Dr. Lonnie, Monaco & Gibbs: Hope College’s Jazz Organ Summit


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The energy of music cannot be retired. Dreams are always alive and attainable to all who are gifted by it, see it, and grab it. It is our fountain of youth. —Tony Monaco
By C. Andrew Hovan

The old saying goes that everything old is new again. The same can also be said for the current resurgence in the use of the Hammond organ. Although the instrument never really went out of style with jazz practitioners, a new crop of players are dedicating themselves to advancing the vernacular established by their elders. Jared Gold, Pat Bianchi, and Cory Henry, are just a few of the names that come to mind when considering those youngsters looking to assure that the instrument maintains its role as a viable jazz instrument.

Even in these heady times however, it seems that the organ doesn't always get the respect that it deserves in terms of fan appreciation and learning opportunities for those neophytes looking for educational sustenance. It's this very confounding situation that inspired the talented performer and educator Tony Monaco to step up and help rectify the situation via a unique association he has with Hope College in Holland, Michigan. For one thing, the college can boast a music building with state-of-the-art facilities and two performance spaces, including an 800-seat concert hall. Furthermore, director of jazz studies Brian Coyle is dedicated to providing the best educational opportunities for the school and his students.

In the fall of 2016, Monaco joined forces with Coyle to put together a diverse weekend event that would include concerts, clinics, masterclasses, and jam sessions. Attendees would include some of Monaco's students at the college, professional musicians, novice performers, and everyday fans with a passion for all things Hammond B3. Some of the key figures in the event included Harvey Mason, Chuck Loeb, the group organissimo, and film maker Murv Seymour who presented extra material from his documentary Killer B3.

As Monaco told this writer back in the summer of 2016, “I shared the organ summit vision with Brian Coyle and Dr. Robert Hodson. The idea was to have a yearly event that could host the greatest living organists and combine it with workshops of many kinds." While it took about a year and a half for the 2nd Annual Jazz Organ Summit to come together, it has been well worth the wait and the all the pieces are in place for what bodes to be yet another stellar weekend of activities.

Once again, Monaco will play a key part in the event through performances, workshops and jam sessions where he will work with students in a genuine playing experience. Concerts from Dr. Lonnie Smith and Detroit legend Gerrard Gibbs are also in the mix, along with insider tips from organ technician Lonnie Smith and plenty of time for networking with fellow musicians and fans. Several reasonably priced packages are available for attending the event and the quaint campus has quite a few hotels within walking distance of the music building. Recently, Brian Coyle took a few minutes to chat with AAJ about this event, taking place March 9-11, 2018.

All About Jazz: So as we gear up for another exciting weekend devoted to the jazz organ, tell us about the target audience for this event.

Brian Coyle: This event first and foremost is for anyone who loves jazz music. More specifically however, we wanted to have a showcase for people who play and love the jazz organ and the organ trio. With concerts, clinics, masterclasses, and jam sessions; there is a little something for everyone. And after last year's event, the buzz was incredible. So, we are looking forward to building upon that.

AAJ: In recently talking with Tony Monaco, he feels like this event goes a long way in gaining some legitimacy for the jazz organ. Do you agree?

BC: I do. I think organists have wanted something like this for a while. Last year I kept hearing things like, “Man, I needed this." and “It's been so great to be around people who love and are interested in the organ." I think it was evident in the overall vibe and hang at the event. There was so much positivity and love. I hope we can continue this into the future because it is such an amazing thing.

AAJ: So this year you offer up a pair of Lonnies! The organ doctor, Lonnie Smith, will be back to talk about the mechanics of the instrument and Dr. Lonnie Smith will be offering the opening night concert. Will he be bringing his current trio?

BC: Yes, it's going to be his great trio with guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg and drummer Johnathan Blake. It's going to be amazing!

AAJ: So there was a lot of buzz in regards to how Detroit legend Gerrard Gibbs paid his admission last year to attend and ended up being a key participant. Now this year he's doing his own feature clinic and concert. Talk about how that all came about.

BC: Yes, Gerard came last year as an attendee and had an amazing time. He is a spectacular player and is such an amazing guy. It seemed like the natural thing to have him play this year with his friend and mentor Dr. Lonnie. His trio is killing, so it's going to be a blast on Saturday.

AAJ: I noticed a few extra events this year, like the VIP sound check and the Sunday brunch. Tell us about the new things added to this year's event.

BC: We've got some amazing partners this year. We have the downtown Marriott once again serving as the after- hours hang. This is where Tony Monaco's trio will be playing both Friday and Saturday nights in Big E's Sports Bar. We also thought it would be great to have a wrap-up event where people could relax and chat about the Summit. That's when New Holland Brewing came on board. The Hope College Jazz Organ Trio will be playing from 11 AM to 1 PM on Sunday for that event. People can sit, relax, eat, and enjoy one last set of great organ music before they head home Sunday afternoon.

AAJ: Do you see a third annual organ summit in the cards and if so, will it stay in March?

BC: We are definitely talking about another event. We will meet after this year's event and start locking some things down. So, all I can say is stay tuned!

As this year's event looms on the horizon, it seems that once again the intents and purposes proposed by Monaco for the inaugural back in September 2016 will once again be at the fore of what promises to be an even bigger and better organ summit come March 9-11. As Tony mused back in the summer of 2016, “The greatest thing about being in the music industry and being a musician is that you're never finished. The energy of music cannot be retired. Dreams are always alive and attainable to all who are gifted by it, see it, and grab it. It is our fountain of youth." For more information and to register for this year's event, please visit their website.

Photo Credit: C. Andrew Hovan

This story appears courtesy of All About Jazz Publicity.
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