wrong note. If you play it long enough, it turns into a right note.’ The blues reflects that wise statement. ‘Wrong’ blue notes are ingrained. They are what make it sound blue.”

Before Guidi found his educational destiny in the capital of The Netherlands, the young man’s unorthodox path led him from Glasgow, to Jersey to Milan. As a kid in Glasgow he listened to Sinatra and opera in the Scottish-Italian household and was held spellbound by the slow-dragging bass voice of the legendary Voice Of America Jazz Hour radio presenter Willis Coniver. Soon playing clarinet for his beloved mother and whistling bebop tunes almost 24/7, on Jersey Guidi set his mind on obtaining a saxophone from the only music store on the island and, once he purchased it with the money earned working in his father’s restaurant, had the opportunity via the Jersey Jazz Club to jam with the likes of Johnny Griffin, Art Taylor, Ronnie Scott and flutist Harold McNair. At the age of eighteen he was the chauffeur of Ronnie Scott, who wanted to drive to the sole booking office on the island to bet on the horses as soon as he got off the airplane. A professional in Milan and London, the hard road of making a jazz living became apparent, the pleasures of living and breathing with legends like Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Sonny Stitt and Dexter Gordon as well. And then, Amsterdam. The liberal city which he loves like no other town in the world and has been calling his home for over three decades. “Opportunity knocked. I was asked for a teaching job in the Muziekschool Amsterdam. I had a lot of experience as a musician playing at major festivals and also in small jazz clubs some no more than holes in the ground. That experience allowed me to pass on some practical knowledge. I learned a lot too because you can’t really learn how to teach except by doing it.”

Perhaps the DIY attitude necessary to find your way on an outpost like Jersey during the winter season accounts for Guidi’s level-headed, entrepreneurial spirit. “Yes. And also the typical immigrant attitude of my family. Be your own boss, like my father said. Well, I became my own boss once I moved to Milan. I played in soul bands. I still love soul music. I did South-American stuff with real Argentine and Brazilian bands playing extended stints in top Saint Moritz hotels. The only down side with the Argentine band was wearing a poncho, spurs, one of those belts with coins on it. That might look cool when you play guitar, but sax? I looked and felt like a complete idiot! But with those earnings I bought a soprano saxophone. There was no Real Book or Aebersold method back then you understand! No Jazz Conservatory. You had to learn by playing on stage. If you wanted to learn Cherokee, you had to ask somebody to write down the chord changes for you. And trust your ears.”

“Milan was great. That was my conservatory. The two best clubs were Capolinea and Due. I started out as a jack-of-all-trades. As well as playing I arranged replacements when somebody skipped a gig, translated contracts. Soon, I became a translator for many of those incoming legends who played at Capolinea. It was a great opportunity to be around those guys. Dexter Gordon, Buddy Rich, Tony Scott, Elvin Jones, Sonny Stitt, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis… A great saxophonist, ‘Lockjaw’. Inimitable phrasing, powerful stories. Fantastic balladeer. When ‘Lockjaw’ Davis had a few drinks he played slow. Not as slow as Ben Webster when he was drunk, but medium slow. On the other hand, Sonny Stitt… He played Koko loaded. Really fast! And spot on! Reportedly, when asked how he managed to play when drunk, Stitt replied, ‘I practice drunk’! Some attribute that quote to Zoot Sims, but no matter who said it it’s a great story either way. Another priceless memory is seeing Gerry Mulligan perform. At the end of the night after the club closed he played with Tony Scott, both playing baritone, in the restaurant of the Capolinea jazz club. The drummer played brushes on an overturned spaghetti pan! Can you believe it?! Two in the morning and they played an unforgettable version of Body & Soul. I was soaking in all these great things that were happening to me. I translated for the Club and got paid with experience, so to speak.”

“Playing with Jimmy McGriff was exciting as well. Not only because McGriff is one of the great soul jazz organists, and a very sophisticated one at that, but also because it showed me how real jazz is – how it can communicate to an audience. I was in New York with Frank Grasso, to play and gain experience. We ended up in New Jersey at a small club. It was kind of a sleazy joint. There were some dangerous-looking people outside. But when I mentioned this to the owner he said not to worry and showed me a shotgun he kept under the bar.Welcome to America! McGriff liked us and invited us for a gig in Hartford, Connecticut. I said, ‘wow, that’s fantastic. I love your music. But… on one condition.’ ‘And that is?’, asked McGriff. I said: ‘That I don’t have to carry your Hammond B3 organ around!’ McGriff laughed. The reason was I almost got killed once carrying a Hammond organ up the stairs of the Pipers Club in Rome. McGriff’s van was like a bordello. A flophouse! Portable bar, lace all over, velvet, red wine-coloured curtains. The gig was great. Vintage soul jazz. The all-black crowd of army veterans and their families was having a wonderful time, shaking and dancing to our music.”

