Tony Monaco was born on August 14, 1959 in Columbus, Ohio and began his musical journey learning to play the accordion when he was eight years old. At 12 he heard a Jimmy Smith album and instantly knew that jazz organ was his calling. He began playing jazz in nightclubs around his hometown while learning the art of the Hammond B3 organ and gleaning from influences Hank Marr and Don Patterson. This led him to Jimmy McGriff, Richard “Groove” Holmes, Charles Earland, Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
On his sixteenth birthday Jimmy Smith called him, a friendship was struck and Smith began giving him jazz organ secrets over the phone. Four years later Jimmy invited Tony to come play with him at his club in Los Angeles, California. This would lead to future introductions and study with Hank Marr, Bobby Pierce and Dr. Lonnie Smith. At the turn of the century he met Joey DeFrancesco when he was playing Columbus and the two of them became instant friends. Recognizing Tony’s’ talents right away, he offered to produce a CD for him and Burnin’ Grooves was born with drummer Byron Landham and guitarist Paul Bollenback. He also recorded a few tracks with Joey, who was on either piano or trumpet.
Into the new millennium Monaco began performing every major festival and outdoor concert in Central Ohio as Burnin’ Grooves gained attention. He went on to release his sophomore project on the Summit Records label titled Master Chops T with his trio and trombonist Sarah Morrow, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and trumpeter Kenny Rampton. This he followed with his third project Live at the 501, began endorsing Hammond/Suzuki Organs and conducting his jazz organ clinic at the 2003 International Association of Jazz Educators in Toronto, Canada. He has played concerts with Lewis Nash, Red Holloway, Plas Johnson, Sonny Fortune, John Faddis, Mel Lewis, Eric Neymeyer among others.
Organist Tony Monaco has been voted in the Downbeat Magazine Critics and Readers Polls as well as voted by Jazztimes Readers Poll as being in the top 4 organists. He has released a dozen albums and continues to record, tour and perform worldwide.
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James Edward Weidman, Jr. was born in Youngstown, Ohio on July 23, 1953 to a saxophonist father who led his own band. He began playing piano when he was eight years old and eventually became the electric organist in his father’s group.
Attending Youngstown State University after graduating James spent two years playing locally before he moved to New York City in 1978. There he worked with Pepper Adams, Cecil Payne, Sonny Stitt and Bobby Watson, then became Abbey Lincoln’s pianist in 1982. This association continued into the early Nineties.
He went on to work with Steve Coleman, from 1987 to 1992 replacing Geri Allen in his Five Elements band, and with Jay Hoggard later in the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s he worked with Cassandra Wilson, Talib Kibwe, Kevin Mahogany, Belden Bullock, Max Roach, Woody Herman, Gloria Lynne, Archie Shepp, James Moody, Greg Osby, Slide Hampton, Dakota Staton and Marvin “Smitty” Smith.
Pianist and organist James Weidman who has released several albums as a leader in is a member of Joe Lovano’s Us Five band, continues to perform, tour and record.
Georges Arvanitas was born on June 13, 1931 in Marseille, France, to Arvanite Greek immigrants from Constantinople, Turkey. At age four he began studying piano and initially trained as a classical pianist. Influenced by Bud Powell and Bill Evans he switched to jazz in his teens.
At 18 he was called up for military duty and finding himself stationed in Versailles and his proximity to Paris, he was exposed to the city’s thriving postwar jazz culture. Soon he was moonlighting at clubs alongside American musicians such as Don Byas and Mezz Mezzrow. After completing his service, Arvanitas relocated permanently to Paris where he led the house band at the Club St. Germain before he graduated to the city’s premier jazz venue, the legendary Blue Note. There he played with Dexter Gordon and Chet Baker. As his notoriety grew, he became a leader and with bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Art Taylor recorded 3 A.M. in 1963. The trio would go on to win the Prix Django Reinhardt and the Prix Jazz Hot for the album.
Georges spent half of 1965 in New York City collaborating with saxophonist Yusef Lateef and trumpeter Ted Curzon on The Blue Thing and the New Thing for Blue Note. A year later he returned stateside on tour with trombonist Slide Hampton’s big band. A respected session player earning the nickname Georges Une Prise (One-take George) for his reliable efficiency and mastery and worked closely with Michel Legrand.
Best remembered for a series of LPs he cut with bassist Jacky Samson and drummer Charles Saudrais, the trio endured from 1965 to 1993. He was received the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres award in 1985. Unfortunately his failing health forced him to retire from music in 2003 and two year later pianist and organist Georges Arvanitas passed away in Paris on September 25, 2005.
Wild Bill Davis was born November 24, 1918 in Glasgow, Missouri and originally played guitar and wrote arrangements for Milt Larkin’s Texas-based big band during 1939–1942. The band included Arnett Cobb, Illinois Jacquet, and Tom Archia on horns. After leaving the Larkin orchestra, he worked in Chicago, Illinois as a pianist, recording with Buster Bennett in 1945. He played a crucial role as the pianist-arranger in Louis Jordan’s Tympany Five from 1945 to 1947 at the peak of their success.
