How To Play Jazz On The Hammond (and Why!)
|How to Play Jazz on the Hammond (and why!)|
|Secret Registrations of the Jazz Masters!|
|Original Standard Registrations|
|A Few Notes On the Hammond Organ|
The Secret Life of the B3
Tips and Techniques- A Work In Progress
Alright, so by now, just about everybody who cares has read the articles in Keyboard and tried out the on the nearest Hammond (or wanna-B3). But for the few folks who haven’t yet tried the real deal, let me tell you from experience (Roland VK7, Voce DMI 64 Mark II, Voce V3, Hammond-Suzuki XB-1, Yamaha DX7, etc, etc.) that there is one guiding parameter:
You don’t know the difference until you know the difference!
There is no substitute for the power and weight of that massive hunk of wood and metal-it’s the difference between riding a horse and riding a rocking-horse! While much has been made about the ‘waterfall’ vs. ‘diving board’ keys, that is a very minor part of the story. The feel is at least partially related to the inertia of 450 lbs. plus bench and pedals. It’s also related to the minor difference between a typical piano’s ‘stretch’ tuning, a dead-on equal temperament, and the trigonometry of the tonewheels.
But mainly, playing the B-3 is about attitude! Watch the great players – they sure can play fast, sometimes, and they sure can play loud, sometimes, and they sure can cook (all the time!) There are people who play the organ, and people who play music, and when they’re both in the same body, you’ve got the makings of a great groove!
There’s absolutely nothing I can do or say to imbue you with soul, or grease, or groove, or da funk, or any of the other concepts we’re so fond of tossing around like Nerf balls. That’s between you and your Muse (and not the Receptor…). But what I can do is give you the (perhaps somewhat dubious) benefit of my years of performance and observation regarding how the guys and gals that really are the music approach the instrument. I will try to add some actual examples when I have the time, hopefully soon.
The Bass Line
Virtually all jazz organists play the bass line with their left hand on the lower keyboard. The registration is 80 8000 000, with the second drawbar sometimes pulled from 1 to 4, for added growl. (Gospel players play bass on the upper manual, go figure…) The pedals are played (on medium to up-tempo tunes) as percussive accent, either on the note being played with the left hand (moving line) or on one pedal matching the key of the music. This is very staccato, so the net effect is not that of a note from the bass pedal, but rather a chopping, punchy sound which adds grit to the line played on the left hand. Ballads are different, and the pedals may come into play as actual tones.
For a much more detailed and highly knowledgeable look at the techniques and concepts of playing jazz bass lines, check out Scott The Organ Freak’s Outrageos Web Page (spelling his.) Keep scrolling down toward the bottom. Among the many fine examples of jazz organ by the masters, there is a pseudo-Socratic dialog (OK, a discussion thread) highlighting bass lines.
The Lead Line
The Hammond/Leslie combination has the ability to scream lustily when certain notes are played. The Leslie tone cabinet emphasizes certain pitches, so the great players have learned when and how to use these enhanced frequencies. Also, certain mid and lower tones, when played with percussion On, have a gut-grabbing tonality no module has duplicated.
Much of playing leads on the B-3 is about knowing these timbres and when to apply them. Melody can be short, percussive in nature or legato, singing lines, but in either case, accuracy is vital. The organ is decidedly not velocity sensitive, so any note played by accident is obtrusive, due to its volume – on the other hand, it is not difficult to finesse the slide between notes deliberately and with feeling; the lady responds well when caressed…
The Lead Line (cont’d)
There is a standard organ technique of using thumb-under extensions, like you’d use playing scales, but it is needed any time you need to reach beyond your hand span and want the notes to be legato in character. This is something a pianist almost never does (he has a sustain pedal) but the organist absolutely must master. While much of the feel of the groove or the phrasing of a line on organ is based on the length of the note – not simply staccato vs. legato, but subtle variations in relative note length – one of the true secrets of the masters is that they may choose to sustain the legato tone a tiny fraction longer than the ‘average’ organist, thus sounding smoother and more sensual – but maintain a detaché spacing between bass notes, to generate the percussive chiff that pulses the bass..
Playing accompaniment as a jazz organist is a unique experience. Here is where the listener can almost instantly tell the piano players from the organists. The organist plays spare, lean chords-even when playing extended harmonics like 13ths and flat 9s, he/she knows that less is more. Lush, fat changes have their place, but overdo them and the sound gets murky and muddy, or worse, schmaltzy.
The use of the Vibrato/Chorus variations has more significance here than in soloing. Sustained notes and chords reflect the character of the vibrato where shorter melodic and thematic single lines do not. Here is where the most underrated part of the organ becomes paramount in affecting the feel…
The Expression Pedal
Most instruments have a simple intuitive way to control volume. Blow, strum or pluck harder and the volume gets louder. Organ does not have this luxury. There are only two ways to change volume – drawbar settings and the expression (volume) pedal.
