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Gene Ludwig Press
HANDS ON REVIEW
Gene Ludwig (Blues Leaf Records)
Review by: James Rozzi, Jazziz Magazine March 2004
During the 1960's, the popular appeal of jazz-organ
groups was evident, and a cast of irrepressible B-3 bombers and
tenor saxophonists spearheaded the craze "soul jazz". As time passed,
some of the more talented organists began to explore tunes beyond
the stereotypical funk and blues. Veteran Pittsburgh organist Ludwig
is one such player, whose quartet capably moves beyond basics to
cover a more sophisticated set list. With excellent sidemen in guitarist
Ken Karsh, drummer Tom Wendt, and tenor saxophonist Eric DeFade,
Ludwig presents a well-oiled machine that virtually drips grease,
but that's a good thing. This band plays cleanly, but the human
element essential to the jazz organ's blue-collar legacy is intact
in all its gutsy, heartfelt glory. One of two originals, "Louie
and Jazz", is a classic blues shuffle featuring very mature solos
by all. Ludwig and company handle the up-tempo "Unit 7" every bit
as proficiently as did Wynton Kelly and Cannonball Adderley. Interestingly,
these four musicians exhibit very similar styles while soloing,
with no obvious foils among them. Each man steps up to blow with
a high command of his instrument, having obviously studied the masters.
While Ludwig is a composite of every great jazz organist since the
late '50s, Karsh's guitar seems to gravitate toward Grant Green.
DeFade captures the essence of West Coast tenors Plas Johnson and
Pete Christlieb. All the while, Wendt establishes a mighty groove
under and exemplary group that's firmly rooted in the history of
straight-ahead and bluesy B-3 jazz.
ZOELLNER ARTS CENTER Bethlehem, PA
April 10, 2004
16 CORNERS INTERVIEW WITH GENE LUDWIG
November 24, 2003
A LIFE IN TUNE | LUDWIG GROOVES ON JAZZ ORGAN
Sunday, October 26, 2003
By Nate Guidry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
It had come to this for Gene Ludwig. He was only 21 and already
at a significant crossroads.
So he walked to the bathroom mirror, stared intently into it and
then flipped a coin. Heads, he would continue working as a civil
engineer. Tails, he would pursue a career in music.
Jazz fans and musicians know what side turned up.
For nearly a half-century, they have heard Ludwig, now 66, pounding
the keys of the Hammond B-3 Organ, one of the most groove-laden
instruments ever to grace a jazz bandstand.
Back in '63, he recorded a 45-rpm single of "Sticks and Stones,"
a song made famous by Ray Charles. The single was released the same
week President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
Later, he worked with smooth bass-baritone vocalist Arthur Prysock,
guitarist Pat Martino and Sonny Stitt, an underrated tenor saxophonist
who played with terrifying fluidity.
Ludwig has flirted with stardom, never quite able to grasp it. His
life has been sacrifices, road fatigue and dingy hotel rooms. He's
been underrecorded and largely unappreciated outside jazz inner
Still, he toils, without regrets, his bulky B-3 and Leslie tone
cabinet in tow, from one gig and town to the next. The B-3 is ponderous,
weighing in at around 450 pounds with two 61-note keyboards, built-in
special effects and foot pedals. The Leslie weighs another 75 pounds;
its rotating components produce a unique sound.
"He is legend for his musicality," said guitarist Bob DeVos from
his home in West Orange, N.J. DeVos, who performed on Ludwig's 2002
"The Groove Organization," met the organist in 1969.
"Gene spent a lot of time backing up people, so he has a lot of
experience. He's a great blues player, but he isn't restricted to
one style. He's also a very democratic player and leader."
IN LOVE WITH THE GROOVE
Ludwig was born in 1937 in Twin Rocks, a tiny coal-mining town in
Cambria County. After a few years, his father took a job at Westinghouse
and moved the family to Wilkinsburg and later to Swissvale. At the
home in Swissvale, Ludwig started tinkering with an old piano that
the previous owners had left.
"At that time, I had been listening to a lot of big band stuff ...
people like Glenn Miller and the Dorsey Brothers," said Ludwig,
sitting with his wife, Pattye, in the living room of their Monroeville
home. "I started messing around with the piano, and my dad asked
if I wanted to take some lessons."
At age 6, Ludwig started taking lessons with Elizabeth Boose and
studied with her for the next six years. He continued to practice
during high school, but he discovered a broader variety of music
while listening to radio legend Porky Chedwick, who was a disc jockey
for WHOD in Homestead.
