Friday, March 24, 2023

Bob Thiele Emergency – “Head Start” (1969)

I. Bob Thiele

Bob Thiele is best known these days as the producer responsible for making Impulse Records the iconic label it became in the sixties. Thiele took over Impulse after founder Creed Taylor left (after about a half dozen iconic releases) for more lucrative work at Verve in 1961.

But if Impulse is now considered “The House Trane Built,” it is significantly due to Thiele’s undaunting and visionary patronage of saxophonist John Coltrane. Thiele gamely let Coltrane record whatever he wanted – balanced by occasional appeals to the mainstream – even while critics were harsh and sales were negligible.

Only Coltrane’s early death enshrined his Thiele-produced recordings as great sermons in the church of Impulse.

While Thiele’s belief in and support of Coltrane seemed at the time to bet against the odds – jazz’s big short – Thiele was hardly a novice in the jazz world. In his teens, Thiele founded his own jazz label (Signature) and co-founded his own jazz magazine (called Jazz, appropriately enough, and later Jazz & Pop).

When Signature failed – Thiele always seemed to favor, even celebrate, out-of-fashion players and styles – Thiele took a job as staff producer at Coral Records. There, he produced hits for Buddy Holly and Theresa Brewer, who would later become his wife. Thiele was also known for arranging many jazz-first collaborations, such as the historic meeting in 1960 between Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

II. Bob Thiele Albums

Less known about Bob Thiele is the catalog of recordings he made under his own name. These in-name-only recordings were often made in the company of rotating studio musicians and/or star soloists known as “The New Happy Times Orchestra” (1967-1974) and, later, “The Bob Thiele Collective” (1991-93).

Few jazz producers had the name recognition – or the chutzpah – to record under their own names. Norman Granz, however, attached his name to those Jazz at the Philharmonic records in the fifties. And Creed Taylor, who literally signed his name to his productions, briefly attached his name to several novelty records (1958-60) in an effort to cloak the actual leadership of Kenyon Hopkins, signed to another label at the time.

Curiously, Thiele – who “rubber stamped” his Impulse, ABC and BluesWay productions – only started recording under his own name after John Coltrane’s July 1967 death. Perhaps as sole champion of the now-revered jazz icon, Thiele felt he had market cachet. But most of these records – save the icky tribute “There Once Was a Man Named John” on the otherwise underrated Thiele-led The Mysterious Flying Orchestra (1977) – had precious little to do with John Coltrane.

And none were particularly popular.

The best, or at least best-known, Thiele projects were often features for strong soloists. These likely include the big band psych jazz of 1967’s Light My Fire, with guitarist Gabor Szabo and saxophonist Tom Scott, and the surprisingly consistent and straight-ahead Sunrise Sunset (1991), a feature for David Murray (!) with sterling support from John Hicks, Cecil McBee and Andrew Cyrille.

More often than not, Bob Thiele-led records were unholy mish mashes that blended in styles with out modes, like the strange fusion that is 1975’s I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood - credited in classic easy-listening fashion to “Bob Thiele & His Orchestra” – featuring several of Oliver Nelson’s final works and soloists such as Tom Scott, Mike Wofford and Oscar Brashear.

(The album’s odd title is based on a 1939 headline in DownBeat magazine regarding boogie woogie pianist Pinetop Smith’s 1929 death. Thiele covers “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie” on the album, in addition to a particularly lovely cover of Jerry Goldsmith’s “Theme from ‘Chinatown’.”)

III. Flying Dutchman

By 1969, Bob Thiele officially left Impulse and began contracting his services to the label. He’d even scored a surprise hit there that year with Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan.” That year also saw Thiele launch his own label, Flying Dutchman Records.

Named for the 18th-century myth about a ghost ship forever doomed to sail the seven seas, Flying Dutchman seemed to catalog Thiele’s interest in recording jazz, both mainstream and cutting edge, Broadway musicals as well as R&B and soul.

Not only did Thiele go a long way to chronicle activism and poetry in his Flying Dutchman productions – something particularly daring and unusual for jazz labels or any major label to take on at the time – he was also hugely responsible for the wave of “spiritual jazz” that emerged during the turn of the decade.

