Let’s Compromise (Jazz Organ Project 43/250)

(Thanks to Jennifer Terrazi-Scully for helping with this post.)

I love playing the organ in a trio with electric guitar and drums. But organ trios often have sound issues when they perform live.

The Hammond organ (and digital clones) can be a subtle instrument. Melody and solo lines are warm and softly percussive. Bass lines have a subtle deep growl, but without the strong attack of an upright bass or the piano-like definition or an electric bass. There are times when the Hammond organ can really scream, but that’s not my style most of the time.

Gigs can become a volume battle where everyone keeps turning up to be heard, and ultimately the music becomes way too loud, and I don’t like that.

Jazz musicians value their sound and individuality, and many drummers and guitar player feel the need to play at a loud volume to get their sound. But let me paraphrase a helpful piece of advice I received when I was in college: “Doug, you have a nice sound. Don’t fall in love with it.” So let’s not fall in love with our sounds, but rather work together so that we can all be heard clearly and at a reasonable volume level.

It’s helpful to have a rehearsal in a room with challenging acoustics. Be honest with yourselves: can you hear every note that everyone is playing? Is the volume level at a place where a typical club owner would be happy?

Here are some things I’ve found that help:
1. Each musician boost themselves up about 6 dB or so when they take a solo. Not hugely louder, but enough to cut through with clarity and confidence.

2. Organists can experiment with fuller, growlier sounds on the lower manual such as 848 or 8484.

3. Drummers can tune their bass drum so that the tone is short and doesn’t compete with organ bass. Ride cymbal often has to be played uber softly.

4. Guitar players can cut out a lot of the bass in their tone, and go for high-end clarity. (There is a reason that Grant Green played on so many organ trio records!)

5. Make a cell phone recording and honestly assess what you hear. Does the group sound warm and inviting, or harsh?

6. Do your ears ring after rehearsal?

I think we could do jazz as an art form a favor by making it sound great.

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