In three short years, Tony Monaco
has gained nationwide attention for his deep groove and over-the-top energy on the Hammond B-3 organ. Unmistakably evident on his four Summit Records releases, his overflowing enthusiasm for the instrument reaches even higher levels when he performs before an audience. Every time. Perpetually in motion as he plays, Monaco’s arms flail, his body sways, his feet dance over the pedals, and his head twists as governed by the music he plays as it appears to possess him. Even a rest can create contortions that hint at his attack to follow. It is undoubtedly true that a Tony Monaco performance cannot be imagined just by listening to one of his CD’s.
On the night of September 27, 2003, Monaco’s reservoirs of emotions deepened even more as he performed with one of the masters of the very small society of Hammond B-3 organ players: Jimmy McGriff.
As Monaco said after he and McGriff had finished playing "Freddie Freeloader" (transformed into an infectious blues by tenor saxophonist Gene Walker):
"To the audience, this is a night to remember. To me, this is a lifetime of dreams. I can’t believe it. Jimmy McGriff up here on stage with me!" As ever serene and the perfect gentleman, McGriff beamed at the compliment, flattered by the tribute and the sincerity. As if further evidence were needed of the significance of the event, B-3 organ guru and host of Doodlin’ Lounge, Pete Fallico,
and his wife Joanne flew from San Francisco to Columbus, Ohio for the event.
Fallico, in a gush of graciousness, pronounced Columbus, home of Don Patterson, "a great B-3 organ town." As if further evidence were needed, Fallico reported on his call to ailing B-3 Columbus legend Hank Marr,
who in the 1950’s, along with Rusty Bryant, played at the Carolyn Club with a young Nancy Wilson before she moved to New York. Noting that the Monterey Jazz Festival, which he had just attended, included not one jazz organ player, Fallico seemed primed for the event in Columbus. Calling jazz organ playing "happy music," Fallico proved himself a true believer as he sat on the steps to the side of the stage, clapping his hands with obvious glee through much of the concert.
After starting the evening with a squabbling "The Best Things in Life Are Free," Monaco introduced with great pride one of his B-3 heroes, Jimmy McGriff. By way of introduction, Monaco recalled that, at the age of twelve, he learned every lick on many of McGriff’s tunes. And then, Jimmy McGriff entered the stage on a rehabilitation scooter and appearing more frail than he had appeared on even his most recent CD’s. The visual contrasts were as striking as the sonic similarities: McGriff wore a natty tan suit and gold satin cap, while Monaco wore the lilac jacket, white slacks and white shoes shown on the cover of his CD, Intimately Live at the 501.
Ironically, Monaco’s latest CD, A New Generation: Paesanos on the New B3,
received its inspiration from Jimmy McGriff’s and Richard "Groove" Holmes’ album, Come Together,
on which the best of friends "did battle" on their B-3’s. However, when McGriff met Monaco on stage, the atmosphere was one of limitless respect, as if paternal, as Monaco’s new generation paid respect to the innovations that McGriff and other dedicated B-3 players of his generation developed from the 1950’s into the early 1970’s. And as though to demonstrate the progress and eternality of the instrument (whose roots in gospel will always save it from predicted extinction), Monaco played the new digital Hammond-Suzuki B-3 organ, complete with tone shifting effects and MIDI capabilities, while McGriff played a traditional B-3, brought in from Indianapolis by technician Lonnie Smith.
Facing each other in B-3 dialogue, Monaco and McGriff played several of McGriff’s best-known recordings, including an irresistible version of "I’ve Got a Woman" to drummer Louis Tsamous’
shuffle beat. When a true Jimmy McGriff enthusiast called out "All about My Girl," McGriff smiled and replied, "I haven’t played that song in years!" Instead, McGriff called for the "guitar man," Robert Kraut,
to play. And he did. In a frenzy, astounding the audience with technique to burn. Next, Monaco’s trio left the stage so that McGriff and Walker on alto sax could play a gorgeous version of "Somewhere over the Rainbow," recalling the times that they toured together.
With no intermission to lengthen the performance, the Jimmy McGriff/Tony Monaco/Gene Walker Hot!
concert seemed to end too soon, leaving the audience applauding for more. And they got it with an unforgettable encore that ended with everyone jumping to their feet, clapping and dancing and shaking as if they were helpless to the enchantment of the groove.
And so, both Tony Monaco and Pete Fallico were right. September 27 was
a night to remember. And jazz organ music is
"happy music." Everyone understood that at the end of an event that may never be repeated, as Gene Walker and Tony Monaco’s trio gathered around Jimmy McGriff’s scooter to pose for photographs. So that a dream concert come true may be remembered years from now.