Flying Dutchman’s fourth release was a double-disc set called Head Start, helmed by an all-over-the-map collective billed as the “Bob Thiele Emergency.” Released in November 1969, Head Start is ostensibly a label sampler, featuring such Flying Dutchman artists as Tom Scott, Ornette Coleman, Jon Appleton, Horace Tapscott, John Carter and Bobby Bradford.

But this was hardly a label sampler. It is more a declaration of what Bob Thiele hoped to achieve on his label. In terms familiar to filmgoers, think of Bob Thiele as a director and Head Start as a series of short films with various musicians as the stars.

IV. Emergency

Likely riffing off the Tony Williams Lifetime’s then-recent and similarly double-disc set Emergency!, the oddly dubbed “Bob Thiele Emergency” is less about making a musical statement than marketing a manifesto. Whereas Williams set out to chart a course at the crossroads of jazz and rock, Thiele seems to suggest here that there was more than one way to chronicle jazz at the dawn of the seventies.

Head Start - the title likely conveys Thiele’s idea of a “sneak peak” of what the listener can expect from Flying Dutchman – is roughly divided in to four parts, one for each side of the original record and each trafficking in different kinds of jazz. The range mirrors much of the music Thiele oversaw during his years at Impulse: from commercial (side one) and traditional (parts of side two) to “New Thing” and avant-garde (sides two and three).

Tom Scott kicks off side one with a large ensemble of L.A. studio players wailing on the title track. It’s a bit of righteous funk straight out of a Lalo Schifrin action movie score or the TV show Mannix. It’s the same kind of groove that made Scott’s later Starsky & Hutch theme song so infectious.

Like many of Scott’s other riff-based compositions, it’s catchy, even earwormy, and should probably have been a hit – for somebody. But it somehow died on the vine. (Scott would perform the song again on the 1971 album Better Days by Joe Pass, who makes a brief appearance elsewhere here.)

Next up is Scott’s ”Freaky Zeke,” one of those sleazy blues numbers so many movies and TV programs cued up at the time to suggest a strip joint or seedy bar. Other than Howard Roberts’ fuzz-guitar solo, there’s nothing much going on here.

This leads into a suite called “Beatle Ballads,” with Scott-arranged takes of “Blackbird,” “Julia” and “I Will,” all of which originally appeared on the Fab Four’s so-called White Album). The weird Tijuana Brass take on the otherwise pretty “I Will,” however, throws the suite for a loop (it sounds like a parody of something). It would have been much more memorable if Scott & Co. simply took on “Blackbird,” a lovely feature for Scott on flute.

The funky ”Lanoola Goes Limp” was written by Jules Chaiken, rock journalist Ellen Sander (!) and Artie Butler, writing under his Max Hardy pseudonym, for a 1969 Thiele-produced record by the so-called Plaster Caster Blues Band, a studio group featuring, among others, George Smith (who factors on this record’s “Pickin’ Taters Blues,” and co-written by Flying Dutchman artist Esther Marrow).

”Lanoola” showed up again on another Thiele production by the so-called Revolutionary Blues Band (also 1969), another studio concoction, there featuring Tom Scott. On this particular variation, Roger Kellaway takes an edgy funk solo and Scott’s signature sound is ever present. But the jokey New Orleans bits heard here seem a bit off-putting and make this listener wonder what they were up to.

Turning side one over reveals an ambitious six-part history called “The Jazz Story,” which swings from the blues to the “Avant Garde” – with four pieces written by Tom Scott and performed by a quintet featuring Horace Tapscott, John Carter and Bobby Bradford. Not much of it leaps past mere music-school exercises. No less an authority than Quincy Jones would be stymied by this sort of thing a few years later. So, the less said here, the better.

Moving on to side three reveals the second of the record’s themed “suites,” the mostly moving “Dedication to John Coltrane.”

The three pieces heard here make for a heady brew of jazz that’s more contemplative than swinging, and considerably more compelling than the usual filler on the typical Thiele-led disc. First up is the haunting improvisation “Lament for John Coltrane,” with Joe Farrell on flute and former Coltrane associates Wilbur Little on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. A whole album of this trio would have been monumental. But you’ll have to go to Blue Note for Elvin Jones’ Poly-Currents to hear more.