Guidi, a well-set man who walks slightly bent forward like an archeologist on Roman grounds and whose ironic and naughty grin brings to mind the elder Michael Caine, always stresses the value of entertainment in jazz. That’s why he’s such a big fan of Cannonball Adderley. “Ah, those live albums like Cannonball Adderley Quintet In San Francisco and At The Lighthouse. The atmosphere is so positive that you wanna be there! Cannonball is pure promotion for jazz! A great ambassador and communicator. I always tell my students to pick any one of Cannonball’s albums, especially from the late fifties and early sixties. If those don’t lure you to a jazz club, I don’t know what will! In this respect, I should also mention albums like Art Blakey And The Jazz Messengers’ Live At The Café Bohemia and Live At The Jazz Corner Of The World. And Free For All, also from Blakey. Not a live recording but the bible of hard bop! What controlled power, everyone in the band is cooking. Tubbs In New York, from the English tenor saxophonist Tubby Hayes, is another cooker.”

“We shouldn’t forget that jazz always has had one foot in art, one foot in entertainment. That was made obvious by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Gene Ammons, Erroll Garner… too many to mention. Cannonball scored an enormous hit single with Jive Samba. A jukebox favorite for jazz fans, particularly in the black community. The message is that you don’t have to compromise, but always recognize that you are playing for an audience. The audience is smart, you know. People listen with their hearts. So if you want to touch them it helps to say something on stage. Even if it’s just a couple of words: communicate with the audience. Not everybody has the natural flair of Cannonball, but at least take notice of the audience. I don’t appreciate artists who don’t seem to care about the spectators and are playing just for themselves. Cecil Taylor did that. I respect a lot of free players for their excellence and vision, but at least try to explain something to the bewildered public. I saw Cecil Taylor empty a piazza at an open air jazz festival in Italy within ten minutes! I’d rather hear the indomitable Dexter Gordon telling the lyrics to What’s New to the audience before playing the theme. He did that with many tunes, he knew all the words to the songs. Chords are the roots of the plant, melody is the flower. But the lyrics constitute the perfume.

“In addition to Cannonball’s charm, I’ve always loved his style. He’s a joyful player. You get the idea Cannonball was happy where he was. The flowers are blooming in the fields, bubbles are in the air. A whole different ball game than John Coltrane, whom I greatly revere as well. Two different sides of spirituality’s coin. Coltrane was always searching, never happy where he was. My favorite Coltrane albums? That’s easy. There are two albums that say, ‘here I am’. One is Giant Steps, with its harmonic daring and power. The other is Crescent where tracks like Crescent and Wise One define an arrival point for the deeply spiritual Coltrane. And the concise Bessie’s Blues is a gas. There’s nothing simpler than that blues theme. The essence of the blues. Just triads. But what he does with them… So pure, so simple, yet so deeply involved. Coltrane keeps ‘singing’ throughout. That’s something his imitators usually miss. They pick up on his harmonic theory and technique but they lack that spiritual cry. Really, do you know a more sincere quartet than Coltrane’s famous group with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones? They’re so pure, like kids.”

Typical of Peter Guidi’s life story that an a-typical jazz instrument like the flute turned out to become his main jazz instrument. Guidi’s an incomparable flute historian that can tell you all about pioneers like the classical flutist Gazzeloni and the Cuban Alberto Socarras, who was one of the first to be recorded playing flute with a jazz band. Generally speaking the foundation of the modern jazz flute started with players such as Frank Wess in the Count Basie Orchestra and developed through the wonderful works of Sam Most, Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, James Moody, Herbie Mann and many others. “After hearing James Moody with the Dizzy Gillespie band, I wanted a flute. I love its lyrical, mystical quality. Aristotle already commented on the flute: ‘The flute is not an instrument that has a good moral effect. It’s too exciting.’ It only came into prominence once microphones came into the picture, providing the necessary volume to hold its own against reed and brass. Regardless of its relatively short jazz history, there have been, and are, so many fine players. The general public has likely heard of Herbie Mann. Although he did a lot of great bossa-nova material, I prefer players like Sam Most. Back then, you were either for Mann or Most. It’s like the Stones and Beatles. Fans of Herbie Mann would shout, ‘Mann Is The Most!’. Fans of Sam Most would reciprocate: ‘Most Is The Man!’”

