B-3 Takes Annual Bow At Winterfest

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que plays host to the annual Hammond Jammin’ in accordance with Winterfest.

Michael David photo

On Sunday, Feb. 21, free flavorful ear candy will cap Winterfest during the 12th anniversary edition of Hammond Jammin’. The annual showcase for the Hammond B-3 organ takes place from noon to 7 p.m. at Upstairs at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 246 W. Willow St.

In the 1930s, Laurens Hammond brought to life an instrument that transformed the global music scene. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the Hammond B-3 organ’s popularity blossomed, thanks to the experimentation of jazz musician Jimmy Smith.

Hammond B-3. Michael Davis photo | Syracuse New Times

Hammond B-3.
Michael Davis photo | Syracuse New Times

Smith’s instrumental style demonstrated the versatility of the B-3, which has since become a reliable component of rhythm’n’blues, gospel, reggae and rock. Isaac Hayes, Steve Winwood, Booker T. Jones, Phish’s Page McConnell and John Medeski are some of the notables whose note-pumping weapon of choice was the Hammond model.

“At one point, you couldn’t be considered a rock band if you didn’t have one,” said Michael Davis, who will perform during Sunday’s show (and is the New Times’ long time photographer). Members of Davis’ band, The Coachmen, will join him for Michael Davis Plus, which will also feature harmonica wiz Skip Murphy. Davis said that after a brief popularity hiatus, the B-3 regained its luster in the 1990s. “It’s the king of keyboards,” Davis declared. “It’s the king of instruments, actually.”

Hammond B-3. Michael Davis photo | Syracuse New Times

Hammond B-3.
Michael Davis photo | Syracuse New Times

The organ inspired future instrumental relatives, including the synthesizer and keyboard. The inner workings of the hefty Hammond are electromagnet-driven, while its lightweight keys permit a more rapid playing style, as the drawbars control the sound and vibrato of each note, adding to the “harmonic percussion” for which the B-3 is noted.      

The heaviness of the Hammond model can dance around 425 pounds, plus the 150-pound Leslie speaker cabinet. In regard to Donald Leslie’s invention, a system of rotating loudspeakers to perfectly complement notes pouring out of the organ, there was some business-related jealousy-spawned controversy. Hammond wanted nothing to do with the other’s device. Every time the instrument maker would modify a model, Leslie would keep up and create a new matching model.

“Neither was really popular until they came together,” said Davis, who added that this blessing was also a curse. Given the B-3’s weight, transporting equipment proved to be a difficult task. This is where lightweight keyboards and synths proved convenient.

Appreciation for the B-3 is still strong, however. Ever since Gerry Testa organized the first showcase, Hammond Jammin’ traditionally ends Winterfest on several high notes. Davis said it’s a fun event and he encourages patrons to stay for several bands, as they will play different types of music that will showcase the B-3’s versatility. The lineup includes Gerry Testa and Rhythm Method (noon), Rick Jewitt and the Lawless Brothers (12:45 p.m.), Shane Storto and Timeline (1:30 p.m.), Kimo Cortini with Dr. Boogie (2:15 p.m.), Bill Barry and Monkey Fever (3 p.m.), Michael Davis Plus with The Coachmen and Skip Murphy (3:45 p.m.), the Jimmy Cox Family Band (4:30 p.m.) and Dave Solazzo and the Hip Replacements with Tim Herron (5:15 p.m.).

If you’re new to the B-3, Hammond Jammin’ provides a rockin’ introduction. And if you feel that music is best shared with others, this wall-to-wall gathering is a great way to celebrate.

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