Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Black History Month-Jack McDuff

I got to see Jack McDuff a few months before he died. He was triple-billed with Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff at Antone's here in Austin. It would be the last time I saw these three particular organ legends.

I did get to see organist John Patton a few months before he died, again, here in Austin, but that will be another installment of jazz organ.

If playing form was all that counted, then McDuff was not at his best. Recovering from two strokes, he was using his left hand sparingly, and wasn't kicking bass. He was playing with Roy Hargrove's band at the Austin Jazz Festival that year.

But McDuff is a jazz organ legend, and to me he deserves all of the respect given any master of this instrument.

'Capt' Jack McDuff, or 'Brother Jack' as he was also known was wearing his signature captain's cap that night, and I could see possibly why he got the captain's nickname.

A cheerful face and disposition, he looked like he was directing the groove right where it was supposed to go, full speed ahead.

Admittedly, I don't know as much about McDuff as I do Smith or McGriff. I do know that Joey DeFrancesco, always in total respect of those who have gone before him, befriended McDuff towards the end of McDuff's life and recorded with him.

Pete Fallico tells us that Jack was born Eugene McDuffy on September 17, 1926, in Champaign, Illinois. His first love was string bass and then later added piano.

One of the biggest challenges for any jazz organist after Jimmy Smith has always been that it can be so easy to imitate him. But there can be only one Smith, one McGriff, and there can only be one McDuff.

During the jazz organ heyday during the 50s and 60s, one could here a few bars of a particular musician and be able to identify them immediately.

From what I have heard of him, McDuff's style was funky. His recordings span several different styles, and at one point in the 1970s, during the dormant period of jazz organ, he temporarily moved to playing synthesizers. But he returned back to the instrument that made him famous and enjoyed many years of kick bass groovin'.

On the 'Organized' CD that was released a few years ago, which is samples not only DeFrancesco, Smith and McDuff but also organists in other genres including Art Neville.

Again, playing with an upright bassist, McDuff shows what is different about him, he just makes the tune sound funky.

My first and favorite McDuff and CD is 'Legends of Acid Jazz'. Featured among many musicians includes guitartist George Benson. He played with many organ trios early in his career before he went solo. In recent years he has returned to his organ trio roots. On some original tunes, he shows influence of Thelonious Monk, another important pianist of the time.

Lest anybody think that McDuff was just a party time organist, 'Legends' will prove them wrong. His prowess on 'Au Privave is amazing, keeping the bebopping melody going with a double time bass will floor any jazz organ fan.

You can listen to McDuff for free, at http://organfreak.tripod.com/McD/jmrip.html, if you have real audio.

More info about McDuff can be found at:



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