Next is Coltrane’s prayer “A Love Supreme” (the text of which was reproduced on the inner sleeve of Coltrane’s 1964 album of the same name), read by NYC DJ Rosko (a.k.a. William “Rosko” Mercer) – who factored on several other Flying Dutchman albums at the time – and accompanied by Farrell’s otherworldly flute.

This side wraps with the wails of love and anguish of the Ornette Coleman Quartet’s “Holiday for a Graveyard,” recorded live – with what sounds like a hand-held tape recording of the performance – at Coltrane’s July 21, 1967, funeral.

Finally, the record wraps with a strange, yet fascinating experimental 17-minute piece titled “A Few Thoughts for the Day.” Built on a framework of Tom Scott’s horn and percussion framework (predating his similar-sounding score to the 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) and leavened with the electronics of electro-acoustic composer Jon Appleton , “A Few Thoughts” mixes in vocal samples of Martin Luther King, Richard Daley, Robert Kennedy and various news announcers.

While ”A Few Thoughts” hints at the activism Thiele would advocate for at Flying Dutchman – issuing narrative records on the massacre at My Lai and the Kent State murders as well as records by Carl B. Stokes and Angela Davis – Thiele had briefly explored this sort of thing before, notably on Oliver Nelson’s 1967 The Kennedy Dream.

If anything screams “Emergency” here, it is certainly “A Few Thoughts for the Day,” a threnody on violence that has, remarkably, stood the test of time.

V. Afterlife

Grand as Thiele’s intentions may have been here, it’s fair to say that few took Head Start seriously. Indeed, few took to Head Start at all. The record received almost no coverage. But what little was written diverged wildly: Cash Box called it “magnificent” while Billboard came much closer, dubbing the double-disc set “a mixed bag.” Sales were even less encouraging.

The mostly uncommercial Head Start surprisingly yielded no less than three single releases: a 2:27 edit of “A Few Thoughts for the Day” (FD DJ-1); the catchy and hit-worthy “Head Start” b/w “Freaky Zeke” (FD 26005); and a 3:07 edit of “Lament for John Coltrane” b/w “A Love Supreme,” the b-side credited solely to Rosko (FD 26006). But none of these got further than the “promotional only” stage, meaning none received the radio airplay or interest that would yield to a full release, at least one that anyone would buy – making those promos exceedingly rare finds for anyone interested these days.

Thiele managed to put out nearly a hundred discs on Flying Dutchman and its subsidiary labels through 1976. But pretty much all of Head Start’s headliners had flown the coop within that first year. The label ended up building its reputation – if not its coffers – with later recordings by Gil Scott-Heron, Leon Thomas, Gato Barbieri and Lonnie Liston Smith.

After Tom Scott scored his own hit with the L.A. Express in 1974 on another label, Flying Dutchman put out the cleverly-titled 1975 compilation Tom Scott in L.A., a decent set including Head Start’s first three songs (also never issued on CD).

The first five years of the Flying Dutchman catalog was later acquired by the British label Ace Records, whose BGP division issued Head Start on CD in 2013. The CD is well worth acquiring as it includes a previously unissued version of Tom Scott’s terrific bossa “The Flying Dutchman” – but none of the single edits noted above. The 2013 BGP compilation Liberation Music: Spiritual Jazz And The Art Of Protest On Flying Dutchman Records 1969-1974 also includes the above noted "Lament for John Coltrane."

It’s a shame the rest of the record isn’t like this. “The Flying Dutchman” was first heard in a different iteration on the 1969 Flying Dutchman record Hog Fat by drummer Jimmy Gordon, who died last week at age 77 while still incarcerated for the 1983 murder of his mother. Gordon is heard on the Tom Scott-helmed numbers heard here.

Jimmy Gordon and Tom Scott also reunited with Bob Thiele for the producer/nominal leader’s even more uneven 1975 album I Saw Pinetop Spit Blood.