Lest we forget, Guidi is a monster flutist himself who polished an excellent bop and mainstream jazz style while experimenting expertly with both the quarter tone flute and bass flute, vocalising, multiphonics, microtones and other modern techniques. Both as a leader and as a guest soloist, Guidi performed prolifically. “Not anymore, alas. The flute still stands beside my desk, I write a lot of compositions and I am planning a new CD release. But I don’t have a quartet anymore. Hey, until last year I led eight student ensembles and big bands, you understand? Busy! I must admit though, that I really miss performing in a quartet situation. But today there are so few places left to play.”

“So, anyway. What was your question? Haha!”

Peter Guidi

Peter Guidi (Glasgow, 1949) teaches at the jazz department of the Amsterdamse Muziekschool, where he is head of the jazz department. He is the bandleader of numerous youth orchestras such as Jazz Kidz, Jazz Juniors, Jazz Focus Big Band and Jazzmania Big Band, all of which have won a total of eighty-seven Dutch and international prizes. Mr. Guidi, associated with countless educational projects beside the Amsterdamse Muziekschool, was knighted as Ridder In De Orde Van Oranje-Nassau for his outstanding contributions to the Dutch jazz community in 2010. An acclaimed saxophonist and flutist, Guidi has performed and recorded prolifically, both in The Netherlands and at international festivals such as Umbria Jazz, Jazz Jamboree Warsaw and North Sea Jazz Festival. Peter Guidi lives in Amsterdam. His Jubilee Big Band will celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Muziekschool’s jazz department, the 25th Anniversary of the Jazzmania Big Band and the 20th Anniversary of the Jazzfocus Big Band with a performance at North Sea Jazz Festival on July 8, 2017.

Selected discography:

A Weaver Of Dreams (Timeless, 1993)
Forbidden Flute (BMCD, 1999)
Beautiful Friendship (Timeless, 2000)
The Jazzmania Big Band – Further Impressions (with Benny Bailey, BMCD, 2004)
Jazz Focus Big Band – Focused, (JF, 2007)

Go to Peter Guidi’s website here.

Photography above: Ronaldus
Photography homepage: Ferry Knijn Fotografie

Gary Smulyan

Chasin’ The Bari

A meeting with baritone saxophonist Gary Smulyan isn’t complete without a mention of Encounter!, the masterpiece of his all-time bari hero, Pepper Adams. “Pepper is the all-round master. And what a sound!”

Like many fellow Americans that are and have been eagerly doing the freedom jazz dance, Smulyan spends a lot of his work time in Europe. Currently, Smulyan is touring The Netherlands with the trio of pianist Rein de Graaff, a series of gigs billed as Chasin’ The Bird. Smulyan, a congenial gentleman with strong hands and fluent talker with a glance that alludes to a romantic rendezvous between sincerity and good humor, explains: “I have been touring with Rein’s trio about every two years for a long time now. I tell you, we’re flying from note one. These guys really know where it’s at. The venues are lovely and Rein isn’t only a great piano player but an extraordinary organiser as well. It’s a warm bath.”

Chasin’ The Bird, one hell of a job. Or, correction, heavenly duty. “I can’t get enough of Charlie Parker. In fact, I’m still awe-struck. Bird’s a daily treat on the menu. Strangely enough, Parker is regularly taken for granted. From talking to musicians I sometimes get the impression that they only scratched the surface of Parker, didn’t look further than the well-known recordings. But there is a wealth of revealing material, like the bootlegs, some of which luckily have come to the surface legally. Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to those amateur recordings Dean Benedetti made of the Bird solos. It’s astonishing! His rhythm, harmony, time, just otherworldly. Sometimes freshmen ask me, ‘what’s the secret, how do you do it?’. Well, there is no secret. Bird is the well you need to drink from. Find your own taste while you’re at it. Lest we forget, of course Bird was influenced significantly by Lester Young, among others, there’s the tradition, there are the bloodlines… However, Bird is The One.”

