Michael Kocour | Spiffy

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Jazz: Hammond Organ Jazz: Soul-Jazz Moods: Mood: Party Music
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by Michael Kocour

The music on this CD will resonate with those who know and love the grooving and soulful sound of the Hammond B3 organ and it's rich musical jazz legacy.
Genre: Jazz: Hammond Organ
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Dropped Third Strike (feat. Bruce Forman, Dom Moio & Eric Schneider)
4:37 $0.99
2. Chunky (feat. Bruce Forman, Dom Moio & Eric Schneider)
5:46 $0.99
3. Da Good Stuff (feat. Dom Moio, Eric Schneider & Bruce Forman)
4:44 $0.99
4. Tenderly (feat. Dom Moio, Eric Schneider & Bruce Forman)
5:38 $0.99
5. Huffininpuffin (feat. Dom Moio, Eric Schneider & Bruce Forman)
7:48 $0.99
6. Collapso (feat. Bruce Forman, Dom Moio & Eric Schneider)
4:10 $0.99
7. Girl Talk (feat. Eric Schneider, Dom Moio & Bruce Forman)
6:15 $0.99
8. Spiffy (feat. Bruce Forman, Dom Moio & Eric Schneider)
5:05 $0.99
9. Monk's Hayride (feat. Bruce Forman, Dom Moio & Eric Schneider)
6:51 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
You know how it is. Over the years, you change locales once or twice, and being the gregarious sort, you collect new friends wherever you go. Despite the fact that they inhabit different orbits, you feel pretty sure these friends would all get along; actually, you think they might even make up a solid little gang – a small fraternity with real staying power. Problem is, while each of them knows you separately, they’ve never all converged at once; they’ve never all been in the same place at the same time. So you decide to convene them: dinner, softball game, out for drinks – it doesn’t really matter. It’s just high time that they all met.

Sometimes, it ends in disaster. (Good reference point: the 2011 movie Bridesmaids.) But sometimes, it goes swimmingly. And once in a great while, it turns out even better than you might have hoped, and your solid little gang is off and running. Once in a very great while, it even sounds like the music on this disc.

To record Spiffy, the impeccable keyboardist Mike Kocour brought together several of his favorite jazz collaborators for a (thus far) twice-in-a-lifetime experience. The first time they all played in the same band was in February, 2015, in Scottsdale, Arizona, not far from Tempe, where Kocour directs the jazz studies program in the School of Music at Arizona State University. The second time they played together? You have the results in your hands.

Kocour has known a couple of these guys for 10 years or more; he met the other back in the 1980s. And as he
points out, they all had a strong familiarity with each other, due to their participation in the simmering jazz cauldron known as Don Miller’s Paradise Valley Jazz Party. A staple of the Arizona arts calendar for nearly four decades (1978-2014), the Jazz Party was a chummy event that took place one weekend each spring, mixing and matching swing and bop musicians in different settings, and allowing listeners to mingle freely with the artists before and after performances. Over the years, approximately 300 different musicians took part including the four on this recording.

But while each of these four had played with each of the others at some point during those years, they had never worked together as a quartet. The demise of the Jazz Party prompted Kocour’s decision to correct that oversight, and to re-create the spirit of those annual events by assembling a no-holds-barred lineup of sterling players. And these two underlying precepts – unshakeable musicianship and good times – got Kocour thinking about one of his stylistic mentors, the great (though often overlooked) organist Jack McDuff, whose “Heatin’ System” combos remain a bright (though sometimes obscured) light in the hard-bop universe.

McDuff excelled in leading little bands that sounded big; that alone would have caught Kocour’s ear, even if he hadn’t met McDuff during his own college years. Kocour attended the renowned jazz program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign; McDuff, a native of Champaign, McDuff by then still had family in Danville, Illinois, 30 miles down I-74, and would visit his home town and the university at least once a year. “I remember shaking his hand as a freshman,” Kocour says now. “I thought his group concept was every bit as hip as, say, Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, or Horace Silver, or Benny Golson’s Jazztet. The Heatin’ System had these great players” – guitarist George Benson rose to fame with McDuff, and saxophonist Red Holloway also left his mark – “and these really fun, swinging arrangements. I was lucky to experience all that in Champaign.”

During those years, Kocour played piano, honing his technical facility along with a far-reaching harmonic imagination; the easy swing of a home-run champ; and a marvelous empathy – an outgrowth of the natural curiosity and supportive nature that make him a superb college professor – that supplies the hidden glue for any group in which he plays. These qualities would help him become a first-call local sideman for visiting jazz stars once he had graduated from the U of I (with a Bachelor’s in mathematics) and moved to Chicago in 1985. But before leaving town, he had purchased a Hammond C3 organ from fellow Chicago pianist John Campbell; in fact, he played that instrument on his recording debut, a 1984 album called Interior Window.

After he left Chicago for Arizona State University in 2004, Kocour met drummer Don Moio, a former east-coaster who had found his way to Reno, Nevada in the 1970s, and then to Phoenix, Arizona in the late 80s. A participant on more than 65 albums over the years, Moio has made his name as an influential educator as well. At Paradise Valley, Kocour also got to know Bruce Forman, the California-based guitarist who, since the 1980s, has built a reputation for his fearless embrace of the hard-bop tradition and his concomitant devotion to breaking that mold – as with his nouveau Western-swing band Cow Bop, which has recorded several of the nearly 20 albums under his own name.

The ebullient Chicago reedman Eric Schneider has known Kocour for 30-odd years, and his inclusion in this quartet offers a welcome introduction for many listeners outside the Windy City. A virtuosic student of swing and bop, with energy to spare, Schneider shows up on only on a handful of discs coming out of Chicago – recordings by legendary bop pianist Sir Charles Thompson, swing legend Franz Jackson, and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, to name a few. Most recently, he backs vocalist Solitaire Miles on her 2015 western-swing album, Susie Blue And The Lonesome Fellas (a surprise international hit). But it remains a crime against music that he hasn’t recorded more often.

Only slightly less criminal – thanks to several albums issued over the last few years – is the paucity of recordings by Kocour himself. In 2012 he released High Standards, and in 2015 alone, he has appeared on two previous discs: the solo piano outing Wherever You Go, There You Are, and as a member of the Unhinged Sextet on their debut disc Clarity. These present the opportunity for those of us outside Arizona to again bask in the warm humanism that shines through Kocour’s music at every turn.

The set list doesn’t need much explanation. Kocour’s several originals form the backbone of the album: hard-swinging tunes in the Jack McDuff tradition (“I thought I’d come up with my own tunes that had that same spirit,” he says); a couple from Forman; two standards. But one song does require a bit of background. Schneider contributed “Da Good Stuff” as an homage to the Green Mill, the storied Chicago nightclub in business for over a century, where the saxist leads a weekly overnight jam session. The “stuff” in question is Jeppson’s Malört, an incredibly foul-tasting, only slightly less malodorous liquor that, for reasons hard to pin down, has become the go-to bottle for late-night and early-morning bar shots. Malört – “da good stuff,” in the ironic parlance of the Mill’s equally storied owner, Dave Jemilo – is flavored (if that’s the right word) with wormwood, a bitter herb. Carl Jeppson sold it during Prohibition; supposedly, having wrecked his tongue by smoking a surfeit of cigars, it was the only liquor he could still actually taste (if that’s the right word). Ninety percent of Malört’s sales revenues come from the Chicago area, and most of that from the Mill, where a framed letter on the wall attests that the club sells more Malört than anyplace else on earth.

It’s the perfect drink with which to toast this album, on which Mike Kocour finally gets the new gang back together.




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