"I got a really good taste for R&B from Porky," said Ludwig. "He
was playing a lot of Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner and organ players
like Bill Doggett and Wild Bill Davis.
"The music was so different from the big band stuff I had been listening
to. I just fell in love with the groove, and I started trying some
of that on the piano."
In 1955, he graduated from Swissvale High School and enrolled in
Edinboro State Teacher's College, where he studied physics and mathematics.
After two years, he was forced to quit because money was tight and
his father was on strike at Westinghouse.
He returned to Pittsburgh, where he eventually accepted a position
at Fuller Construction, which was erecting several new buildings
He eventually started performing with singing groups around town.
One night, he went to the Hurricane, a Hill District nightspot,
to hear organist Jimmy Smith.
The small club, owned by the late Birdie Dunlop, was famous for
its Brazilian shrimp and fried chicken. Patrons came from all sides
of the street -- the upper crust and the under crust, shoulder to
shoulder. Bobby Layne, the former Steelers quarterback, was known
to frequent the place. One night, Layne placed two crisp $100 bills
in the saxophone of Big Jay McNeely as a tip.
Food and patrons aside, the Hurricane also was known for its sizzling
organ groups -- jazz by Wild Bill Doggett, Jack McDuff, Shirley
Scott, Don Patterson, Jimmy McGriff and Smith, who performed with
a searing, thunderous style. |
"I'll never forget that night," said Ludwig. "I ordered chicken
wings, and Jimmy got up there and started playing 'Preacher,' a
Horace Silver tune, and the drummer laid down a shuffle beat. And
I was so happy I threw up my arm, and one of the wings hit the ceiling
and landed in my lap.
"I said 'Man! That's what I want.' I decided if I could scrounge
up enough money for an organ, I would get one."
Ludwig eventually purchased a Hammond M100 organ and later a C Model.
During an Atlantic City concert in 1964, Ludwig played on the same
bill with Smith, who used Ludwig's C Model. After the show, Smith
thanked Ludwig and then told him he should try to get a B-3 because
the C Model would work him to death.
Ludwig returned to Pittsburgh, bought a B-3 and started performing
with his trio. They traveled to Count Basie's club in Harlem, the
100 Club in Cleveland and other clubs that featured the organ.
In 1969, Ludwig replaced Don Patterson in Sonny Stitt's band. The
relationship lasted about a year and produced Stitt's "Night Letter,"
a recording on the Prestige label.
"Working with Sonny was an education," said Ludwig. "I had been
playing a long time before I joined Sonny. He taught me a great
deal about music, although I don't know if he knew it."
LEAN TIMES, GOOD TIMES
After the Stitt job ended, Ludwig returned to Pittsburgh and started
working regularly with saxophonist Bill Easley and, later, Walt
Soon, Arthur Prysock came calling, and Ludwig joined the vocalist
on two separate occasions, for a year beginning in 1973 and again
in 1979. It was also around this time Ludwig recorded "Now Is the
Time," a funky, groove-drenched recording for Muse Records.
"The groove is where it is for me," said Ludwig. "I let loose when
I hit the groove. A groove on the B-3 would be comparable to Willie
Stargell hitting a home run. The sound of the instrument combined
with the grease, funk and groove is such an inspirational feeling.
"The B-3 is an aggressive instrument. It doesn't matter what you
play, you're going to put funk and soul into it."
Throughout the '80s and '90s, Ludwig continued to travel and work
in local venues such as the Crawford Grill and James Street Tavern.
In 1997, he signed a record deal with Blues Leaf and released "Back
on Track," which he followed up with "Soul Serenade," "The Groove
Organization" and "Hands On," released this month.
"I can't tell you how much I learned from Gene," said 24-year-old
drummer Tom Wendt, who performs on "Hands On" and started working
with Ludwig while still a high school student at the High School
for the Creative and Performing Arts.
"He came up at a time when the instrument was extremely popular.
He was heavily influenced by Jimmy Smith, and for me performing
with him at such a young age was great because I felt I was learning
from the source.
"There aren't too many guys like him left. He was extremely supportive.
He gave me room to play and he never told me how to play. He's also
a great human being and set a great example for me."
Back in his living room, Ludwig crosses his legs before sipping
from a cup of water. He thinks of that night at the Hurricane and
wonders whether it's been worth it.
"I've had some good times and some lean ones," he said. "Sometimes
I didn't know where my next dollar was going to come from. But I
would never trade it for all the money in the world."