Starting out in jazz as an alto saxophonist, Smulyan was heavily influenced by Phil Woods, who, it goes without saying, developed a distinctive and brilliant musical personality in the Parker tradition. Born in Bethpage, New York in 1956, growing up in Long Island, the aspiring Smulyan was close to the centre of modern jazz, Manhattan, and as a consequence, Phil Woods. “In the early days, I even dressed like Phil Woods, down to the singular leather cap! At any rate, I played alto until I was twenty-two, hadn’t even touched the baritone. My jazz schooling really gained depth when I acquainted Billy Mitchell, Dave Burns, Joe Dixon, who became my mentors. It’s really important to come across guys that are on a higher level and have more knowledge than you and who, above all, honestly point out your shortcomings. Kind of steer you in directions with integrity, you know. That’s why I’m consciously open minded to youngsters. I’m grateful for meeting my mentors and strive to pass the peas in a worthy manner myself.”

(Clockwise from left: Charlie Parker; Pepper Adams; Gary Smulyan)

Sitting in with his mentors, and soon, legends like Chet Baker and Lee Konitz, Smulyan and the little horn seemed a perfect pair. Until the big horn came along. In 1978, the phone rang, and the question was if Smulyan would like to play in the big band of Woody Herman. On baritone. “Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that puzzle. Luckily, I had two weeks to spare. I bought a Yamaha baritone and studied some tunes I knew were in the Herman book. Suddenly, I found myself sitting beside tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, who became a life-long friend. That phone call was one of those fortuitous moments that sometimes occur in one’s life. Right place, right time. Initially, it was quite unnerving, a risk. But I strongly believe that it’s important to take a risk, grab that opportunity.”

The association with Herman’s Young Thundering Herd was the start of Smulyan’s career as a baritone saxophonist that has been going on for almost forty years. Among many other endeavors, Smulyan played in the Mel Lewis Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and cooperated with Freddie Hubbard, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and George Coleman, and records prolifically as a leader. A regular winner of the Downbeat Reader’s and Critic’s Poll and Grammy Awards, Smulyan is the to-go-to baritone saxophonist on the scene today. First it was Pepper, now Gary Smulyan is the all-round master. Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little phone call can do to you.

“Like I always say: I didn’t choose the baritone, the baritone chose me.”

“It’s not such a cumbersome instrument as they say. At least, I don’t see any difference with the trombone, tuba, or drums for that matter. It’s in the way that you use it. And how can it be awkward when you do it with love? Furthermore, there are not many baritone players around as opposed to tenor or alto players, so if you’re proficient, there’s a lot of work. The baritone is the underdog. Sometimes I take the horn out of my suitcase and just see those eyes popping out of the head of a spectator! Mulligan is the only baritone saxophonist who is known by the general public. At any rate, if you would’ve told me at age fifteen that I would become a baritone saxophonist, I would’ve said you’re crazy. That’s why I’m still, occasionally, floored by happenings in my life. Such as my cooperation with Tommy Flanagan on my 1991 Homage album of Pepper Adams pieces. Flanagan!”

A number of baritone saxophonists influenced Smulyan, among them the father of the bari, Harry Carney and the modernists Leo Parker and Cecil Payne. However, Smulyan’s main man is Pepper Adams, the little man with the big horn who took the baritone to the next level, displaying the blistering speeds of bebop, rare harmonic ingenuity, a composer’s sense of continuity, agressive rhythm, a bark-like timbre and a huge, imposing sound. “It’s all there on Encounter!, Adams’ 1968 Prestige album with Zoot Sims, Tommy Flanagan, Ron Carter and Elvin Jones. The epithome of Pepper’s art. I’m still enthralled by his sound on that album! Sound reflects the personality, it’s paramount, it’s your voice. And boy, does Pepper have a marvelous voice. Rhythmically, harmonically, his standard of playing is tremendous. Rudy van Gelder’s production is out of sight, very transparant and spacious. Partly straightforward, partly avant-leaning, the vibe is remarkably free. Also because of Elvin Jones, of course. There are a number of challenging tunes, like Punjab, the Joe Henderson tune. Zoot Sims, a more straightforward swinger and a big favorite of mine, really seizes the opportunity. He’s an interesting partner for Pepper. The tunes are short, I like that. Short is good! Although I like to stretch out, a maximum of allotted solo time isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. Enough time in short tunes for harmony as well. It stimulates creativity. Look at Duke Ellington, the enormous wealth of stuff that he put in those 3 or 4 minute tunes. I also love the Pepper Adams album Ephemera, with Mel Lewis, George Mraz and Roland Hanna, for many of the same reasons. 10 To 4 At The Five Spot? Great album. But that piano! Horribly out of tune. It’s hard to listen to. Poor Bobby Timmons.”