To Bob Thiele’s credit, Head Start neither wallows in the past nor curries much favor with the then-in present. This is a record that looked forward to what jazz could have been in the seventies. While Thiele didn’t get it right (at least here) – the way producer Creed Taylor memorably accomplished at CTI and Kudu – his vision for jazz’s future at a real crossroads at the time was noble and well worth hearing. Head Start is the single-most forward-looking disc in the entire discography under Bob Thiele’s name.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Juke Joint: Lost Organ Jazz from the 60s – Pt. 1

It was a century ago that the great composer, pianist and organist Fats Waller (1904-43) introduced the organ to the world of jazz. Count Basie later, though briefly, took up the keys-and-pedals beast but it took another couple of decades for Wild Bill Davis (1918-95) to pioneer and popularize the “organ trio” format in jazz.

Davis, a veteran of Louis Jordan’s Tympani Five – and arranger of the Count Basie Orchestra’s 1955 hit “April in Paris” – played the organ like a big band, or, as Geoff Alexander put it in 1988’s The Jazz Organ: A Brief History, a “rhythm-and-blues based organ style with crescendoing, large chords and heavy emphasis on [the] volume pedal.”

When Jimmy Smith’s (1925-2005) second Blue Note album, A New Sound A New Star: Jimmy Smith at the Organ Volume 2 (a.k.a. The Champ), came out in 1956, his new sound indeed made him a jazz star. While All About Jazz claimed that the record was more “bebop oriented” than the first volume, what listeners heard here was jazz with more blues, more gospel and, more importantly, much more soul. Little wonder it was such a hit.

Suddenly, jazz organ trios were everywhere: on records, in clubs, on jukeboxes, and even in many lounges, from airports to suburban neighborhoods – where it eventually became a cliché. When Smith hit it big in 1962 with “Walk on the Wild Side,” from the album Bashin’ and propelled by Oliver Nelson’s big-band backing, organ records were cranked out faster than most people could buy them. If they even knew about them.

Major jazz labels like Blue Note and Prestige signed a slew of organ players: Baby Face Willette, Big John Patton, Larry Young, Freddie Roach, Lonnie Smith and Reuben Wilson at the former and Shirley Scott (later, just about the only organist on Impulse), Johnny “Hammond” Smith (later as Johnny Hammond), Jack McDuff, Trudi Pitts and Don Patterson at the latter.

Curiously, other major jazz labels such as Verve (where Jimmy Smith reigned mightily for most of the next decade) and Impulse surprisingly avoided the organ-trio wave almost completely. There may well have been a very specific reason for this…but that’s not the point here.

Other smaller labels – like Pacific Jazz, which had Charles Kynard (later on Prestige) and Richard “Groove” Holmes (later on Prestige and Blue Note), or the tiny Sue label, which had Jimmy McGriff (later at Sonny Lester’s many labels) – put out great and exciting organ jazz that had some modicum of popularity.

Booker T. & the M.G.s’ 1962 R&B instrumental hit “Green Onions” likely had as much to do with the rising – if mercilessly brief – popularity of organ-based jazz as well.

By the early sixties, organ jazz had a well-defined sound and style. People either loved the fatback of its grits and gravy or loathed it as a roller-rink music. Still, every major city in America had at least one jazz joint where a local organ trio could be heard. And bars everywhere had jukeboxes blasting organ jazz to approving, if not inebriated, patrons.

It didn’t last long. Only a few years later, electronic keyboards like electric pianos, Fender Rhodes and, later, synthesizers came along. Not only did these keyboards sound cooler and more contemporary, they were much easier for players to move from gig to gig than the bulky, heavy organ.

Even the music had a short shelf life. This sort of organ jazz quickly wore out its welcome. While straight jazzers never had much respect for the music, the “electrifying” addition of bass and guitar added a new dimension of “funk” to the equation.

Organ grinders more or less disappeared until the “acid jazz” revival in the nineties brought back heavy hitters like Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Charles Earland as well as young guns James Taylor Quartet and, notably, Joey DeFrancesco (both of whom moved the needle ahead – if not in different directions). These days, too few proponents wade in this water. But, to these ears, the Seattle-based Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio reigns supreme. (Are there others? I’d love to know.)

