"Groove" Holmes in Popsville


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A good number of jazz organists of the early and mid-1960s were put in a box. Many of their albums from this period were larded with tedious original blues and a handful of ancient Songbook standards. This mind-numbing approach allowed labels to avoid steep copyright bills, but the strategy also resulted in countless dull cookie-cutter recordings that don't hold up today.

Not until the late 1960s did younger producers start to encourage organists to record hip covers of the latest pop and soul hits. At which point, organ albums became much more interesting, since they were in sync with the times and in step with younger jazz fans. 

Richard “Groove" Holmes was an organist who made the transition smoothly from tedium to funky pop. From 1961 to 1968, he recorded many sagging albums for Prestige (excluding Soul Power! in 1967 and one or two others). In 1968, he left the label for Pacific Jazz, followed by World Pacific in 1969 and then Groove Merchant in 1973. At these labels, the material improved markedly and so did the value of the music. Of note are three albums where Holmes was paired with horns.

The first example of this sass 'n' brass concept was Workin' on a Groovy Thing, a swinging 1968 album for Pacific Jazz with a band arranged by Gerald Wilson and featuring guitarist Dennis Budimir.

A second example is Come Together (1970) for World Pacific, with tenor saxophonist and arranger Ernie Watts. The third is New Groove (1973) for Groove Merchant, featuring a big band arranged by Manny Albam.

If you grab these three, you'll have a superb entry point to “Groove" Holmes's soul-jazz years.

Richard “Groove" Holmes died in 1991.

Come Together never made it to the digital format and is rare on vinyl. You'll find the full album of Come Together at YouTube here...

JazzWax clips: Here's the title track of Workin' on a Groovy Thing with guitarist Dennis Budimir...

Here's Manny Albam's spectacular arrangement of Meditation from Holmes's New Groove...

And here's Gerald Wilson's arrangement of Do You Know the Way to San Jose from Holmes's Workin' on a Groovy Thing...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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