On Friday evening after dinner, I put on a recently purchased copy of Charles Earland‘s Black Talk LP. I’ve owned this soul-jazz classic for years, but due to finding a cleaner copy, it had reentered rotation at the house. About halfway through the last song on the LP, “More Today Than Yesterday“, I got a audio text message from a friend who was at James Street. So I muted the Earland record to listen to what Wayne had sent me….an short audio clip he had just recorded of Roger Humphries and friends playing…..wait for it………..”More Today Than Yesterday”. No joke! I was aware of the show happening at James Street that night and I was sort of planning on going. But this message was too much of an awesome coincidence for me to NOT attend.
The show was billed as “A Night At The Hurricane”. The Hurricane was a now-legendary jazz club in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the 50’s and 60’s. A ton of soul-jazz and hard bop acts played there over the years including Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Smith, Sonny Stitt, Art Blakey, Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Jimmy McGriff and many many more. On Friday, drummer Roger Humphries put together a quartet of Pittsburgh’s finest to pay tribute to the music that was so often heard at the Hurricane, most specifically organ based soul-jazz.
Humphries’ quartet on this particular evening was assembled with soulful funky organ jazz in mind. Organist Jimmy McGriff once called the Hurricane “the Apollo Theater” of the jazz organ universe. Holding down the organ duties on Friday, and very aptly so, was a veteran of the local scene, Keith Stebler. I love watching and hearing a great organ player do their thing especially in a group with no bass guitar. Sometimes, in the late 60’s or very early 70’s, groups would add a bass player in an attempt to deepen the groove or to make the sounds feel more contemporary. But to me the true organ jazz sound is all about bass lines played with the organist’s left hand (and/or feet!) and Stebler can really hold it down! Guitarist Mark Strickland, whom I somehow had not seen before, with his clean classic guitar lines was also a great choice for this style. He just had that perfect tone. Lou Stellute plays with Humphries quite a bit and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in Pittsburgh playing sax on this night. Stellute plays hard with a raw intensity and enthusiasm that not many other players can achieve, and once again, it was perfect for this style.
During the one set I was able to catch, the quartet ran though a few staples of the era including Gene Ammons‘ “Red Top” and Erroll Garner’s “Misty” (see video above) made popular by Richard “Groove” Holmes along with some other tunes that I either can’t remember or don’t know by name. They sounded great but I have to say that I had hoped for more intensity. It just wasn’t greasy enough for me. My favorite tracks of the organ jazz era certainly aren’t the lush ballad type tunes. They are the raucous, funky, deep, gritty grooves that would be difficult to NOT want to dance to. Think Grant Green‘s live albums, Lou Donaldson‘s late-60’s Blue Note records, or some of Earland’s or Rusty Bryant‘s late 60’s Prestige catalog, etc etc etc. But, aside from that, this was an great set of tunes from one of my favorite eras of music played by some of the city’s best musicians and a really dug it. I hope they do it again… and you should too! Enjoy!