Using the drawbars to control volume is tedious; it’s also quite limited. The typical organist trying to play jazz for the first time finds an appropriate medium volume level and lays there – and so does the audience! It is quite common to see the good jazz organist pump the swell (another name for volume or expression) pedal to generate dynamic interest.
In a medium-tempo groove, the organist typically will mildly, but quite precisely, both in terms of meter and the exact arc of the curve, pump the pedal. It is basically a sFz (sforzando) effect, pulsed 2 or 4 times per bar, in sync with his/her bass line and accompaniment. At this point, the organist is acting as a big band horn section, changing dynamics to keep it interesting.
The Spoiler – the Palm Slap
This is where the B3 leaves ALL the clones in the dust, including the latest Hammond/Suzuki models with the nine key contacts that attempt to model the original mechanical contacts. One of the elements that defines a jazz organist is the use of the palm slap, wherein the player smartly strikes the keyboard with either a loosely closed fist or an open palm, hitting 3 to 6 keys simultaneously and creating a percussive ‘pop’ that adds a funky, gut-level feel.
The clones have never come remotely close to emulating this effect, which seems to be the result of five keys with nine contacts each being slapped so the chiff is prominent. Listen to JOS, or Groove or Hank Marr, or Bro’ Jack – they each use the slap for character, and each does it a bit differently. The progenitor was Bill Doggett, he used the palm slap as the primary rhythm device in his classic Honky-Tonk. Here is an example of the use of the Squabble and Palm Slap techniques.
The ‘Special’ Settings
The ‘Silk’ and ‘Bro’ Jack’-style tones have an interesting component. Play a melodic line as an octave, perhaps with a third note included, though not usually a full chord. For an added effect, ‘roll’ the notes of the chord from bottom to top, beginning with the note a half-step below the actual melody note, repeating continuously for a gurgling, oily effect. A friend of mine (ok, it was me – blush) calls it the ‘oodley-oodley sound, but in the jazz organ universe, it is known as ‘squabbling.’
Occasionally the percussion-alone vibes-like setting, or the full-on all-drawbars-at-8 is used to add variety and heighten the drama. Too much of this and everybody leaves!
Which reminds me, this is the end of this diatribe. (Except now it isn’t – Ed.) Thank you for spending the time to read it, I hope there was something in these pages that can be of use to you.
Further Notes on the Notes
I had an email from a crossover pianist, struggling to adapt. And I’m going to give you my response – slightly edited for relevance.
It’s soooo different from piano. Thanks so much for the Jimmy Smith settings. That helps reduce the muddle a lot. Organ has just added a huge job on top of what I’ve been trying to learn to do…
… and I am a long ways away from playing left hand bass lines… forget about the pedals!
Organ is very easy to overplay (look at Joey D – see how easy it is?) The trick is to play very little RH, just short comps and small fills, either single notes or moving chord lines, but very seldom with more than 3 notes, and frequently only 3rd and 7th. Space is your friend. Do not be sparing with space, there is seldom a time when playing less isn’t really playing more. Until you have it habituated, the focus is on the bass line. You’re not a piano player anymore. You’re not even an organ player. You’re a bass player who comps until it’s your turn to solo – and then you’re a bass player who solos AND comps (and that’s why you need your feet – you’re usually busier than a one-armed paperhanger!
Practice playing JUST bass, no right hand. As a synthesist, when I play a sampled, ROMpler-type instrument (Triton, OASYS, etc.), one of the keys to successfully sounding like the horn you’re imitating is to think like the instrument you’re emulating, not like the one you’re playing. So play BASS on the bottom manual, and think as much lke a bass player as you can. Look at the Jazz Arranging class on Gary Garritan’s website here. It’s free, quite well-written by bassist Chuck Israels – with audio-visual examples, and goes in depth about how to construct a good bass line. He’s talking acoustic bass, but the principals are identical.
Sing bass lines to yourself (silently, unless you’re alone – people WILL look at you funny if you’re going “bum, bum. Bum bumbubabum, bum…” And don’t be afraid to ‘steal’ bass lines from other organists – just be sure they’re good ones! Another key: always practice like you mean it. Every note you play is music, even if no one else hears. If you allow practicing scales to become purely mechanical, your scalar runs will sound mechanical – but if you play each note as if it were part of a melodic run, you can give it character as well – play a C scale – first set as a standard classical scale, then think of it as a blues riff, then a jazz riff, then a montuno – there are dozens of ways to play the same scale, if you focus on the musicality as well as the execution.