Jimmy McGriff


I hope that whatever makes me happy makes you happy. While checking out music on YouTube during work, I stumbled upon live footage of organist Jimmy McGriff.

This seriously gave me a lift. Great footage. French voice-over, French concert poster of January/February 1969, The Apollo Club. Likely in Paris? McGriff clicks on the light for what looks like a pre-concert afternoon tv-special/announcement. Look at McGriff and his band’s driving exercise of the blues. McGriff performs Keep Loose, which was released on the Solid State album The Worm and the B-side of the single The Worm in 1968. See here.

His band here consists of tenor saxophonist Leo Johnson, guitarist Larry Frazier and drummer Jesse Kilpatrick. Frazier and Kilpatrick did not play on the recorded version but had joined McGriff’s band in ’69 and were featured on the heavy organ blues winner Step One. Johnson and Frazier are enigma’s (for me), Kilpatrick was the former drummer of organ group Billy Larkin & The Delegates.

Few played the blues with the grit, grease and controlled abandon of McGriff. Killer stuff!

Jimmy McGriff - Honey

Jimmy McGriff Honey (Solid State 1968)

You can pick your favorite soul tune from Jimmy McGriff’s 1968 Honey album and dance, dance, dance.

Jimmy McGriff - Honey


Jimmy McGriff (organ), Uncredited ‘Organ & Big Blues Band’


in 1968 in New York City


as SS-18036 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone
Chain Of Fools
We’re A Winner
Up, Up And Away
Side B:
Tell Mama
I Thank You
I Got The Feelin’
Baby, I Love You
(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

It’s a blatantly commercial album by McGriff, who was quite popular ever since the organist from Philadelphia scored a hit on Sue Records in 1962 with Ray Charles’ I Got A Woman. Switching to Solid State in 1966, McGriff’s version of Cherry did very well on the charts. Producer Sonny Lester must’ve dreamt of making McGriff just as famous as his mentor and friend, Jimmy Smith, who was the most popular soul jazz artist of the era, more so after he switched from Blue Note to Verve, under the guidance of Creed Taylor. Sonny Lester used McGriff in a variety of settings, from blues, pop to big band, some more successful than others. Essentially, Honey presents a rather arbitrary choice of popular soul tunes. Just put ‘m all on one album, see which one picks up any airplay.

But. Big but. Although it would’ve been nice if McGriff had recorded more often in a modern jazz setting in the sixties, (McGriff’s albums on Milestone in the 80s and 90s are more jazz-oriented) McGriff’s clever voicing and modern approach have not altogether vanished from his chart-running songbook. Besides, McGriff is a blues master that rarely disappoints in the kind of setting Honey represents. He is, after all, a groove monster without peer!

The album is a mix of uptempo classics like Respect, Chain Of Fools, I Thank You, medium-tempo tunes as (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay, James Brown’s funky I Got The Feelin’ and the odd pop tune, Jimmy Webb’s Up, Up And Away. Throughout, McGriff’s charming mix of screamin’ blues riffs and dazzling little bop lines keeps the listener on his toes. His timing is hip, floating around the beat. The band is seriously rocking, backing McGriff as if Otis, King Solomon or the Wicked Pickett is holding the mic. The sax player has no inkling to play ‘safe’ soul licks but instead – a pleasant surprise – injects cookers like Honey with tantalizing modern-jazzy phrases on what sounds like the electric Varitone saxophone. The group is uncredited. It might be saxophonist Fats Theus, who played on McGriff’s The Worm in 1968 as well.

Honey paid the bills. In later life, McGriff kept gigging steadily, making a living on the road. A while ago, the late flutist, saxophone player and educator Peter Guidi recounted his stint as a sideman with McGriff to Flophouse, describing the traveling organist’s classy van as a bonafide ‘mobile bordello, laced with red velvet’. It also carried the Hammond B3 and indispensable Leslie speaker. Guidi remembered the day McGriff offered him a gig, but Guidi, who almost once got killed carrying a B3 down the stairs of a club, said: “I love your work and I want the job. As long as I don’t have to carry the damn thing!” McGriff laughed. Guidi got the gig anyway.

It is a blessing that, in spite of the machine’s awkward shape and elephantine weight, there have been so many fine organists. Jimmy McGriff definitely was one of the leaders of the pack.

The full album is on YouTube. Listen here.

Jimmy McGriff - Live Where The Action's At!

Jimmy McGriff Live Where The Action’s At! (Veep 1966)

Live Where The Action’s At! is a typical album of organist Jimmy McGriff: ultimate groove, smart modern jazz ingredients.

Jimmy McGriff - Live Where The Action's At!


Jimmy McGriff (organ), Thornell Schwartz (guitar), Willie Jenkins (drums)


in 1966 at The Front Bar, New Jersey


as Veep 13515 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Where It’s At
When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Frugal Bugle
Side B:
Georgia On My Mind
Goin’ Out Of My Head
Robbins Nest

Philadelphian Jimmy McGriff, (1936-2008) was an enormously popular organist who recorded in a variety of settings, from r&b, soul, pop, funk to big band. Late in life McGriff said that he felt forced to continue to record commercial stuff once he started scoring good-selling singles and albums. Glad to be able to pay them bills but… Presumably, McGriff referred to his work with Sue Records, where he scored his first hit in 1962 with I’ve Got A Woman and, particularly, Solid State. Solid State was the company of Sonny Lester, who tried to mold McGriff in the same popular vein as Jimmy Smith, one of McGriff’s mentors, who reached soul jazz stardom in the smart hands of Verve’s producer Creed Taylor.

