January 13, 2019


Gregory Lewis on the Hammond B-3 (Adam Perlmutter, 1/04/19, Jazz Times)

"Piano's great," Gregory Lewis says. "But the organ--I don't want to say it's better, but it's just different. You have more power and control, and I do like to be in control when I'm playing."

Lewis, a New York-based keyboardist and composer, is both one of the modern jazz masters of the Hammond B-3 organ and a Thelonious Monk specialist. His latest release--Organ Monk Blue, a trio with guitarist Marc Ribot and drummer Jeremy Clemons--is one of four albums on which he finds his own voice within Monk's music. Like many B-3 players, he learned to play piano before taking up the organ. He got serious about the Hammond while studying at the New School in New York and likens the process of transferring his keyboard skills to the instrument to learning to drive a stick shift. [...]

1954 saw the introduction of the B-3, which would prove to be the company's most popular model. In the 1950s and '60s, it emerged as a commanding voice in jazz and popular music. Jimmy Smith used the instrument to set the prototype for the jazz organist, using its bass pedals to mimic an upright bassist, while at the same time playing virtuosic lines with both hands. Rock and R&B musicians like Steve Winwood, Keith Emerson, Booker T. Jones, and Billy Preston harnessed the instrument's growling sounds to excellent effect.

Though the B-3 produces a massive wall of sound, Lewis finds that he doesn't need to adjust his conception of the keyboard to reduce sonic clutter. He tends to approach a Monk composition like "Little Rootie Tootie," with its dense chordal accents in the A section, just as he would if at the piano. "I definitely don't shy away from those 10-note chords," he says. "They sound monstrous on the B-3, and it works really well for some reason. Maybe it's the same idea as in gospel, where the power can make churchgoers very emotional."

Posted by at January 13, 2019 7:34 AM