June 17, 2024

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Among the many versatile organists circuit was Hank Marr: Video, Photos

The Hammond organ’s surging popularity in the 1950s had everything to do with economics and efficiency. Early in the decade, organ models became increasingly compact and more affordable, allowing artists to transport them and clubs to purchase one and store it in a corner.Club_502_cover_3366
Organists were especially profitable for smaller clubs, since the keyboard could be set with drawbars to sound like an entire orchestra of instruments. Instead of hiring a combo with a horn section, a club needed only an organist and one or two other musicians to sound just as full. What’s more, a good organist could handle the bass line with his or her feet working the pedals.

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Among the many versatile organists who performed the Midwest club circuit was Hank Marr. Throughout the 1950s and into the ’60s, Marr toured and recorded with tenor saxophonist Rusty Bryant. By the mid-’50s, Marr was often recording jukebox singles at King in Cincinnati and touring surrounding cities. In Columbus, Ohio, Marr played often at Club 502, a major jazz venue from 1957 to 1968 at 502 St. Clair Ave. Marty Mellman took over the club in 1961 after a fire damaged the establishment (and destroyed Milt Buckner’s organ, according to news clips). [Photo above of Marty Mellman, courtesy of Lori Mellman].

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In December 1963, King recorded Marr at Club 502 with Rusty Bryant (ts), Wilbert Longmire (g) and Taylor Orr (d). The gig was released as The Hank Marr Quartette: Live at Club 502. As Gene Redd, King’s head of A&R at the time, wrote in the album’s liner notes, “This is a lot of sound and a lot of music for four men.” Indeed. The tracks are Marr’s hit single Greasy Spoon plus One O’Clock Jump,Marr’s Easy Talk, Longmire’s Freedom March, Just Friends, Hank’s Idea, I Remember New York, and Marr and Redd’s Up and Down. [Photo above, from left, Marr, Orr and Bryant]

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As you’ll hear in the clips below, Marr had a tough, soulful sound on the organ that surely influenced organist Charles Earland. Bryant’s big, insistent tone on the tenor saxophone shared much in common with Stanley Turrentine’s sound and was perfectly paired with Marr’s bossy attack. Best of all, the soul-jazz energy on this album recorded at the tail end of 1963 provides a snapshot of the organ’s sustained prowess in the Midwest.

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Hank Marr died in 2004, Ray Bryant died 2011 and Marty Mellman died in 1980.

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The Hank Marr Quartette: Live at Club 502 has never been released on CD or as a digital download. I’m not sure who owns the King catalogue these days but someone should re-issue this one.

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