|Nigel Price Trio – Nigel Price, Matt Home, Ross Stanley|
Nigel Price remembers the first time he became aware of the Hammond organ. The guitarist who is currently on a mammoth, fifty-six date Arts Council-funded UK tour with his organ trio, has become quite the evangelist for an instrument that technology has tried – but failed – to make obsolete. He spoke to Rob Adams:
He’s well aware of the more easily portable alternatives but craves the real thing, the sound he first heard coming, not from a Jimmy Smith or a Jack McDuff album, although they would come soon afterwards, but from Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland.
“It was Rainy Day, Dream Away,” he says. “They’re just messing around in the studio but it has this shuffle that has to be the grooviest thing ever and in comes Mike Finnigan on organ and I just thought, I want that sound.”
As the young Price checked out the jazz guitar and its history, it was inevitable that he would come across the Hammond sound at some point. He’s often bracketed with Wes Montgomery, who made some of the coolest organ trio albums in the jazz canon, although he’s more of a Joe Pass fan, and if his Jimi Hendrix experience hadn’t made him a Hammond devotee, then hearing Jimmy Smith’s The Boss, with George Benson, would have clinched it.
“I love all these guys, all the great American players, but there was something really inspiring, for me, in being able to hear someone like Jim Mullen live rather than on record,” says Price. “Jim tears it up on every gig and he’s always really exciting but I particularly liked the fact that he’d be doing that in some local pub or club where he’s so close you can see what he’s doing. Dave Cliff was another inspiration and another example of someone who had it all going on and was playing locally.”
Talking of yet another, local-ish hero, the recently departed Louis Stewart, takes Price into the slightly more geeky territory of guitar string gauges. He’s not one for the super-slinky range, preferring the chunky, bluesy sound that comes from what he calls piano wire. Call it suffering for your art – with blisters – but there’s a triumph in the face of adversity quality, he says, about playing on heavy gauge strings, a sense of commitment that also shines through in turning up at the furthest away club with a Hammond organ.
“You can see it registering on people’s faces when they look at the stage and there’s the Hammond with a Leslie speaker sitting there,” he says. “These are not items that the average person is going to carry on his or her back – although I’ve seen it done. The sheer size of them shows conviction and audiences get that.”
Aside from offering a consistency, or near-consistency, in terms of sound quality, the organ trio is also self-contained. It doesn’t suffer from the variable quality of instrument that can afflict a touring band that requires a piano and, says Price, it can change quite significantly if a horn is added.
“It’s very immediate in terms of communication between the three of us,” he says. “I miss bass players but with organ and guitar it’s very easy to signal just with a twitch of an eyebrow what you intend to do. Plus when Ross is soloing he has the basslines covered and there’s a gap in the middle begging for someone to comp, and that’s my place. I find it a really creative, sociable unit.”
The sociability extends to the audience for Price. As was the case with Cannonball Adderley’s quintet, he says, the organ trio format makes for music that communicates directly with the listeners as well as between the players. Price is a gregarious sort by nature anyway and isn’t likely to be found “basking in my own self-loathing” in the dressing room between sets.
“It sounds a bit hippy-ish but I mean it when I say that music should be a shared experience,” he says. “It means the world to me that people come out to hear Ross, Steve and me and I couldn’t stand the thought of us making a sound and people hating it. I try to chat with as many people in the audience as possible on every gig. You want them to feel involved and of course you want them to come back next time but if we can’t all enjoy it in the moment, what’s the point?”
The Nigel Price Organ Trio – Nigel Price, Ross Stanley (organ) and Steve Brown (drums) is at a venue near you before Christmas. TOUR DATES