Mike Ledonne & the Hammond B-3 Organ

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Jazz pianist and now organist, Mike LeDonne, at the Hammond B-3.

The Hammond B-3 organ, with its Leslie speaker, is an odd beast, usually associated with the deep dish soul jazz of Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Shirley Scott, Don Patterson, Johnny ‘Hammond’ Smith, and Freddie Roach. The B-3 was also common along what some once called ‘the chitlin circuit,’ and is still popular today with gospel music and church functions. Jimmy Smith was the most famous jazz organist of them all, having helped fill the Blue Note coffers before moving onto Verve Records. Larry Young pushed the boundaries of the B-3, venturing into new sonic realms. Prestige Records released the Legends of Acid Jazz: Hammond Heroes a few years ago.

Today’s best known Hammond B-3 organ players are Joey DeFrancesco and Barbara Dennerlein, and now jazz pianist Mike LeDonne has joined their ranks with his latest release of soul jazz classics, titled, I Love Music, on Savant Records. He’s accompanied by the great Eric Alexander on tenor, Peter Bernstein’s superb guitar work, and Joe Farnsworth, one of my favorite and totally straight-ahead drummers. Together, they’re such a fabulous quartet that, though I’ve never been a huge fan of B-3s, this album just makes me feel good when I listen to it. It’s a five star album in my book.

Mike LeDonne playing “Blues for Gene” off I Love Music. If only we could see his footwork!

The Hammond B-3 organ was invented in 1935 by Laurens Hammond as a more modern adaptation of the original Telharmonium electronic organ, which was an awkward, heavy, and ungainly instrument created in 1897 by Thaddeus Cahill. The modern B-3 and its successor, the Hammond C-3, are both complicated instruments with tons of presets.

What I love most about these organs are the bass lines that good players create with their feet to accompany the chords and melodies their hands pump out. I imagine that it requires a tremendous amount of concentration and practice to master. Check out the video below of Barbara Dennerlein cooking like crazy with both hands and feet, and you’ll see what I mean.

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