Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Black History Month-The Hammond Organ, the Leslie Speaker and Jazz Organ

That Laurens Hammond(1895-1973)would be written about in an article for Black History Month should probably be considered heresy.

Were it not for his inventing the Hammond organ that has for so long been widely used in Black Gospel churches, there would surely be no connection at all.

I include Hammond's name not only because of his importance in creating an instrument that has had such an impact on gospel and jazz music, but because despite his stubborn racism and pride, the invention he created has pervaded across racial lines, and this is an important aspect to consider during Black History Month.

His first company was called the Hammond Clock Company(1928) and there he developed his famous synchronous motor that revolved in phase with the 60 cycle electric power plant alternating current then becoming standard. This became the foundation of the inner workings that he would develop later for the organ.

He was looking for another invention that would use the technology and parts that made up those used for a clock, and although not a musician, his research, along with associates led to the invention of the first Hammond organ.

The initial importance of the Hammond organ was felt in two important ways-up to that point church organs were large monstrosities that were designed in conjuction with the actual building of a church, the cost to install such an organ was equally enormous, and the organ was a permanent installation.

The Hammond organ was small enough to be carted into an already existing church, and at a hair under 500 lbs, was portable enough to be moved if necessary and inexpensive enough to be purchased by a homeowner or just about any church.

About the same time that the organ was introduced, Don Leslie(shown here with current jazz organ virtuoso Joey DeFrancesco and a Leslie speaker)noted that the problem with the speaker that Hammond sold with his organ was that it didn't reproduce the effect that a pipe organ produces.

In a full pipe organ installation, pipes are located all over a large hall, so that you can experience a sense of sonic direction.

What Leslie did was develop his own speaker, which contained rotating speakers inside a stationary cabinet. This threw the sound all over the performance space.

In the following picture you can see on the top of this opened Leslie the rotating horn that rotates the high frequencies, on the bottom of the speaker rotates a baffle around a lower range speaker.

The resulting effect from being able to switch the speed of the speaker while playing from 'fast' to 'slow' or 'off' was very effective at key points in the music.

Laurens Hammond took great pains to squash Leslie-before Leslie started selling his speaker he approached Hammond to go into business together. They arranged a meeting at the Hammond factory and had Hammond organs connected to Leslie speakers. Performers were invited to make comparisons.

Hammond of course turned it down and tried to discourage him in everyway he could.

It was learned later that Hammond executives told the performers not to let Don Leslie 'know that it's any good'.

Hammond also forbid his dealers to sell Leslie speakers, even manufacturing the organ so it would be electronically incompatible with Leslie's speaker, etc.

His great pains did not succeed.

The Hammond/Leslie combination was a marriage seemingly made in heaven, even today a Hammond organ seems incomplete with out a Leslie speaker.

Would Stevie Winwood have been able to record 'Gimmee Some Lovin' if Hammond had succeeded? What about Benmont Tench, longtime organist with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers? Or The Beatles 'Let it Be'? George Harrison wouldn't have been able to plug his guitar into the Leslie at the end....

The popularity soared after WW II, and Hammond organs were then everywhere-skating rinks, drive in movie theaters, baseball parks, tv and radio studios for use in soap operas and other dramas. There were even local Hammond organ societies that encouraged owners.

The first organ was presented to Henry Ford in 1935, right after Hammond went into production with his new organ.

In 1955 the Hammond organ released model C3, which responded to desire that churches had for a more 'church-looking organ'.

Hammond B3 Organ

Hammond C3 Organ, 'more churchy design', the design on the side of the organ was also matched on the bench.

On the 'other side of the tracks', the Hammond became popular for the reasons already discussed, especially within Black Gospel churches.

Gospel musicians began to realize that the Hammond was good for other music besides gospel.

Wild Bill Davis, one of the first jazz organists, convinced club owners that if they purchased a Hammond organ and Leslie cabinet that a Hammond player, along with a guitarist and drummer, could produce as much sound as any big band, for a fraction of the cost.

Many others followed his path. They were using the organ in a way that Laurens Hammond never intended.

Thus the jazz organ trio was born. It was a smashing success for Blue Note and many other record labels in the 50s and 60s. It began through a new jazz organist who was influenced by Wild Bill-Jimmy Smith. He will be discussed in an upcoming article for Black History Month.

Record labels saw Smith's and Blue Note's success and began looking for their own jazz organ performer.

This of course sold more organs.

Nevertheless, Hammond refused to acknowledge or even capitalize on any of this, and the Hammond Company didn't begin to endorse any jazz organists until after Laurens Hammond's death.

As Laurens Hammond got older and ceded control of the company to others, the Hammond Company began to collaborate with Leslie in many joint projects.

In a humorous twist of events, Suzuki now owns the Hammond and Leslie name under Hammond-Suzuki, and continues to produce Hammond organs using digital technology and Leslie Speakers identical in design to that which Don Leslie began.