THE NEW HAVEN LOUNGE |
GENE LUDWIG TRIO
REPRINTED IN ITS ENTIRETY from
The Baltimore Sun, The Baltimore Weekly, and their on-line newspaper.
The Baltimore City Paper will run in a special column on out of
town musicians performing the the City of Baltimore.
Jazz Organ Master, GENE LUDWIG, will be appearing with his trio
at the New Haven Lounge in Baltimore on Sunday, October 26 from
4PM to 7:30 PM. The trio features fellow Bluesleaf recording artists
BOB DEVOS on guitar and VINCE ECTOR on drums, both from New Jersey.
All 3 musicians have just released new CD's with Bluesleaf Records
and will have copies for sale at the concert. With a forty-five
year professional career, Pittsburgh based Hammond B-3 Master, GENE
LUDWIG, has released a new CD every other year since 1998, totaling
17 as a leader.
He has worked with ARTHUR PRYSOCK and has played and recorded with
PAT MARTINO, SONNY STITT, and RED HOLLOWAY-PLAS JOHNSON, and has
a new release due out in 2004 with JIMMY PONDER. His most recent
effort is CD "THE GROOVE ORGANIZATION" with BOB DEVOS and BILLY
JAMES. His next release "HANDS ON" is scheduled for Oct.2003.
He has collaborated often with fellow B3 organists JACK McDUFF and
JOEY DeFRANCESCO.. He has been and will continue to be one of this
country's most passionate exponents of Jazz Organ; "I have an A-100
Hammond in my game room and I keep five B-3's in my garage... I'm
ready to go when I get my calls". In a May 2001 profile, JAZZIS
hailed him as the "finest mainstream jazz organ player alive."
Guitarist-composer-arranger BOB DEVOS has been recently anointed
as "the thinking man's guitar hero" in ALLABOUTJAZZ. BOB has played
and recorded with Hammond B3 Organ legends CHARLES EARLAND, JIMMY
McGRIFF-HANK CRAWFORD, RICHARD "Groove" HOLMES-SONNY STITT, JOEY
DeFRANCESCO, and DR. LONNIE SMITH, among others. Active on the NYC
scene, BOB can also be heard as a regular member of legendary bassist
RON McCLURE'S forward thinking quartet and in duo with MIKE RICHMOND,
as well as heading his own quartet. His debut CD BREAKING THE ICE
(Savant) with CHARLES EARLAND garnered rave reviews.
His current CDs include KEEPERS OF THE FLAME: THE CHARLES EARLAND
TRIBUTE BAND (HighNote), a top ten airplay release and the well
received MATCH POINT (Ron McClure Qt.-Steeplechase) which features
his compositions. His newest release is "DEVOS' GROOVE GUITAR" with
GENE LUDWIG and BILLY JAMES. There are a lot of prominent jazz drummers
that hail from Philadelphia, now you can add VINCE ECTOR to that
list as well.
In his years on the scene in Philadephia and now New York, ECTOR
has worked with BOBBY WATSON, JIMMY BRUNO, FREDDIE HUBBARD, GLORIA
LYNNE, ERIC ALEXANDER and many others. But his main influence was
family friend MICKEY ROKER, in fact Philadelphia is the fuel to
the spark that ignites his new CD "VINCE ECTOR, RHYTHM MASTER".
It is obvious how ECTOR feels about his musical home, when you discover
that the entire rhythm secion of his CD hails from Philadelphia.
Come enjoy some hot, swinging jazz and great food at the NEW HAVEN
LOUNGE, 1552 Havenwood Rd., Baltimore (410-366-7416) on Sunday,
October 26 from 4PM to 7:30PM. Tickets are $12 in advance or $15
at the door and there will be a complimentary buffet.
OVERDUE OVATION | GENE LUDWIG
By Bill Milkowski
ARTICLE REPRINTED IN ITS ENTIRETY FROM THE JAN/FEB
2003 ISSUE OF JAZZ TIMES
A B-3 BURNER YOU CAN BANK ON
OFF THE BANDSTAND, he hardly looks the part. The dress shirt and
square-knotted tie, the neatly pressed slacks, wide-rimmed glasses
and patriarchal demeanor suggest an upright, solid citizen-possibly
a Midwestern high school principal or bank president.
