I am about to make one of those
very controversial statements that will cause an uproar. Opinions will
immediately become polarised. Shovels will be taken out of garden sheds to
enable entrenched positions to be dug. Decent folks' children will be forbidden
to play with mine. The club may well be picketed by irate Jimmy Smith fans,
whilst armies of Richard 'Groove' Holmes fans may seek to pay cash for
questions to be asked in the House of Commons.
Anyhow, here goes (deep breath)...
Mike Carr is the best jazz organist in the world.
know that it seems improbable the bald, overweight (as I myself am both, I can
say this with impunity) Tynesider (or should it be Teesider?) should, in the
opinion of your humble servant, out class the two above-mentioned legends of
the Hammond, but there it is. For me, he does.
Michael Anthony Carr is a
phenomenon. He is not simply a pianist who plays a bit of organ or vice versa.
He is a fine swinging bop pianist and a world class organist. I could also
mention vibes and marimba an his not inconsiderable oeuvre as a
composer, but it is as a jazz organist that he stands above the others, a fact
remarked upon by no less a personage than Oscar Peterson, just one of the many
American jazz greats who found themselves amazed by Mike.
moved to London some decades ago. Prior to his arrival in the metropolis, he
was the influential leader of the jazz scene in the North East playing with the
Emcee Five - drummer Ronnie Stevenson, bassist Malcolm Cecil, the great tenor
saxophonist Gary Cox and trumpeter, brother Ian.
became a member of the Ronnie Scott Trio, firstly with drummer Tony Crombie and
then with the late Bobby Gien, which was a force for about five years, playing
regularly and with great popularity at the club. They also played very
successfully all over the world, including a concert at New York's Carnegie
also had a wonderful group featuring Dick Morrissey and Jim Mullen and
accompanied an impressive list of visiting American firemen.
Personal tragedy struck in the mid
seventies. Mike's wife died suddenly at an improbably young age, leaving him to
bring up two small children singlehandedly. As if that were not enough, one of
the children, his daughter Julie, was born disabled by cerebral palsy. Mike
cared for and looked after her with such tender love, that his own career had
to suffer. At that time he was poised, in my view, on the brink of an
international breakthrough. He gave it no second thought. He simply looked
after Julie, confining himself to domestic gigs to pay the rent.
all events back to my original premise. Why do I think so highly of his organ
playing? Well, for a start, he swings like mad. Secondly he uses the whole of
the instrument, keyboards, stops and pedals, with great independent technique.
You would be amazed at how many so-called top American exponents chicken out of
trying to exploit all the possibilities of the instrument. It can be quite
nerve-wracking to try to play a well-constructed solo with your right hand,
while comping accurately with your left, and keeping up a rhythmic and
harmonically correct bass line with your feet.
Finally, and to me, most
importantly, he plays wonderful jazz more influenced by the great tenor or
trumpet players than by other organists. The result of this is that you get a
coherently constructed piece of music rather than the tricksy indecipherable
mess that most organists churn out. His solos are more informed by Hank Mobley
than by Jimmy Smith... and all the better for it.
still plays at the club from time to time and can often be seen in the place
with his daughter (now thirty and living in a community designed to cope with
the demands of her condition), when she has weekends at home with him. She is
treated with affection by the staff. We all know of, and admire, Mike's
say that a prophet is never honoroured in his own country. Well, this is my
effort at honouring Mike. A true gent, one of the 'Ronnie Scott Club family', a
super pianist, an amazing organist and my god, can he swing!
Jazz At Ronnie Scott's