Nevertheless, McGriff’s blues-drenched style almost always shone through. Lest we forget, McGriff’s records like Groove Grease (on Groove Merchant, also produced by Sonny Lester) are legendary funk jazz artifacts. And, once the soul jazz era had largely come to its conclusion in the late seventies, McGriff recorded his share of straight-ahead jazz albums, particularly on Milestone in the eighties and nineties during cooperations with Hank Crawford, Red Holloway and David “Fathead” Newman and, later on, the awesome contemporary tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander.

I think Jimmy really enjoyed what he was doing on the night that was recorded for the album Live Where The Action’s At!. The action’s at The Front Bar in Newark. One of the places – both bar and city – where they ate soul jazz like the cookie monster devoured biscuits. McGriff is accompanied by guitarist Thornel Schwartz, who played and recorded with Jimmy Smith in 1956 before hooking up first with Johnny “Hammond” Smith, then with McGriff – staying in the same territory! – and drummer Willie Jenkins during the early and mid-sixties. A tight-knit, prolific working and recording band. Production-wise, the album may be so-so, the drums sounding muffled, but as far as the standard of playing is concerned, it’s a gem! Somehow, the organist adapts diverse tunes as Stevie Wonder’s Uptight, old warhorses as Georgia On My Mind and Robbins Nest to that very special (and sweaty) climate region of planet McGriff. For one thing, his unforgettable sound, gritty, and straight from the baptist church, never fails to raise the hairs on your arms.

After building up momentum with bluesy phrasing and sparse flurries of notes, McGriff generally keeps up the groove beyond belief, working around short, screamin’ recurring figures, his touch percussive, his occassional ‘drone’ (the coupling of right hand lines with a sustained left hand chord) both hard-swinging and tasteful. He’s getting down to the nitty-gritty with bluesy McGriff originals like Where It’s At and Frugal Bugle. Raw McGriff blues is usually underlined by hip voicings, revealing a genuine taste and capacity for modern jazz playing. Traveling the hard road with Jimmy McGriff, Eric Alexander once said, while it means being provided with subtle accompaniment, is also a lesson in the skills of entertainment. Obviously, Live Where The Action’s At! is exceptional in both departments, and then some.

Check out Uptight on YouTube here.

And Robbins Nest 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


Jimmy McGriff Electric funk (Blue Note 1970)

If you like your funk down on the ground, be sure to grab a copy of Jimmy McGriff’s Electric Funk. Listening to McGriff’s essential grooves, you would expect Sly Stone to break in any minute ad-libbing ‘thank you falettinme be mice elf agin.’



Jimmy McGriff (organ), Horace Ott (arranger, electric piano); most likely other players include: Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Chuck Rainey (bass) and Bernard Purdie (drums)


at Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey in September, 1969


on Blue Note as BST-84350 in August 1970

Track listing

Side A
Back On The Track
Chris Cross
Miss Poopie
The Bird Wave
Spear For Moondog Part 1
Side B
Spear For Moondog Part 2
Tight Times
Spinning Wheel
Funky Junk

Funk? Sly? You are on a jazz site? Yes, you are. The chameleonic character of one James Harrill McGriff is almost – or definitely – depending on your view of Sun Ra’s case load, without peer, and he appeared to be so fond of making any kind of popular music that crossing boundaries, and in the proces crossing over to a white market, seems but an afterthought. From creating a buzz in the r&b market in 1962 with a raucous Hammond take on Ray Charles’ I’ve got a woman, prolonging it extensively by a string of exciting and succesful records on the Sue label, thereby touching base in Europe as well, (his singles even went as far as homerunning into the modest collection of my dad, a middle-class Dutch son of a baker, a collection in which Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and a string of French chansonniers were most prominent) to club blues and jazz organ music in Jimmy Smith mode for Afro-Americans as well as Caucasian Amphetamine’s Annies, to the funk period of which we now speak, comprising a perfect dance mix for the groovy crowd on the Soul Train show, McGriff wore a smile that many surely remember as bright as the lights of the big city.

For today’s clientèle, my little discours may seem insensible. Because nowadays crossing boundaries is of course as normal as peeling a banana during lunch break. It is however mainly part of the corporate deal and often more a gimmick than a well thought-out musical strategy and a far cry from the fresh approach that flavored the times-that-were-a-changin’. I will certainly not protest against the opinion that Sonny Lester’s (Lester produced McGriff on his label Solid State between 1965 and 70 and on Groove Merchant between 1971 and 1976) strategy to steer the organist to the island where the treasure lay, any island, may it be one full of hippies, or Count Basie buffs, or ‘teenypoppers’, or the blues crowd, led to recordings of varying quality – McGriff’s blues oeuvre in particular is, I feel, slightly repetitious; yet one surely must agree that the freedom McGriff was granted also led to a couple of soul jazz gems. Remember The Worm?

It is unclear if Sonny Lester, who is credited as producer, really was around. Anyway, recording of Electric Funk must’ve been a ball. Arguably, McGriff and co-writer/electric pianist Horace Ott had so much fun cookin’ up funkadelic tunes that they thought, well, let’s try another one in the same vein, and now in the key of B minor! I prefer this album to his so-called classic Groove Grease, its spot on coherence to the latter’s groove that’s not that greasy as the title (and bluntly blaxploitative cover) promise it to be.

Opener Back On The Track immediately sets the pace – bass so deep it hurts, soulful, rimshot-packed drums, a lush reed and brass orchestration with unexpected hooks and on top of that the meandering lines of McGriff’s keys, full of surprises and castles of thought constructed from Chicago West Side bricks. The whole serves as a blueprint of soul-funk Donny Hathaway was about to cough up live and makes for a nice companion to your classic blaxploitation movie soundtracks. (less sexist than Groove grease’s or suggestive than Soul Sugar’s front covers, Electric Funk’s picture nevertheless brings the message home)

And tension remains. Medium-tempoed with the exception of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Spinning Wheel, this is a considerable succes.