And yet, when Gene Ludwig sits behind the hulking Hammond B-3 organ,
he is instantly transformed. To witness this straitlaced 65-year-old
white man wailing with such bluesy authority on Joe Henderson's
"Step Lightly" or laying down such a greasy groove on "One Mint
Julep" is a momentarily disorienting experience. The juxtaposition
of image and sound presents a befuddling dichotomy: High school
principals and bank presidents aren't supposed to be this baaaad.
Perhaps Ludwig's genial demeanor and conservative attire has gotten
in the way of him becoming as widely recognized and regularly recorded
as some of his organ-playing colleagues. From a purely musical standpoint,
he is certainly on par with the best of the bona fide B-3 burners
and has been for over four decades. And yet, the Pittsburgh native
had been overlooked for session work and largely ignored by the
labels over the past 30 years.
"It's the old story of 'out of sight, out of mind," says renowned
producer, soul-jazz expert and B-3 maven Bob Porter. "That's a rule
for anybody who deals in jazz. If you don't hear anything from a
guy for a certain length of time, and there's no opportunity to
see him, how the hell are you supposed to stay up with him? I mean,
no one's giving you a round-trip plane ticket to Pittsburgh to go
hear Gene Ludwig."
Porter had worked with Ludwig back in 1969 on a Sonny Stitt recording
he produced for Prestige. As he recalls, "Stitt worked trios in
those years, most of the time with (organist) Don Patterson and
(drummer) Billy James. But I went to see him at a joint in Montclair
(New Jersey) called the Spearington House, and he had Gene with
him on organ and Randy Gillespie on drums. And I just thought it
sounded really good-more inspired than Stitt had been with Patterson,
not to say that he and Patterson hadn't inspired each other for
long periods of time. But based on the last time I had heard them
together, it was getting a little tired. And seeing him with Gene-it
Porter promptly booked the trio (plus guest guitarist Pat Martino)
for the Prestige studio session that resulted in Night Letter. following
a year of road-work with Stitt, Ludwig would return to Pittsburgh
and during the '70s hook up with singer Arthur Prysock for two separate
stints-one from 1973 to '74 and the other from 1978 to '79. The
organist recorded his first session as a leader in 1980 for Muse
(Now's The Time with local Pittsburghers George Green on tenor sax,
Kwasi Jayourba on percussion, Tom Soisson on drums and Larry McGee
on guitar) but by and large remained "out of sight, out of mind"
in Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, his reputation flourished through the
'80s and '90s.
"I've always relied on a loose-knit network of guys who get around
and see different organ players, and word usually gets back to me."
says Porter. "And everything that ever came back about Gene Ludwig
was always positive. And I wasn't really surprised because I figured
he was good enough to probably work around Pittsburgh and not have
And sometimes that makes a difference. To a certain extent if you
are a local musician, you're either so good that you're always working
or you're not good enough to travel. There's no real middle ground.
And Gene is just one of these guys who is so good, and his reputation
is so strong around Pittsburgh, that he really didn't have to come
out that much. I'm sure he didn't (leave Pittsburgh) all that frequently."
In recent years, Ludwig has been mounting something of a comeback,
at least in terms of visibility beyond his own hometown turf of
Pittsburgh. In 1997, Joe Morabia of Blues Leaf signed the underrecognized
B-3 veteran to a deal that saw the release of Back on the Track
that year. It sold well enough to merit a follow-up, 2000's Soul
Serenade, which led to appearances in the New York and New Jersey
area. Ludwig's most recent release, 2002's The Groove ORGANization,
has been garnering substantial radio play in that same East Coast
market. Jack Kreisberg, who books talent for the Blue Note nightclub
in New York, brought Ludwig to Morabia's attention and ultimately
served as producer of those sessions for Blues Leaf: "I wanted to
get him a little more visibility and exposure, as a friend and as
someone who appreciates his talent." he says. "The combination of
his technique and his timing and his soulfulness is what got me
about Gene. He's not about showing off his chops as opposed to just
dealing with the music. a lot of people are into that attitude of
'Look, I can play all these notes.' But Gene is not that much concerned
about that. He's more concerned with the groove and the feel of
the music and whatever it takes to enhance that. And he knows how
to lay back, which a lot of people don't do. Of the organ players
who were around, I didn't see anybody, outside of Joey DeFrancesco,
who was of that kind of caliber and who really understood the instrument
as much as he does."
Porter, who had been hip to Ludwig's singular talent for some 30
years, ended up calling on the organist once again for a Plas Johnson/Red
Holloway session he produced in 2001 for Milestone entitled Keep
That Groove Going! As he recalls, "A few years ago at one of the
Newark Organ jams, Gene came down and just smoked the place out.