Here, we journey back to the “juke joint,” where the music smoked more than the patrons and the groove was greasier than the food. A few boundaries were set for the following choices, but it’s always fun to go a little out of bounds. There must be much more of this locally-sourced stuff out there. If you have any juke-joint suggestions, please comment below and we’ll work out some sequels. Enjoy!

”Brother Daniel” – The Lou Bennett Quartet (1960)

Like Rhoda Scott, American jazz organist Lou Bennett (1926-97) spent the majority of his career in France. The Philadelphia-born Bennett was attracted to the organ after hearing Jimmy Smith in 1956. He left the country shortly thereafter – returning only once more, briefly in 1964. Bennett’s “Brother Daniel” comes from his debut album Amen, featuring the great bebop drummer and fellow American émigré Kenny Clarke (who also played often with French organ grinder Eddy Louiss). Please note: The video above is not the studio original but a live performance from 1960 for French TV by Bennett and drummer Franco Manzecchi.

”Caramu” – Sam Lazar (1960)

From mid-west organist Sam Lazar’s (b. 1933) 1960 debut album Space Flight, featuring the soon-to-be legendary Grant Green on guitar and blues great Willie Dixon on bass. (A cover of Dixon’s classic “My Babe,” a hit for Little Walter in 1955, appears here as well.) Lazar waxed only three records for Argo in the early sixties, but Space Flight is the most memorable – although “Scootin,” from Lazar’s third disc, Playback may be better known. Space Flight was issued on CD in 2007 under the guitarist’s name as part of Grant Green Organ Trio and Quartet.

“A Taste of Honey” – Lloyd G. Mayers (1962)

This one is a bit of a cheat. But an absolutely necessary inclusion even so. Unlike other tunes sampled here, this “Honey” is, first, a cover and, second, an organ-combo number bolstered by Oliver Nelson’s signature big band. But this version of “A Taste of Honey” is one of the three tunes that initially inspired this set in the first place. Just one listen will tell you why.

The Brooklyn-born Mayers (b. 1929) was better known as a pianist. To my knowledge, this is his only outing on organ. Indeed, Mayers’ album, also titled A Taste of Honey - released in August 1962, a mere three months after its model, Jimmy Smith’s Oliver Nelson-arranged Bashin’ - is the only album released under Mayers’ own name.

Inspired by Art Tatum and Bud Powell, pianist Mayers had previously played with Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Joe Newman and would go on to play with Lou Donaldson. Mayers, without his middle initial, would later move on to several Broadway productions, most notably Sophisticated Ladies in 1981. Mayers employs his Tatum and Powell influences here to deliver a scalding organ performance that few can match.

Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow’s intoxicating ”A Taste of Honey” was popular among listeners of jazz (Victor Feldman, Paul Desmond, Duke Pearson), pop (The Beatles) and easy-listening (Martin Denny, Acker Bilk, Herb Alpert). Most of these were even hits.

The song was written for the 1960 Broadway production of the 1958 British play, yet remarkably did not at all appear in Tony Richardson’s 1961 film of the same name: now chiefly remembered as the film debut of Rita Tushingham, lately of Last Night in Soho, and as a huge inspiration for Morrissey. Even so, Mayers’ album cover surprisingly reproduces a bit of the film’s poster.

Mayer’s “Honey” is anything but sweet. This one is the monster that sugar turns kids into. For a guy who isn’t known for manning this beast of burden, Mayers tackles the organ to the ground. He pows as good as he wows.

This listener first tasted this variation of “Honey” via a memorable performance Paul Shaffer delivered with “The World’s Most Dangerous Band” on a mid-eighties episode of Late Night with David Letterman – beautifully using a synthesizer to emulate a sixties-era organ. (Thanks Dave P.!) The amazing Shaffer’s musical tribute is exactly the sort of reverence and appreciation this writer tries to deliver here in however useless words.

Mayers’ wonderful A Taste of Honey (which also delivers a nice take of another 1962 hit for Verve, “Desafinado”) was paired with Nelson’s unusual but worthy Impressions of Phaedra (also from 1962) on a 2017 European CD.

