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The #1 Myth of the Hammond Organ

There is a myth that still perpetuates today that Hammond B3 players usually play bass with their feet, comp with their left hand, and solo with their right hand.  This is a myth that even Jimmy Smith perpetuated.   There are stories of him demonstrating all three techniques-solo, comp, and bass line-at the same time when asked about whether or not he used his left hand to play bass lines.  He could do all three at once…but usually he did not!

When you listen to the records, most Hammond B3 organists, including Jimmy Smith, often leave the comping for the guitarist during their organ solos.  This is because jazz organists generally play the bass lines primarily with their left hand and use the foot pedals to accentuate their left-hand bass lines.

Do jazz organ players play bass with their left hand?  Do jazz organ players play bass with their feet?  The answer to BOTH questions is YES!  Keep reading.

Joey DeFrancesco Demonstrates Both Left-Hand Comp and Bass

Do jazz organ players play bass with their left hand?  In this video, Joey DeFrancesco plays left-hand comp/foot bass through the ballad-esque intro up until 1:50 or so, and then switches to left-hand bass.  Joey also uses his feet throughout, but he does a great job of showing that the left hand can play either comp or a bass line, depending on the musical situation.

However, this isn’t to say that jazz organists don’t use their feet to play bass.

Jimmy Smith Demonstrates Integration of the Feet and Left Hand.

Do jazz organ players play bass with their feet?  This isn’t an instructional video, but it definitely contains a great education if you know what to look for!  Watch Jimmy Smith’s video here to see an example of using both hands to comp during 2:30-2:40.  This means that the simple bass line is being played by his feet in this case.

This same video also helps highlight how left-hand bass can work for jazz organists at 3:05 and 3:12. At 3:05, you can see that Jimmy Smith is clearly using his feet.  However, his feet are barely moving, and aren’t playing the notes we hear, which are mostly the root and fifth of the chord. A few seconds later, the shot moves to his left hand, which IS playing the bass notes you are hearing. This is more typical of an organ player than the shot at 2:30. Hammond organ players most often play left-hand bass lines and accentuate the left hand with their feet.  If a jazz organist is playing on a modern keyboard, like a Hammond clone, they may not be using their feet at all, depending on the sophistication of their equipment.

Tony Monaco Demonstrates Foot Bass and Left-Hand Bass

This last video shows Tony Monaco, yet another burnin’ organ player. At :43, he is clearly playing bass with his feet because his left hand is doing glissandos and not a bass line.  At 3:12, he is clearly playing left-hand bass.

If you want to know more, Tony Monaco has some instructional videos online. His “Bass and Comp” video on the linked page explains how organ players integrate the left hand with the bass pedals in Chapter 8.

-Camden Hughes

 

Camden Hugheshttp://camdenhughes.com/
Camden is a working jazz pianist, multi-instrumentalist, and music educator currently living near Boise, ID. He teaches music at the Idaho Arts Charter School, and is the jazz adjunct professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Check out his music at www.camdenhughesmusic.com.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Brought here by Big John Patton’s track “Night Flight” from 1965. I was under the impression that B3 bass lines were played by the feet, but one listen to this track made me think twice about that. If somebody can play John’s bass lines from this track with their feet, I’d love to see it.

  2. LISTEN TO UP TEMPO STUFF, JIMMY @ SMALLS, GROOVE HOLMES, LARRY YOUNG, DON PATTERSON. MCDUFF, MCGRIFF…. ETC. YOUR LEG WOULD FALL OFF, BESIDES THE PEDALS ARE TO STIFF TO EVEN PLAY THAT FAST ….

  3. Watch the amazing Rhoda Scott who really does play bass with her foot, and barefooted. I'd say she doesn't alternate back and forth between left hand and foot much at all as most other jazz organists do. (Some not even feeling it necessary to hit the right pedal since it's only a thump). Stock Hammonad pedals take a lot of effort and technique to play. Rhoda does correct toe to heel pedals and comps with the right hand while cascading amazing right hand solos. Probably really one of the best.

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