Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Art of The Jazz Trio

Jazz music historically has been played by musicians in a variety of group configurations, from individual solo performances and duos, to large orchestras, and big bands. The main tenets of the music throughout the years have been preserved in true jazz regardless of the configuration of the group or the variation of the musicians involved. The key determining factor has been the ability for the musician to interpret the song in their own voice; through improvisation or unique stylistic expression.
In the largest groups (big bands, for example) group identity is recognizable, although individuals are celebrated as well. In the best jazz trios, there is also a "group sound", but it is more heavily influenced by the individual performers.
When most jazz aficionados think of a jazz trio, the piano/bass/drums configuration comes to mind. However, there are many other types of trios that produce compelling music; the Eddie Bayard trio, with Eddie Brookshire on Bass, and Mark Lomax on Drums performed a wonderful concert a couple of years ago at the Hyatt jazz series. Late Tenorist Jimmy McGary had a wonderful trio with Wayne Yeager on Organ and Bobby Scott on Drums.
More recently, (two weeks ago), the Deep Blue Organ Trio performed a wonderful set at The Redmoor.
The Organ trio concept is unique in the fact that two out of the three instruments featured are traditionally used in jazz for chord structure and melody, not rhythm or pace. The organist supplies the bass lines; this provides for expanded possibilities for the organ and guitar to contribute.
Willie Smart, the drummer from the Ballettech Sunday jazz jam session said it best about the Deep Blue Organ Trio: "look in the dictionary for the definition of the jazz trio and you will see The Deep Blue Organ Trio".
Well, what makes a good true jazz trio? There are a lot of trios that sound like three individual musicians playing individually. The best trios are by musicians who first understand the concept of the group, and are able to mesh their individual brilliance within the confines of the group. Yet maintaining their individuality. Like any cohesive working group, there must be a general familiarity with each member, and there must be trust in the ability and decision making of each member. There also must be a willingness to provide support for each other; that translates to a "good vibe" for the listener. A disjointed trio sounds fractured; even the most casual listener can determine when there is friction within the group.
This was what was so great about the Deep Blue Organ Trio; their collective sound and the way the members worked together (Bobby Broom, Chris Foreman, and Gene Rockingham), it was clear they possessed all of the best attributes of a great working trio. It was a beautiful show; the music was as complex and rewarding as any show that I have heard.

In my opinion, the organ trio concept produces some of the most compelling music, regardless of size of the group, in jazz today.

There have been many organ jazz trio groups in the history of jazz; some of the best groups were led by very familiar organists; Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott, Dr Lonnie Smith, Charles Earland, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, and Joey DeFrancesco to name a few.
Here is an example of the Jimmy Smith Trio playing "The Sermon":
Quentin Warren, Guitar; Billy Hart, Drums.
Very complex music from a trio.

This is The Deep Blue Organ Trio in performance:

So, the next time you have the opportunity to hear a great organ trio, don't miss it. you will be glad you took the time!
Support live music.

1 comment:

Bart Broadnax said...

Once again, nice article. As a jazz bassist, I realize that it takes work and sensitivity to bring balance to the trio setting, yet it should not sound like it's work at all. I've learned to respect all types of trio settings (even ones that don't include a string bass), and I take my hat off especially to a good organ trio. On a side note, one of the most innovative, yet understated, jazz trios ever was the Nat King Cole Trio, which featured piano, guitar, and bass, but no drums! I really enjoy listening to them––but I digress. Keep the blog flowing, Doc.