”Where It’s At” – Charles Kynard (1963)

St. Louis-born Charles Kynard (1933-79) was leading a piano trio in Kansas City (in addition to his duties as a teacher and real-estate agent) when trumpeter Carmell Jones recommended him to Pacific Jazz Records’ Richard Bock. Kynard packed his bags and right off the plane waxed a record with saxophonist Sonny Stitt. (Uncle Ben Kynard co-wrote “Red Top” with Lionel Hampton.)

Right after that Charles recorded his debut album Where It’s At with guitarist Howard Roberts and “Honky Tonk” saxophonist Clifford Scott. Kynard’s trio became the group to see in L.A.’s then-thriving jazz scene. But Kynard’s work with disabled children, private lessons and playing organ in the church kept him a West Coast secret.

While Kynard’s later work for Prestige (1968-71) and Mainstream (1971-74) is much better known (he also put out several gospel records), it’s worth going back to where it all began. Where It’s At was never issued on CD but its title track is included on the terrific UK-only CD compilation Blue Pacific Funk – Wailin’ on the West Coast (1998).

”Figueroa” – Andre Previn (1964)

This surprising little swinger comes from Andre Previn’s (1929-2019) otherwise orchestral soundtrack to one of Bette Davis’ better late-career movies, Dead Ringer. In the film, Davis plays twin sisters, one of whom is Edie, owner of a divey bar. This “lounge” – filmed at a real bar on the corner of Figueroa and Temple streets in Los Angeles – hosts an organ combo (fronted by actress Perry Blackwell [b.1925], a.k.a. Perri Lee – who could actually play the organ and did – although it’s not clear if she’s playing here) doing this jaunty number. Sure, Previn is riffing on the sort of music you’d expect to hear at a joint like this, but whoever is playing the organ here is, well, a dead ringer for the real thing.

”Mo’ Roc” (1964) and “Behind the 8 Ball” (1965) – Baby-Face Willette

Born Roosevelt James Willett in 1933, the so-called Baby-Face held piano stints in R&B and jazz groups out of Los Angeles, Chicago and Milwaukee. By the time he hit New York in 1960 to join Lou Donaldson’s band, Baby-Face had switched to organ. Inspired, of course, by Jimmy Smith, Baby-Face brought his background in the church to the instrument, adding a keen sense of R&B and even rock n roll to the groove.

Willette, now with an extra “e,” waxed two discs of his own for Blue Note, before heading back to Chicago. While there, Baby-Face recorded two additional records for Argo, Mo’ Roc and Behind the 8 Ball - the last recorded documents Baby-Face made before his shockingly early death at age 37 in 1971. The Argo records, made with his working group at the time, far outshine the Blue Notes (despite Grant Green’s presence there) for sheer grit and righteous groove.

The title tracks to both records say it all.

”Sticky Wicket” – Billy Larkin and the Delegates featuring Clifford Scott (1965)

Billy Larkin and the Delegates hailed from Portland, Oregon but made a strong impression in Los Angeles after DJ Les Carter recommended the group to producer Richard Bock. The quartet played jazz with a heavy emphasis on the blues and covered many pop and R&B hits of the day. “Sticky Wicket” comes from the group’s second LP, Blue Lights - featuring the aforementioned Clifford Scott – perhaps its best for pure organ-combo groove (“Little Jr. Detroit” and the title track also merit attention).

Interesting to note: Delegates drummer Mel Brown went on to work with Martha and the Vandellas, a gig that led to Brown becoming a session drummer at Motown…working on records by The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and many others.

”The Flick” – Earl Van Dyke & the Soul Brothers (1965)

Detroit-born Earl Van Dyke (1930-92) was the longtime keyboard player for Motown’s house band, The Funk Brothers. The fantastic “The Flick” is one of the few non-album singles he issued at that time under his own name. Van Dyke also put out a worthy album of instrumentals, That Motown Sound, in 1965 that includes great covers of Motown classics, including a feverish take of The Marvelettes’ 1964 hit “Too Many Fish in the Sea.” Earl Van Dyke smokes the organ like few others do. For proof, check out the B-side to 1964’s “Soul Stomp,” a burner called “Hot ‘N’ Tot.”