Nobody even came close, and Jimmy McGriff was on the bill that day!
And you know, I was very, very impressed. It kind of reaffirmed
everything I had been hearing from other people about how great
Gene was sounding. The Pittsburgh guys always raved about him and
I filed it away as a mental note. And when I got a chance to hear
him at the organ jam, (I realized) they were right. So I brought
Gene in on that session with Plas and Red, which also had Kenny
Washington on drums and Melvin Sparks on guitar. Gene came in and
worked with four guys he had never played with before but he was
ready and he was prepared. They couldn't throw anything at him that
he couldn't handle, which was really wonderful. That's what you
want in a sideman. I think his own solos were terrific and his accompaniment
was fine. I was very happy with how he played on that session."
Porter regards Ludwig as a consummate pro. As he put it, "Gene is,
in my estimation, a real jazz organ player from the old school.
He puts it right down the middle. And for my money, he's playing
better now than ever."
To hear the Ludwig today conjuring up soulful, rig-and-greens-eating
anthems on the bandstand is to experience one of the masters of
'the Beast' at the top of his game. A natural blues and bop player,
his nimble right-hand flights are expertly anchored by some of the
most solidly insistent grooves in the business. Adept at the long-lost
art of bass pedals, Ludwig often doubles the low end with left-hand
bass lines to fatten the groove while remaining purely liberated
with his right-hand flourishes.
Accompanied on The Groove ORGANization by guitarist Bob DeVos, a
sideman for such legendary B-3 burners as Charles "The Mighty Burner"
Earland and Richard "Groove" Holmes, and the great drummer Billy
James, whose loose, flexible shuffle beat made him the drummer of
choice during the '60s for the likes of organist Don Patterson and
saxophonist Booker Ervin, Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Eddie "Lockjaw"
Davis and Houston Person, Ludwig wails with impunity on such soulful
vehicles as Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar", Miles Davis' "All Blues"
and Tyrone Smith's "Chitlins Con Carne".
He burns through Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce" and swings briskly
through a jaunty reading of the Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn standard "It's
You or No One". And on lush ballads like Duke Ellington's "Mood
Indigo" or the standard "You've Changed", he ladles on rich timbres
and thick chordal voicings to set a dramatic and appropriately melancholy
Ludwig began piano lessons in 1943 and, at the urging of his mother,
began pursuing a classical path. All that changed in 1957 when he
witnessed a Jimmy Smith performance at the Hurricane in his hometown.
"I was so struck by his greatness that that's when I decided that's
what I wanted to do", he recalls.
The nascent organist bought his first Hammond B-3 in 1958 and began
the life of a traveling musician in 1960. Early on he worked in
Earland's band before "The Mighty Burner" switched to organ from
tenor saxophone. He also worked regularly around the Pittsburgh
area, leading his own trio on jazz and R&B gigs at places like the
Hurricane and the Crawford Grill. In 1963, he made his recording
debut for Atlantic. His 45-rpm single, an instrumental version of
Titus Turner's "Sticks and Stones", which had been a gigantic hit
the year before for Ray Charles, was released during a memorable
week in November that year. "I'll never forget", says Ludwig. "I
was playing at the Shanty in Boston the week my record was released.
And that same week, President John Kennedy was assassinated."
All through the '60s, Ludwig worked a circuit of black clubs and
was universally accepted by the clientele. As he recalls, "It was
beautiful. I didn't encounter any problems at all. I was up there
playing and we always got return invites to all these places-the
Hubbub in Indianapolis, the Key Club in Newark, Count Basie's in
Harlem, Lennie's on the Turnpike and the Shanty in Boston. The people
Following the release of Keep That Groove Going! and The Groove
ORGANization, Ludwig has seen a flurry of recorded activity, including
a project for guitarist Bob DeVos on New Note, a recording with
guitarist Jimmy Ponder for HighNote and one with trumpeter Mac Gollehan
for New Note, all of which are due out in early 2003.
Meanwhile, the man who looks like a high school principal but "kicks
the 3" like the baddest of the burners continues to make semi-regular
appearances at the Blue Note in New York and Las Vegas and at Trumpets
in New Jersey.
In assessing his own talent, Ludwig says, "I think swinging is my
strongest thing-being able to sit down and swing and groove. I've
just had a natural affinity for those rhythms ever since I first
sat down at the piano. I guess it's like riding a bicycle. Once
you get the feel of it, you never forget how."