Laurens Hammond was undoubtly an engineering genius. In addition to the Hammmond organ and a superior clock, work he did during WWII contributed to guided missle technology. When he died he had almost 100 patents.

Laurens Hammond's pride and his prejudice show that despite what one man may have the power to intend, the true order of the way that things should be is going to happen anyway.

Credits and for more info-

The Hammond Zone

Pete Fallico's Jazz Organ Website

The Beauty in The B-book about the Hammond Organ and Leslie Speaker by Mark Vail

Black History Month-The Gospel Church, Thomas A. Dorsey

This article is written with the hope that (1)you will attend a gospel church service in your city during Black History month and (2)to promote an awareness of the importance and uniqueness of Afro-American worship.

Gospel music and worship styles discussed in this article refer to Black Gospel music, as opposed to Southern Gospel that has been traditionally associated with White people, and more connected to American folk and country music.

Certainly going back to African worship styles would give a broader understanding of what is now experienced in a modern gospel church, but a lot of those traditions have been lost due to different factors that occurred upon and during the time that has passed after the arrival of the first African Americans to America. This would require another article to discuss.

A visitor to a gospel church would notice some important differences compared to contemporary, pre-dominantly 'White' churches.

For one thing, dress styles in contemporary churches are moving more towards casual, whereas attendees in a gospel church will dress to the 'nines'.

White contemporary churches have moved into more modern music styles based on 'rock' music, and this has fractured such churches.

By and large, the older generation prefers traditional, lower-key services, whereas the the younger generation is looking for something more cutting edge.

You don't tend to see this kind of age-division in Afro-American churches. Young and old alike are seen worshipping under the same roof, listening to what white worshippers might consider to be contemporary music. However, that also demonstrates how influential gospel music has been in America. Practically all popular music in America has been influenced by this institution.

Traditional gospel music instrumentation would include at the least, a Hammond organ, with Leslie speakers(I will discuss this in greater detail in tomorrow's installment of Black History Month), a piano, bass, drums and guitar.

Larger churches may have additional keyboards and horns.

A contemporary White church attendee will also notice the dominance of the keybord/piano in gospel music as opposed to the usual dominance of the guitar in contemporary worship.

This is attributed to the way the guitar was introduced to the gospel church. When it was first introduced, the piano and organ had long established themselves as instruments in traditional Black worship, the guitar was seen more of something to be used in the world, and not seen appropriate for worship.

The gospel choir is the focal point of the music delivery. A choir with matching robes is common, larger churches may also feature a smaller group of worship leader singers.

Soloists are also commonly used.

There is some controversy more recently in gospel churches about whether or not to accept rap as a viable expression of spirituality in gospel churches. At this point the idea of keeping the local church together seems to be the rule.

My opinion for the reasoning for this is because the gospel church has long been an anchor for the Black community. Whereas many Afro-Americans may tend to feel that in their local communities they are in the 'White' world, a White visitor to a gospel church will definitely feel that they are walking right into the center of Black community.

In my experience of visiting gospel churches, I have found that gospel churches go out of their way to welcome visitors from other races, and there will be some who have made such a church their home.

In speaking with friends who regularly attend Black gospel churches and interacting with such congregants on internet news groups, the preacher or pastor is treated in a very high regard...respected since God has chosen him as a leader of the church.

A common thing that will be said by those visiting gospel churches is the sincerity of worship and the absolutely joyful experience that one receives in such an environment.

Preachers as well as congregants in a gospel church are generally more animated that those in White churches. The stage antics of singer James Brown and others were highly influenced by the gospel preachers they grew up seeing, though entertainers such Brown has certainly taken it farther.

Musicians in gospel churches by and large are very highly concerned with whether they are playing in the Spirit or playing to satisfy personal ego.

A discussion of gospel worship would not be complete without mentioning the important contributions of Thomas A. Dorsey.

Not to be confused with the big band leader, Tommy Dorsey, Thomas Andrew Dorsey(July 1, 1899 - January 23, 1993)is known as the Father of Gospel Music. As formulated by Dorsey, gospel music combines Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and the blues.

Dorsey was the music director at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago from 1932 until the late 1970s.

Dorsey was a well known and accomplished blues pianist and composer in Chicago during the 1930s, performing and working with such artists as Ma Rainey and Tampa Red, which were the blues stars of the day.

His direction turned toward gospel music after his first wife Nettie Dorsey died during childbirth. He then wrote his best known composition, "Take My Hand, Precious Lord", which was performed by Mahalia Jackson and was a favorite of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dorsey's influence extended far beyond that of the church. His music is still performed at churches all over the world, churches of all races.

When Ray Charles came along and started to write popular music from songs of the gospel music he heard growing up, the music of Dorsey was part of that which was he used. The energy of Charles' music comes right from that which has been regularly played for years at every gospel church across America.

Whether you are a regular church attendee, an atheist, agnostic, or really just have no spiritual interest, you will definitely find a gospel music worship experience beyond any of the words I have tried to communicate.

Make it a point during Black History month to visit a gospel church.