“The Vamp” – Gene Ludwig (1965)

Pittsburgh native Gene Ludwig (1937-2010) took piano lessons as a child but discovered R&B through the music of, among others, Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis. He finally switched to the organ when he caught Jimmy Smith live in the city’s storied Hill District (the two played together at a 1964 Atlantic City gig).

Ludwig garnered an East Coast presence when he replaced Don Patterson in Sonny Stitt’s group in 1969. But this piece predates this and later appearances with singer Arthur Prysock and guitarist Pat Martino. The Jimmy Smith-ish “The Vamp” was from the organ grinder’s bizarrely-titled debut The Educated Sounds of Gene Ludwig (featuring a cover shot of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, my alma mater) on Pittsburgh music legend Travis Klein’s very short-lived Travis label.

(In 1965, Travis also put out “Side Street,” a great but very little-known single by Dayton-based vibraphonist and Acid Jazz favorite Johnny Lytle.)

”Tweetie Pie” – Dave “Baby” Cortez (1966)

Detroit-born Dave “Baby” Cortez (b. 1938) is best known for “The Happy Organ” (1959) and “Rinky Dink” (1962), the skating-rink standards of the day – and likely part of the reason the organ lost favor several years later. The title track to his seventh album, “Tweetie Pie” knocks the funky swing up to eleven. Cortez consistently waxed fine dance music on the “electronic organ” – to swim, twist, frug or shake by – but this one still sounds cool; cooler than your average roller-rink fare. This Baby’s “Organ Shindig” (1965) is well worth hearing too.

”Yeah, Dr. No” – Ingfried Hoffmann (1966)

The tongue and cheeky “Yeah, Dr. No” sounds like it could have come out of any jazz club or juke box in any American city in the mid-sixties. But at about the same time Bert Kaempfert hit these shores with “Strangers in the Night” and Horst Jankowski invited us to take “A Walk in the Black Forest,” the German pianist, organist and composer Ingfried Hoffman (a.k.a. Memphis Black) put out “Yeah, Dr. No.”

Hoffmann spent much of his time in Klaus Doldinger’s pre-Passport band. He also waxed several all-organ records of his own, including some extraordinarily funky ones as “Memphis Black”: While this was clearly an American crossover attempt that unfortunately never happened, Hoffmann was neither from Memphis or, you know…even if he could sound like it. “Yeah, Dr. No” comes from Hoffmann’s second album, From Twen With Love - and is featured on the terrific 2007 CD compilation Hammond Bond. If you like this, you should track down more Ingfried Hoffmann.

”No More Water in the Well” – Odell Brown and the Organizers (1967)

Another cover, but one that’s as little-known as it is spectacular. Chicago-based Odell Brown (1940-2011) recorded three records with The Organ-izers on the Cadet label in the mid-sixties (several solo records followed). Today, Brown is best known as co-writer of Marvin Gaye’s Grammy Award-winning 1982 hit “Sexual Healing.”

This arrangement of “No More Water in the Well” – likely conceived by producer Richard Evans – completely rethinks, reinvents and transcends the original.

The song originally appeared on The Temptations With A Lot O’ Soul (1967) and was never even released as a single (the album’s lack of success got co-writer Smokey Robinson fired as the Temp’s producer to be replaced by Norman Whitfield). This one evinces how the music was beginning to change. But nothing else the Organ-izers did ever measured up to this.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Pete Turner: The Color of Light – Bruce Silverstein Gallery, New York City – March 16 to May 13, 2023

Bruce Silverstein Gallery is pleased to present Pete Turner: The Color of Light, an exhibition celebrating one of history’s pioneers of color photography.

