Hand in hand on Hammond
Ken Clark Trio has keys to Londonderry’s heart
By Bill Copeland firstname.lastname@example.org
Whippersnappers in Londonderry has occasionally hosted Boston-based A-list musicians. Chris Fitz Band, Johnny A and The Soul Band marked the rare appearance of the Hub’s finer players.
The trio plays May 4 from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. There is no cover charge.
A long-time B3 Hammond organ player, Clark sticks to music genres that work best for his B3.
“I used to play with Michelle Wilson,” Clark said. “That was more R&B in the traditional Ruth Brown sense than blues like Big Mama Thornton. There are also some cuts on [Clark’s CDs] which are very much jazz. Part of what I like to do is bring all that music together so it isn’t so cut and dry.”
“If you take Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ those changes could be jazz changes. For me, they are more jazz changes than they are R&B changes in a typical sense.”
Distinct from every other keyboard, the Hammond B3 isn’t just another brand name and model. It is its own instrument with its own sound.
“I always loved the tone,” Clark said. “The tone was a big deal. I was always very into tone. My mom always played piano and sang in church. Church organ was closer to me than any other kid growing up in the ’80s, that’s for sure.”
This Salem, Mass., resident is a church organist and choir director at Unity on the River Church in Amesbury, Mass.
“I’ve been a church organist since I was 15 years old,” he said. “If you play or sing, Sunday morning is a big part of what you’re going to be doing as a professional musician. I enjoy working with a choir and having a nice church musical group. A lot of music that [he plays with his trio] does have gospel influences.”
A complex musician, Clark does make forays into serious jazz.
“I do see myself as a jazz musician but not exclusively,” he said. “I see myself as an R&B musician, and I see myself really as a rock musician. Those are the three styles that are the closest to me, although I do play a lot of blues. Blues organ is funny in the sense that it’s always been a crossover thing. People like Jimmy McGriff or even Ray Charles or even Billy Preston, that’s what people think of when they think of blues organ. Those guys were all R&B and jazz players.”
Some of Clark’s audience follows his music intellectually; many hit the dance floor.
“I want both,” he said. “I’m not disappointed if it’s one or the other. I don’t want to play high-falutin’ intellectual jazz music, for sure. I want to stretch the audience, and we certainly do from time to time.”
Clark’s trio has played at The Dolphin Striker and The Press Room in Portsmouth. Clark and Chaggaris have both played at Whippersnappers in The Soul Band with Monster Mike Welch and Tim Pike. Clark said he won‘t have any problems fitting into the dance floor format at Whipps.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Clark said. “It’s a funny situation. I put out the CD, which is a jazz CD. But I’m really very capable as a party leader. We’re going to play dance music and everybody’s going to have a good time. Which is the way Whippersnappers is. People want to dance and have a good time. A lot of the stuff that we do, even though it’s instrumental and it’s original stuff, it’s derivative of 1970s soul, like Al Green and The Spinners, and I think that music is incredibly universal.”
Mutual Respect, Clark said, is different from his previous CD, Eternal Funk.
“The songs were a little more thought out. Eternal Funk was probably more about jams, really. On Mutual Respect, the first tune is more of a tune. There’s more melody in them. There’s more unusual changes and arrangements. There’s a vocal cut on it, and the whole group all matured,” he said
Clark’s new title track, “Mutual Respect,” is the most intense on the disc. Not only is it danceable, it is wild.
“There’s a lot of tracks where we use a lot of restraint for the sake of not being offensive,” Clark said. “A lot of times we’re thinking about what we saying maybe a little more, or thinking ‘Let’s not use this,’ or ‘Let’s not do that,’ so it feels a little bit less abrasive. I guess I could say that this track is a little less edited. When I wrote it, I actually wrote it for my brother. I was sitting at the piano talking to him. I was noodeling around with his thing. That’s kind of his style. He’s a person who wants to hear music push people.”
Working with guitarist Mike Mele and drummer Steve Chaggaris puts Clark in the company of very close friends who like to work cohesively and can play both R&B parts as well as jazz parts.
“Everyone has a lot of space to cover,” Clark said. “If anyone drops the ball then you’re down to a duo. If you’re in a club full of people dancing, that’s pretty thin.”
For more information, go to www.kcot.net or call Whippersnappers at 434-2660.
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