(Clockwise from left: Pepper Adams – Encounter!, Prestige 1968; Pepper Adams – Ephemera, Spotlite 1973; Charlie Parker – The Complete Benedetti Recordings Of Charlie Parker, Mosaic 1990)

A lot of Pepper and a lot of pepper, in the guise of a singular type of controlled fury, is evident in the playing of Gary Smulyan. Furthermore, a distinctive voice with his own brand of harmonic finesse, a strong beat, acute wit and a striking penchant for telling a coherent tale rings through. “I’m concerned with the architecture of my lines, with secondary motives, for instance. The kind of structural improvisation that runs through the career of Sonny Rollins. I’m not consciously aware of it, but these things probably lurk somewhere in the back of my mind, while I’m hoping to find beautiful lines. Beautiful lines and beautiful sound is what it’s all about.”

Does middle-to-old age matures the beautiful products of a jazz life, like it does a Bordeaux wine? And does it peel off some of the rough edges? Evidently, there’s so much wisdom in the playing of elders like Charles McPherson, Barry Harris, Jimmy Heath. Smulyan chuckles: “Hey, I’m only sixty! Though I feel like I’m fifty-nine. Well, I’m not the same person I was like the twenty year old kid, or the forty year old man. What you go through in music and life is reflected in one’s musical voice, I’m not an exception. However, some sixty year olds might tend to take it easy. Not me. Regardless of my shifting approaches, I still love to play fast!”

Maybe it’s the soul patch sitting, Zen-masterly, under Smulyan’s lips. Or the composed stroll of Smulyan before and after the interview, bringing him to the side walls and show cases of the hotel. Casually dressed in jeans and a sweater, hands folded behind his back, Smulyan bows slightly forward like a collector of Louis XI grandfather clocks on an antique fair, or a monk peeking over the shoulder of a novice at work on a weighty book in the athenaeum. Keen-eyed, curious. Maybe it’s just a hunch that Smulyan’s birds are flyin’ high and dry. Fire down below in the heart, yet a heart at peace with beating evenly. “I’m very pleased about the way things turned out and how I’m doing now.” Chuckling: “The phone keeps ringing and I sometimes succeed in coaxing producers into projects. Most of all, I’m glad to live my life in the jazz realm. Essentially, jazz is a social affair. Nowadays, people have turned inwards more and more, individualism is overbearing. But jazz is communication. From the pals I visited to play and discuss records with day and night as a young aficionado, to the colleagues and friends in the studio and on stage, it’s about doing things together. Until recently, I teached music college students with developmental disabilities at Berkshire Hills. Their accomplishments are amazing. Jazz is a great tool, you know. It’s refreshing to see the bigger picture.”

Gary Smulyan

Gary Smulyan is the most sought-after baritone saxophonist in jazz today. A five-time winner of the Downbeat Critic’s and Reader’s Poll and a six-time winner of the Grammy Award, Smulyan has built a sizable and diverse resume as a leading recording artist and been a long-serving member of The Mel Lewis Orchestra, Mingus Big Band, Dave Holland Octet and Big Band and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, as well as the bands of soul and blues giants Ray Charles and B.B. King. Smulyan has cooperated with, among others, Gerald Wilson, Tommy Flanagan, Jimmy Knepper, George Coleman, Joe Lovano, Tom Harrell, Bob Belden, Christian McBride and Mike LeDonne. Smulyan is a faculty member at Amherst College, Massachusetts and teaches at Manhattan School Of Music, NYC.

Selected discography:

As a leader:

Homage, (with Tommy Flanagan, Criss Cross, 1991)
Saxophone Mosaic, (Criss Cross, 1993)
Blue Suite (Criss Cross, 1999)
The Real Deal (Reservoir, 2003)
Smul’s Paradise (Capri, 2012)
Bella Napoli (with Dominic Chianese, Capri, 2013)

As a sideman:

Mike LeDonne, The Feeling Of Jazz (Criss Cross, 1990)
Cedar Walton, Roots (Astor Place, 1997)
Dave Holland Big Band, What Goes Around (ECM, 2002)
Gerald Wilson, In My Time (Mack Avenue, 2005)
Joe Magnarelli, Always There (Criss Cross, 1998)
Mark Masters Ensemble, Ellington Saxophone Encounter (Capri, 2012)

Gary Smulyan’s latest release, Royalty At Le Duc, was released in January 2017 by Sunnyside Records. Find here.

Go to Gary Smulyan’s website here.