The Professor of Jazz Organ is back!
Hank Marr’s second release for Double-Time Records reveals even more of his Organ Curriculum and confirms his position in the upper echelon of Jazz Organists. Here, Hank shows us how the influences of Wild Bill Davis and Jimmy Smith can be amalgamated into pure swing and effortless groove.
As Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at Ohio State University, he continues to inspire younger musicians while keeping the rest of us on our toes with ‘play along’ instructional recordings through the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Series. In fact, Hank may stand alone in these wide-range efforts to reach jazz organ enthusiasts and keep this uniquely American musical tradition alive. As he once told me: “It’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you have students who are becoming an extension of you.”
Hank was born on January 30, 1927 in a section of Columbus, Ohio known then as ‘Flytown’. He remembers sneaking off to the neighbors where he could practice on their piano, playing the chords he would pick up by listening to the radio. It wasn’t long before he and his friend Ronnie Kirk (later known as Rahsaan Roland Kirk) would jam together in a nearby garage. Hank’s ability to learn by ear took him through several bands before he returned to academia for more formal training. He described himself as a diamond in the rough as he entered Ohio State. “I didn’t know anything about classical music or any of the technical aspects of the music”, admits Hank, “but a couple of teachers got their heads together and said there was something there. They saw some talent.” Hank soon was drawn to the Hammond organ which was still just emerging on the scene. “I had heard Wild Bill Davis”, he recalls, “just before I was getting ready to go over seas. I think it was Birdland.” Later in his career, Hank would run into Bill Davis at Grace Daniel’s Little Belmont Club in Atlantic City. “Bill would be playing his theme song then I’d come on, pick it up and it just went on and on.” While Wild Bill Davis helped Hank with the ‘locked hand’ sound, Jimmy Smith was modeling a new right hand soloing style for modern jazz organ which caught everyone by surprise. Hank and his newly formed organ combo got in on that groove right from ’jump street’. Like so many others chasing Jimmy Smith, Hank was able to learn from the horse’s mouth. “I caught up with Jimmy when I could because we sort of followed one another or preceded one another on certain engagements. Then, we were playing all the organ rooms and I would casually just go up and ask him things.” Meanwhile, King Records was looking for an organist who might follow along in the vein created by Bill ‘Mr. Honky Tonk’ Doggett and they wisely called on Hank Marr. Hank made seven records for King but was never really given the opportunity to play in the adventurous style he was capable of. This newest recording from Hank provides a more comprehensive Hank Marr with a far reaching appeal. Double-Time has captured the splendor of Hank’s jazz organ. His method of ‘conversing’ from one manual to the other, using varied registrations and subtle dynamics is truly an art form and represents an uncanny style of communicating jazz music. In his first outing for Double-Time (It’s ‘bout Time! DTRCD-102) it seemed that the long-awaited sounds of Hank Marr were finally returned to our ears. In this second effort, the magnitude of his music is revealed.
It appeared as if Heaven, itself intervened... At least that’s how guitarist Wilbert Longmire felt. Not only did this mark a thirty-three year reunion for he and Hank but on the day of the recording session, the predicted storm conditions for the Louisville area held steady until the music was created. The very next day, Mother Nature devastated the surrounding homes. Sanctified or not, this session will forever stay a fond memory for the only other surviving member of Hank’s original quartet (Hank’s band included Rusty Bryant and Taylor Orr for many years). Wilbert states: “It was very easy for us to play together again. Everything seemed to click just as if we never stopped playin’ together.” Drummer Bill Stewart was brought to the session on the merit of his contemporary approach and awareness of drum-organ language. He has gained much respect for his work with organist Larry Goldings and seems to understand the importance of time to an organist and his sensitivity to an organ bass line. As he puts it: “The organ bass is obviously a different texture than the acoustic bass or even the electric bass. Its presence is sort of felt more than it is heard sometimes.” Bill plays magnificently throughout and adds: “Hank’s fun to play with. He’s got a great groove and swings!”
Here are some comments from Hank as we talked about each tune:
SOFTWINDS: “I’ve always liked the groove on this piece. I think it was the first one that I did that day to kind a get a feel for the group and establish some groove right-off-the-bat.”
KILLER JOE: “You can’t miss with that tune... with that vamp. The vamp sets it up although that bridge can still be a mystery to the unexperienced player and a lot of them just play the melody and then just vamp rather than improvise over that bridge section... that’s the challenge. The tune lends itself very well and it’s typical of the way Benny Golson writes.”
JIM DAWG: “I wanted to do this because I did it some time ago in the King Record catalogue and had two saxophonists playing on it: Rusty Bryant and Rudy Johnson. Wilbert didn’t get a chance to play a solo on that particular recording so I thought it would be nice to do that.”
MISTY (ballad): “Jamey wanted to do the slow version and I’ve always wanted to do it as well because it’s one of my favorite ballads of all time. When I play this on the piano, I do it like the late Erroll Garner but I’ve never had an opportunity to record it as a ballad on organ.”
EASY TALK: “This is a tune that I wrote which was my impression of President Kennedy at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In other words, he got them to back down using ‘easy talk’... a President that talked easy but carried a big stick.”
BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC: “I’d like to give credit to a local pianist by the name of Bobby Floyd. I got some inspiration from Bobby on this particular number. That’s sort of his kind of piece. He’s working a club called the Grand View Inn and can’t do a performance without playing this.” NOTE: Hank and Bobby recently did a live radio broadcast together and they had so much fun with this piece that Hank chose to recreate the energy for this session. “Cause I did a thing with ‘Amazing Grace’ before and it was only natural for me to look for something else in the genre.”
JUST FRIENDS: “I chose to do this differently than I did at the 502 Club. Again, the tempo rolls quite a bit in a more contemporary style but at the same time, I didn’t have anything to feature Bill Stewart on so we did a samba-swing-thing sort of like on ‘Green Dolphin Street’ in a more traditional way where I gave Bill a chance to get involved. In the first eight bars there’s a real subtle change which pianists or people who know the tune will be trying to figure out. I think I’m the only one that uses this chord substitution that works so well with the melody.”
AND WHAT IF I DON’T: “This is one of Herbie Hancock’s early efforts... the simplicity of it all... the release in the bridge... where it swings, this all gives it sort of a gospel-jazz-rock feel. After the first time through, we just chose to swing it all the way, to give it a fresher feel.”
TENDERLY: “This is a very special tune to me. It was my audition piece at Ohio State University. When the School of Music had no Jazz Studies Department... the instructor that auditioned me thought it was special and unique. She asked me how I learned the piece and was surprised that I learned it by ear and that I could play it more than one way... that’s how I got in.”
TEACH ME TONIGHT: “I had no particular thing in mind on this. I knew Jimmy McGriff had done a fine job with it and certainly Al Jarreau had a wonderful version. I thought since we didn’t have any kind of bossa nova feel yet, this would be appropriate.”
MISTY (swing): “I would attribute this feel to Groove Holmes because there were thoughts of him that came to mind. This can be my impressions of Groove. He had the most successful instrumental version of this. I get a lot of pride just mentioning his name.”
Enjoy this music... it SWINGS and it comes to you from one of our national treasures:
Marvelous Hank Marr!
Pete Fallico June
1996 -KUSP, Santa Cruz -Jazz Now Magazine Contributing Writer