Featuring a selection of Pete Turner’s most iconic photographic images from the 1950s to the late 1990s, The Color of Light will display many of the artist’s most celebrated works and offer plenty of surprises; it is a visual feast of discovery and wonder with images depicting classic Americana, other-worldly landscapes, and hypersurreal abstractions. Fusing never-before-seen saturated color with striking and often complex compositions decades before the advent of Photoshop, Turner would not just set a new high bar for the limits of commercial photography of the day but also come to influence countless artists of his generation and after, including David LaChapelle, Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Joel Meyerowitz, Martin Parr, and Albert Watson. His reputation and reach were so significant that in 2000 PDN voted Pete Turner one of the 20 most influential photographers.

Pete Turner (1934-2017) began his photographic career at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Upon graduation, Turner served with the Second Signal Combat photography team at the Army Pictorial Center in Long Island City. During that time, he began to explore his growing interests in the undiscovered possibilities of color photography, utilizing the military’s photo lab to experiment with the type-C color process, which was in its infancy. Turner quickly saw success in his color photography with his first photo essay on Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1958 for Look magazine. Not long after, Turner’s unique imagery would become ubiquitous, appearing in magazine spreads from Sports Illustrated to Esquire, major advertisement campaigns for Bacardi, General Motors, and AT&T, and on over 100 hundred record album covers ranging from Coltrane, John Coltrane 1962, to the Greatest Hits, Steely Dan, 1978, to Jorge Pescara, Grooves in the Temple, 2005.

Over the next 50 years, Turner developed his unique style of vivid color, often utilizing polarizing filters, colored gels, and multiple exposures to produce unnatural effects that bordered on the fantastic and surreal that the critic A.D. Coleman would define as an “indescribable otherness.”

This was a radical departure for an era that highly regarded black and white photography as superior to color for holding artistic value. Yet, Turner’s use of color and composition allowed him to capture a wide range of subjects in new and exciting ways. He photographed everything from jazz musicians to landscapes to abstract compositions, pushing the boundaries of appropriate subject matter for color photography in the commercial and fine art world.

“The color palette I work with is really intense,” Turner stated in a video produced by the George Eastman House, the photographic museum in Rochester that exhibited his work in 2006 and 2007, Empowered by Color. “I like to push it to the limit.” George Eastman House first purchased his work for their permanent collection, Rolling Ball, in 1960.

In 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited Turner’s most radical image of the time, Giraffe, sending shockwaves through the photographic canon. Giraffe illustrated his growing interest in manipulating color and bringing saturated hues to his work. “Nobody was using primary color photos,” he told PDN in the late 1990s, “and Giraffe is a combination of magenta and red, a very powerful image that manipulated color far beyond what color photographers were thinking they could do at the time.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the photo that same year. Weston Naef, curator of photography at the museum, called him “The Dr. No of color photography" and acquired twelve of his most iconic dye transfer prints for the museum.

In 1986, Harry Abrams published Turner’s first monograph, Pete Turner Photographs; in 2000, Gordon Parks wrote the introduction for African Journey, Graphis. In 2006, Rizzoli published a book of his jazz album covers entitled, The Color of Jazz, introduction by Quincy Jones. His work has been shown globally through his advertising campaigns and numerous solo and group exhibitions. He has earned numerous accolades, including the prestigious Outstanding Achievement Award from the American Society of Media Photographers. His work is held in private and public collections, including the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California; the International Museum of Photography at George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; The Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, France; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, Japan; and the International Center of Photography, New York, New York.

Pete Turner: The Color of Light opens Thursday, March 16th, with a reception from 6 – 8 pm. For more information, please contact or go to

Established in 2001, the Bruce Silverstein Gallery’s principal focus is the representation of an international roster of contemporary artists as well as established artists of great influence. The gallery is committed to discovering, examining, and contextualizing known and unknown artworks by modern masters as well as innovative artists of today. The gallery strives to provide a venue for dialogue across all art forms, while specializing in modern and contemporary photography.

Bruce Silverstein Gallery is located at 529 West 20th Street in the heart of the Chelsea Art District. The gallery maintains an in-depth inventory of masterworks of the photographic medium and promotes long-standing relationships with museums, private collectors, art consultants and corporations from around the world. We welcome both experienced and new collectors.

Bruce Silverstein Gallery
529 West 20th Street
3rd Floor / Suite 3W
New York, NY 10011

Telephone: 212-627-3930
Fax: 212-691-5509