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Organ Donors: Freddie Roach & Big John Patton

By BK

The 1960s was the golden age for jazz organists. Calling upon the musical influences from their church-going days, the sounds of the Hammond B-3 were undoubtedly the most popular jazz sound as the organists were able to put the groove into the music, create an extremely accessible sound and ultimately, rule the airwaves. The Hammond B-3 players were the spearhead for the soul jazz invasion. Although other players like Lou Donaldson (saxophone) and Grant Green (guitar) were synonymous with soul-jazz, Hammond B-3 players like Jimmy Smith, Baby Face Willette, Shirley Horn, Jimmy McGriff, Reuben Wilson and Jack McDuff were the ones that put the soul in soul-jazz. Besides these names, there were many other organists who caught on to the same funky vibe. Two such players were Big John Patton and Freddie Roach. Luckily, Blue Note Records has recently re-released recordings from this pair’s earlier works.

In 1963, Big John Patton went into the studio to record his debut album, Along Came John, with guitarist Grant Green and drummer Ben Dixon. Although Along Came John was Patton’s first record as a leader, the trio had already recorded together on numerous sessions as sidemen. Patton, Dixon and Green were the working grunts for the majority of the soul jazz albums recorded for Blue Note during the 1960s. By the time Along Came John arrived, the three were playing like a seasoned veteran band. In addition to the core rhythm section, saxophonists Fred Jackson and Harold Vick added some woodwind flavor to funky organ laced stew. Besides "I’ll Never Be Free", the songwriting belongs to Dixon and Patton while Green’s contributions are noticeably absent. It doesn’t matter though, for his slinky linear guitar licks are a continuous favorite. For another great look at the Patton/Dixon/Green combo, Grant Green’s Iron City (1967) is a must find.

Like Big John Patton, Freddie Roach learned much of his organ talents from his mother. In the case of Roach, his mother was a church organist so he received plenty of early exposure. In a way similar to fellow organist Larry Young, Roach strayed away from the punchy sounds that defined the organ soul jazz sound. Instead, Roach preferred to test the limits of the organ’s capabilities. The raw funky sound was already a given for Roach – he yearned to test the organ sound’s fluidity and the different moods that it could create. In 1963, Roach took trumpeter Blue Mitchell, saxophonist Hank Mobley, guitarist Eddie Wright and drummer Clarence Johnston to record his third album, Good Move! The album definitely possesses the trademark funky organ sounds but the album swings a lot harder than your average soul-jazz album. On songs like George Gerswhins’ "It Ain’t Necessarily So" and Roach’s own "Wine, Wine, Wine" the music transcends the basic jazz trio sound and adds a little swing, hard bop and blues. Another important aspect of Roach’s playing is his ability to perform with others. Instead of the organ being a primarily solo vehicle, Roach saw the organ as an important accompanying instrument. In the original liner notes to Good Move!, Roach spoke to author Nat Hentoff about the organ’s role: "The important thing is to try to fill holes where you figure the soloists need support. But when the soloist is playing something self-explanatory, leave the hole open. Similarly, you have to learn to use harmonies and dynamics with taste so that you leave room for other players. And when it’s your turn to solo, the only way you’re going to make yourself distinct from other organists is by showing how you can control power to express everything you want to say, no matter how fragile." Roach lived up to his words, for it his subtly of playing that sets him apart from all the others.

You can’t go wrong with the sounds Hammond B-3 and these two releases provide a great look at two of the instruments more underrated practitioners. You can find out more about them at www.bluenote.com.