Leaving Jordan and Harlem, he returned to Chicago for a time, recording again with Bennett, working with Claude McLin and after switching from piano to organ, Davis moved back to the East Coast. In 1950, he began recording for Okeh Records, leading an influential trio of organ, guitar, and drums. Originally slated to record April in Paris with the Count Basie Orchestra in 1955 but could not make the session, Basie used his arrangement for the full band and had a major hit.
During the Sixties, in addition to working with his own groups, Wild Bill recorded several albums with his friend Johnny Hodges, leading to tours during 1969–1971 with Duke Ellington. In the 1970s he recorded for the Black & Blue Records label with a variety of swing all-stars, and he also played with Lionel Hampton, appearing at festivals through the early 1990s.
Pianist, organist and arranger William Strethen Davis, whose stage name was Wild Bill, passed away in Moorestown, New Jersey on August 17, 1995. He recorded some four-dozen albums as a leader and co-leader and another dozen as a sideman with Ray Brown, Sonny Stitt, Gene “Mighty Flea” Conners, Billy Butler, Floyd Smith and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis among others. Prior to the emergence of Jimmy Smith in 1956, he was the pacesetter among organists and best known for his pioneering jazz electronic organ recordings.
There is a reason for cover art. It speaks in silence for the artist. Thus, the listener should take a moment to immerse him/herself to visually understand the message the artist is attempting to convey. What I found in the artwork was a mini story of the instrumental journey from boyhood to arrive with a full arsenal by manhood. I realized I was viewing the preface of what was to come. Aptly titled The Saga, I knew a journey had taken place to get to this point as I inserted the disc into my computer. What I heard was an unexpected voice of a young man who had traveled far beyond his musical prowess. I was immediately reminded of Herman Hesse and Siddhartha’s sojourn, who left home to discover life through the lens of the world, only to return with greater self-awareness and peace.
To say he is compelling storyteller falls short of the message his music delivers. He is a messenger, come from a long line of griots who has given voice to a generation that unwillingly is forced to take the baton as have generations before him. From deep in the Louisiana culture you will hear the Second Line and rhythm and blues influences in his music. The very first drumbeat of Parallel sets the tone for his acknowledgement of the turbulent ecological and racial times the country is in. I am hearing the protest songs of the Sixties expressed in a rap delivered by Dashill Smith.
Blueprint delivers another message and eases us into a zone where discomfort is our journey foretelling, through the voice of Allana Hudson, the lies to humanity that contradict our ancestor’s wisdom. A fusion of sound that is ethereal beckons us forward in Tabula Rava, reminiscent of Mahavishnu, Santana, Zawinul and Return to Forever. Beginning with an Eastern calling and announcement of something majestic approaching, it builds to a cacophonous revelry in the spirit. It’s like witnessing something for the very first time that takes your breathe away or gives you pause. That tingly feeling of excitement that leaves you fulfilled for that brief moment in time. In The Saga is the journey of ups and downs, loves and loss, in the varied experiences that greet us along the way.
In Madeira there is settledness I hear when one finds a space that is easy and comfortable. This is where find solace With A Peace Of Mind that remains constant throughout our lives if we only allow it. Sharynwood Drive is my return home with all that has been discovered and learned, to be passed on to a new generation of explorers.
The Saga is a simple story told through the complexities of the music. The voices used to tell his story vary in emotion but the message is consistent. Listen carefully and you will see he has taken on a journey through the history of jazz, incorporating his youthful sensibilities within the standard language of jazz. One can feel the pulse of the music and there is beauty in the nuances throughout with the able assistance of his 11 accomplices. This was my musical journey with this young man of infinite wisdom, yet to be fully unleashed upon the world.
For those legions of jazz enthusiasts following the music trends, we await patiently for each decade to spew forth those chosen few who will humbly add their talent to the lexicon of the music. We guard the bastion for the rise of the exceptional to step forth onto the global stage. To our delight, our stalwart diligence has revealed just such a young man from amongst his peers. Hailing out of the birthplace of jazz, the name is familiar to us. It is Guerin… Morgan Guerin.
His Instruments: Drums, Alto & Tenor Saxophones, Piano, Fender Rhodes, EWI, EWI Vocoder, Organ, Flute, Moog Bass and Percussion.
The Band: Curtis Olawumi/flugelhorn, Daniel Wytanis/Trombone, Grace Sommer/violin, Julius Rodriguez/organ, Roland Guerin/electric bass, Paul “PapaBear” Johnson/electric bass, Risa Pearl/vocal, Dashill Smith/rap, Allana Hudson/spoken word, Patrick Arthur/electric & acoustic guitar, Brandon Boone/electric & upright bass.
Carl Anthony / Notorious Jazz / September 7, 2016