John Abercrombie: Organ Trio Infatuation
The adventurous guitarist and composer John Abercrombie couldn’t get enough of the organ trio. He had a lifelong love affair with them, starting in Boston in 1967, and he had trio dates scheduled at the time of his death on August 22, 2017. This post surveys those Boston beginnings and his ongoing enthusiasm for the jazz organ.
Boston was where Abercrombie soaked up influences and interests that stayed with him for decades. He spent eight formative years there, from 1962 to 1970, and his attraction to organ trios took hold then. He took his first steps on the national stage in one in 1967.
Although he was a student at Berklee, Abercrombie was quite active on the local scene. He used the city as one big woodshed. He played big band music with Phil Wilson’s Dues Band, sambas with the Bossa Nova Quartet of saxophonist Allan Rowe, and lounge jazz with Al Natalie’s Tijuana Sounds group. His roommate, Jan Hammer, played keyboards in a strip club, and Abercrombie sat in with him there. He graduated from Berklee in 1967, but he acquired his practical education playing across the musical landscape of 1960s Boston.
John Abercrombie also heard and absorbed the music at Connolly’s and the Jazz Workshop. The Workshop was thriving in the mid 1960s, and Abercrombie was one of the many students who made the club a second home. Everybody worked that room. In one four-month stretch in 1964, Abercrombie heard Wes Montgomery, Bill Evans, and Jim Hall—all profound influences on the young guitarist. He caught George Benson and then Pat Martino with Jack McDuff’s trio there. And there were local organists, good ones, like Hillary Rose and Phil Porter fronting trios as well.
At the Big M with Johnny “Hammond” Smith
In 1967, Crumbles, as he was nicknamed, got his first big break. That year the organist Johnny “Hammond” Smith came to town needing a guitar player. He auditioned and Smith hired him. The trio played a long residence at the Big M, a South End club of dubious reputation, and toured the northeast. Abercrombie stayed with Smith for over a year.
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