Serving as Local 802’s director of organizing encompasses many aspects beyond those assumed when I initially accepted the job, not the least of which is that my office is the destination for calls our switchboard operator Judy might otherwise not know how to dispatch. One such call that came up recently was from longtime member Brien Brannigan. His outreach was singularly welcome: “Hello, I have a 1949 Hammond Organ model D with bench, bass pedals & J-20 tone cabinet that I’d like to donate.”
As a resident amateur historian in these parts, I made immediate plans to visit this fine instrument which, as Brien explained, had been a gift from his father many years before. “I’m a guitarist,” he explained, “but he purchased this organ for a recording studio I owned.” And it followed Brien to several such locations before landing in one within the Times Square area. “The studio has been sold and the new owners aren’t interested in keeping the Hammond. I guess times changed,” he stated, thoughtfully, “but I couldn’t rest until I knew it would get a good home.”
For those versed in organ lore, Hammond is legendary, its rich, all-encompassing sound reigning over countless jazz, R&B, and rock recordings. While the model B-3 was and remains the top of the line, the company manufactured several models that maintained the quite magical inner workings with differences only of size and ornamentation. Which brings us to 802’s latest acquisition. “The model D had all of the features of the B but was simpler,” Brannigan informed me “because it was designed for the military.” Wow. Well, clearly not on the frontlines; imagine Jimmy Smith (the pioneer), Brother Jack McDuff, Larry Young, Shirley Scott, Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Al Kooper or Booker T. tearing down and setting up this instrument for each battlefield advance. Regardless, our model D has much in common with the B-3. While we have the original tone cabinet (check out those woofers), Hammond hadn’t yet purchased the Leslie company when our instrument was made. Like the earlier instruments, our organ has settings for vibrato and other effects, as well as a wealth of sounds.
Long-time Local 802 member Jon Hammond may not be part of the organ-manufacturing family, but he is one of the masters of the instrument, performing over decades here and in LA, among other locations. Many thanks to Jon for giving our wonderful Hammond model D a basic tune-up.
The instrument’s powerful majesty was on full display on August 21st at the first Jazz Foundation Monday Night Jam Session we’ve hosted in several years. The crowd was filled with improvisers and the response to the instrument was wonderful.
“I’m real happy JFA Monday nights are back at the good old 802 Club Room!” Hammond remarked. Looking over his handiwork, Jon explained a bit more about the instrument: “The organ dates back to 1939; it’s built like a Sherman tank – a real piece of history, no doubt about it.”
In this article, I’ve listed a handful of Hammond giants already. For your listening pleasure, please check out these musicians and their wealth of brilliant recordings. And while we’re at it, here are more wizards of the instrument: Alice Coltrane (the visionary!), Joe Zawinul (pre-synth with Cannonball Adderly), Lonnie Smith, Gregg Alan Rolie (Santana), Isaac Hayes, Richard Groove Holmes, Rod Argent (the Zombies), Fats Waller, Joey DeFrancesco, Vincent Crane (the Crazy World of Arthur Brown), Sly Stone, Ray Manzarek (the Doors), Paul Shaffer, Ken Pearson (Janis Joplin), and far too many others to even fit within this column.
On behalf of Local 802, greatest appreciation to you, Brien Brannigan, and in turn, to your father.
NOTE: The Jazz Foundation of America’s MONDAY NIGHT JAM series returned to Local 802’s Club Room as of August 21 and we will continue to cherish this time-honored tradition on the third Monday of each month. Live the history — join us for this series as well as our own 802 JAZZ NIGHTS (on the second Monday of each month). The full calendar is at www.local802afm.org/events