FEATURE: Bruce Katz
The virtuosity of an instrument comes with the fluency of a musical language. Like all of us who speak, musicians rely on the same vocabulary. We all use the same words and musicians all use the same notes. We put together words and sounds like pieces of a puzzle, struggling with choice and placement, but we can only work with what we know. Some of us will spend a lifetime just trying to make sense of the pieces while others see them fall into place the moment they are scattered on the table. One thing holds true for any musician, the more you listen and the more you play, the more you will understand. The more you study, the more clearly you will speak.
Bruce Katz has had his hands on the keys during a career that spans over four decades and his virtuosity is a gift. A gift not only in the sense that he is a wildly talented musician, but a gift to all ears that listen. Versed on both piano and organ, which is like being fluent in both Arabic and Mandarin, Katz expresses himself equally as eloquent on either instrument. He also speaks different dialects on each and melds the dialects together to create his own accent. Classical. Be-Bop. Blues. Dixieland. Jazz. Ragtime. Roadhouse. Katz pulls from it all to create his soulful stew.
"I started studying classical piano when I was a kid, but I didn't start playing the Hammond B3 until I was in my 20s.", said Katz during a recent interview with NC Music Magazine. "It felt really natural from the first time I ever played the organ". Moving from to piano to the organ may seem like a simple translation, but all keyboards are not alike. "The B3 is a very different instrument.", shared Katz. "It plays differently. It feels different. The way you create the sounds and think of the music conceptually is totally different". It is that conceptual understanding of the form and function of what goes on in a Hammond B3, and what comes out of the Leslie speaker cabinet connected to it, that allows Katz to achieve a masterful display of drama and texture on the organ. Altering the speed of the rotating loudspeakers in a Leslie cabinet morphs the sound and sliding drawbars on the Hammond allows control of the volume of individual components within the music. There are many ways for an organ player to add depth and dimension to the notes originally introduced to the keyboard if they fully understand the instrument. "I always loved all the gospel organ players.", said Katz. "I would say my favorite organ player is Jimmy McGriff. McGriff really used the innate aspects of the instrument to create emotional ideas. McGriff is always changing drawbar settings and going fast Leslie-slow Leslie-fast Leslie-slow Leslie to create these moods. He really understood what the instrument could do. I approach organ the same way".
Another organ player known for his dramatic and mood-filled organ playing is Garth Hudson of The Band. Maybe that is why the late Levon Helm invited Katz to play many of his Midnight Rambles at The Barn in Woodstock, NY-which is not far from Katz's own home. Katz's Midnight Ramble appearances introduced Katz to saxophone player Jay Collins, who was a full-time member of both The Levon Helm Band and Greg Allman's band at the time, who in turn recommended Katz to Allman. Katz went on to play with not only Gregg Allman but with both Allman Brothers drummers (and founding members) Jaimoe and Butch Trucks. Katz did some touring with The Allman Brothers as well. The decade spent in that world can be traced back to The Barn for Katz and it showcased his gritty and bluesy side.
The many sides of Bruce Katz and the varied musical languages he speaks has made him a highly sought-after player on other musicians albums. A lot of albums. "I think it's around eighty at this point.", clarified Katz. Katz isn't a side-man, but a contributor. He isn't so sought after just because he can play, but because he can PLAY. When Katz is working on someone else's albums, he views the world through their eyes, and speak in their voice, putting his own mark on it along the way. Having Katz in the studio is like having a battalion of keyboardists versed in various styles, he just has it all in one long-haired package.
Katz's first release as the Bruce Katz Band was Crescent Crawl in 1992, where his piano playing would lead some to believe he learned how to play in New Orleans, not in New England. "When I was a kid I was playing classical piano but was really interested in the early 1920s and 1930s swing and dixieland.", shared Katz. "From the time I was ten or eleven years old, I found myself extremely attracted to New Orleans jazz and rhythm and blues. I really threw myself deeply into those styles and absorbed the music through recordings. There is a life force in the music of New Orleans".
A diverse and exploratory career has enabled Katz to stir the pot and cover lots of ground. "It's all part of the same stew for me.", explained Katz. "I have been around long enough now where I have delved really deeply into jazz and delved really deeply into blues, and other assorted styles, so when I am playing or writing, I am not really delineating a style that closely, or working with any boundaries. I just let things come out the way they want to. I am not a purist of any style, really. I pull from the entire musical landscape of the past 100 years."
Katz not only pulls from all styles of American music, he has been putting plenty back into the pot as well. He has toured, recorded, or played with: Big Mama Thornton, Barrence Whitfield, Ronnie Earl, Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Debbie Davies, David "Fathead" Newman, John Hammond, Greg Allman, Butch Trucks and so many others. He has recorded a catalog of solo albums over the past 25 years that represent a broad spectrum of styles. He has been highly sought after as a contributor to other musicians projects. He has made his mark on American music. Catch Katz masterfully stir his musical gumbo at The Blue Note Grill in Durham, NC on Wednesday, January 31st.
Bruce Katz Band
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
The Blue Note Grill
8 pm show