TAMPA , Fla. – A seven-year labor of love, “Killer B3” features some of the greatest Hammond organists in the U.S. Three have died since the project began, most notable among them the king of the B3, Jimmy Smith of Philadelphia, who brought the instrument from the church to the club in the 1950s.
“Killer B3” captures gripping personal stories and performances on the iconic Hammond organ. Tampa filmmakers Murv Seymour and Joe Bamford documented Philadelphia great Jimmy McGriff
delivering two of his last performances and later captured his memorial service where they met another legend, Trudy Pitts
, who has since died as well. Other musicians featured in “Killer B3” include Joey DeFrancesco
, Tony Monaco
, Dr. Lonnie Smith
, Atsuko Hashimoto
, Reuben Wilson
and Shawn Brown
We want people to know about this insane instrument and that it's still around," Producer Murv Seymour said. It's the Ella Fitzgerald. It's the Louis Armstrong. It's the George Benson. There's just no mistaking the B3.”
“You can make it soft, you can make it pretty, you can make it gritty. You can do everything with it,” said noted Columbus, Ohio, organist Tony Monaco.
The Hammond organ was a fluke invention by a clockmaker in 1935 and became a lower-cost alternative to the pipe organ. Its heyday in popular music began in the 1950s, and it remained hot through the early 1970s. While there are dozens of models of Hammond organs, the B3 is the signature model. The Hammond’s versatility allows it to gel with most genres of music. Its sound figures prominently in gospel music, but its use also is favored in jazz, reggae, country, blues and rock. The Hammond sound is associated with modern artists like Kirk Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers Band, Steve Winwood, Santana, the Beatles, Procul Harum, Deep Purple and many others.
The 425-pound Hammond B3 coupled with a six-foot spinning Leslie speaker produces its distinct sound through a mass of tone wheels whirling in front of electromagnetic pickups. The complicated instrument – the last one in mass production rolling out in mid-1970s – has two 61-note keyboards, numerous special effects and preset keys, 26 foot pedals and 36 drawbars. It's the finessing of all these elements that separates the artist from the player.
It's surprising what it takes to play it. You have to be fully ambidextrous to play this thing," said Co-Producer Joe Bamford.
Since 2005, Seymour and Bamford have shot about 100 hours of interviews and performances in more than a dozen cities beginning with the top Hammond repair shop in Orlando. They also document the birthplace of the B3, a now-vacant warehouse in Chicago and venture to Philadelphia, Harlem, San Francisco, Ohio and New Jersey, among others.
So far, the filmmakers have funded the production with their own money. Final fundraising efforts to pay for the rights to video and still images begins Thursday on Kickstarter
. They hope to raise $20,000 from that online campaign as well as from scheduled benefit concerts and merchandise sales.
Murv Seymour, producer, director and writer, has worked in broadcasting more than 25 years, mainly as a television news reporter. Seymour is the recipient of more than two-dozen awards, including several Emmy nominations and Best Documentary in the Midwest award for The Rap on Rap."
Joe Bamford, director of photography and editor, is a 20-year veteran television photojournalist, cameraman, lighting director and broadcast editor. Bamford's ability to capture the spirit of every assignment has led to more than two-dozen awards in photojournalism, including an Emmy Award in 2004. Now a full-time, freelance cameraman and broadcast editor, his work often appears on primetime television.
“Killer B3” is scheduled for release in January 2013 at film festivals throughout the U.S.