Sunday, June 1, 2008

Jimmy McGriff RIP

I had never heard of Jimmy McGriff when I picked up an old record album in a used everything store on Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City. It had to be the early or mid-70s, just across from Gordon's Alley and next to an old Vaudville palace that had been closed for years (The Globe?).

In any case, I got the LP for a quarter and didn't really like it, or rather, just didn't get it at the time, having been predisposed against the organ by Larry Ferrari's TV show.

But a few years later Chris Columbo took me on a walk down Kentucky Avenue, and stopped into Grace's Little Belmont, a little joint in the middle of the street, with glass cubes below the front windows by the front door. In side, there were booths along the walls and a horseshoe shaped bar behind which was a huge Hammond B3 organ that "Whild Bill" Davis used to make the whole room vibrate with his jazz.

I had already picked up on Garth Hudson't organ in the Band, and got into Brian Auger's Oblivian Express while in college, and then met Dan Fogel after a Buddy Rich show at the Mediterranian Lounge in Somers Point.

The Med, on MacArthur Blvd, is now a furniture store, but it used to be an all night diner up front and a nightclub in the back where a lot of special shows transpired, including Buddy Rich, the late, great jazz drummer. It was at that show I also met two original tap dancers from Atlantic City who knew Buddy from the Big Band days.

Well while Buddy was getting into the bus after the show, he stopped to talk to some fans, including me and Dan Fogel, a Margate native whose father owned a big commercial refigeration company in Philly, and lived along Mansion Row there in Margate. Dan invited me over to his place to hear him play jazz on his B3, which blew me away.

Dan turned me on to other great jazz organists from Philly, incuding Jimmy Smith, Joey DeFrancesco, et al., and I really began to get the jazz organ bug bad.

When we brought the Band back to Somers Point to play Egos in the mid-80s, Garth requested, and got a B3, which we had to rent from some shop in Vineland.

In any case, the origins of the jazz organ in my life go back to picking up that used Jimmy McGriff album in Atlantic City, and learning to pay attention to the music these guy produce.

Now Jimmy's gone, and here's his obits.

I've read his obits in the Philly Inky and Washington Post, and see that right now, as I write this, there's a musical tribute to Jimmy going on at his old church in Philly where he got the organ bug, and his funeral is tommorrow in Vorhees, about thirty miles from where I am, and then they have a church service on Tuesday before they bury him.

God bless Jimmy McGriff, and Jimmy, I just might crash your funeral if theres going to be any more jamming going on in church.

Also want to thank the good folks over at WRTI FM in Philly, who have a local antenna that covers Ocean City - Atlantic City at the shore, for playing some Jimmy McGriff tunes on the air, and giving him a proper eulogy.

This afternoon, like most Sunday afternoons, WRTI had a special one hour Wannamker Organ Hour, featuring live performances from the Wannamaker Organ in Center City, at what is now, I think, Macy's Philadelphia store. Anybody who grew up anywhere near Philly would meet people at the Wannamaker Organ and remember it from Christmas visits to the city.

It's cosponsored by the Friends of the Wannamaker Organ, which reminds me of the huge organ at the old Atlantic City Convention Hall, now the Boardwalk Hall, which they spent $90 million restoring a few years ago but didn't bother budgeting the money needed to repair and restore the organ, one of the most significant items in the house.

There's two organs at the Boardwalk Hall, one in the ballroom, and the other at the main stage.

I always had the hope that there would be a benefit concert at the Boardwalk Hall featuring primarily organ players, like Jimmy McGriff, Garth Hudson, Dan Fogel, Joey D, and all the great Philly guys who can play a Hammond, and raise the money it will take to get the big organ up and running again.

Then with the new organ, hold another benefit party and let people hear what that thing can do.

Except for Jimmy, now he'll have to pull some strings from the other end.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


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