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Kansas City organist can't escape the grooves. (Kansas City Star Story 10-20-05)

Posted on Thu, Oct. 20, 2005 jazz town KC organist can’t escape the grooves By JOE KLOPUS The Kansas City Star In music as in life, the thing that inspires the deepest commitment might be slow in coming. But when it finally arrives, watch out. Case in point: Ken Lovern, an exciting Kansas City jazz organist who didn’t commit to the instrument until he was in his 30s — after he had become a lawyer, after he thought he had left his old life as a keyboardist behind. “Really, I hadn’t played much organ until about 1997,” Lovern says. “Then I saw Medeski, Martin and Wood at the Bottleneck, and I really enjoyed what John Medeski was doing with vintage keyboards, especially the Hammond B-3. “Within a month or two of that show I had bought a Hammond organ. I really got hooked. I was really in love with the instrument. I was working a day job, and I would take vacation time to stay home and practice. Within a year I had quit my day job and worked my way back to being a professional musician.” These days that work is culminating in the release of his first CD as leader. Ken Lovern’s OJT (that stands for Organ Jazz Trio) is the name of the band, and it’s also the name of the disc. It’s a classic hard-grooving jazz organ band, playing old-school and new-school grooves with equal passion. Lovern is joined by guitarist Brian Baggett and drummer Kevin Frazee. Todd Strait shares some of the drum duties on the CD, and Stan Kessler’s trumpet and flugelhorn are also heard. Lovern is planning CD release parties, the first Oct. 30 at Jardine’s. The cumbersome B-3 organ is a tough taskmaster, requiring the player to pump out bass lines with the feet and left hand while churning out the funk with the right. But Lovern, even though he’s a latecomer, has learned to boss it around. As a sometime pianist, he offers this perspective: The organ has “a completely different role from the piano in a jazz combo where you have a bass player. It’s different than floating on top of what the bass and drums are doing. Timekeeping is the No. 1 priority.” He says, “The role of being involved in playing the groove is what keeps me really focused on the organ. It puts me right in the moment, the pulse-keeping, the timekeeping, not rushing or dragging. Just feeling good. It’s almost like a trance, and you try to keep that going.” Lovern, who grew up in Johnson County and turns 40 soon, has been laying down the grooves for quite a few years in the jazz and pop fields. In his first attempt at a musical career, Lovern also played his share of jazz gigs, with Ida McBeth, David Basse and others, on piano and other keyboards. But he bowed out of music in the early ’90s. “I was broke, the Gulf War hit, and the gigs went away. I got disillusioned and went to law school. “I tried to get out of music, but I didn’t make it.” Hearing the deep grooves of his new disc, we can be glad he’s back. The music is celebratory and exploratory at the same time. Even the odd-metered “Seven Sticks” turns into an outrageously funky jam. These days, when he isn’t performing with the OJT, Lovern can be heard in the band the Soulcats, or sometimes with McBeth, or sometimes on a pickup gig here and there. He’s also a regular on organ at the Unity Church of Overland Park. “Maybe I needed a break from music before I could really experience it as an artist again,” Lovern says. “Now I’m doing what I want to do.”

Background info on first OJT CD

Background Information for the Newest Release on Jazz Daddy Records Ken Lovern’s OJT (Organ Jazz Trio) The new CD Ken Lovern’s OJT features some of the area’s finest musicians and is a testament to the durability and flexibility of organ jazz. The last few years have seen a resurgence of jazz played on the mighty Hammond B-3 organ. Typically accompanied by guitar and drums with occasional guest horn players, organ jazz groups have been playing music that people enjoy for over 50 years. Ken Lovern began playing Hammond organ in earnest in 1997, in the early days of the organ jazz resurgence. A professional keyboard player most of his adult life, Ken was gigging in organ trios within a few months of his new found devotion to the vintage instrument. In fact, Ken credits (or blames) his love of the Hammond organ sound with bringing him back to playing music full time after a brief stint with a day gig. Ken refined his approach to jazz organ by playing with organ trios such as B-Groove and The SoulCats. A 5 year long steady gig for The SoulCats at Tomfooleries provided an opportunity to develop original tunes and arrangements of familiar material. Ken also plays organ while backing performers such as Dave Stephens and Ida McBeth. Ken Lovern’s OJT recording is steeped in the tradition of organ jazz. The instrumentation is familiar, with organ covering the bass and alternating between melody, solos, and chords. Brian Baggett tells some great guitar stories with his solos and his supportive comping. Todd Strait and Kevin Frazee share the drum chair on this recording, and both are excellent at bringing their particular rhythmic magic to the organ trio. Stan Kessler joins the trio for 3 of the tracks on trumpet and flugelhorn, and his playing is sublime. Of the 13 tracks, 3 are standards that all jazz fans will recognize. Someday My Prince Will Come is given a modern treatment in a 5/4 arrangement by Ken that includes and intro and outro that allow the group to stretch out. After Ken states the first half of the melody on organ, Stan Kessler’s fine flugelhorn playing sets the tone for the rest of the track with a beautiful, laid back melodic statement and a harmonically adventurous solo. The romantic ballad Polka Dots and Moonbeams is given a more traditional reading, similar to a Jimmy Smith ballad treatment. Long a favorite of jazz musicians, Invitation is played with a mambo groove and features a drum solo over a vamp by long time Kansas City favorite Todd Strait. The other cover song, Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean, also demonstrates the organ jazz tradition of taking pop songs and placing them in a perhaps unexpected jazz setting. The original tunes on Ken Lovern’s OJT demonstrate the flexibility of this modern organ group and Ken’s talent as a composer. The OJT Theme is a James Brown type vamp that appears in different forms at the beginning, middle, and end of the recording. Swirlies is a funky backbeat number that today’s jam band audience might enjoy. Yuma Green is a straight ahead swinger in the tradition of the “modern” organ jazz groups of the mid-1960s that featured Larry Young, Grant Green, and Elvin Jones. Check out the enthusiastic exchange between the guitar, organ bass and drums on Brian Baggett’s fine guitar solo. It’s All Good is a composition in the “Midwestern Jazz” vein, influenced by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. Stan Kessler joins in to double the melody and play another incredible solo. 7-Sticks is perhaps the most compositionally ambitious tune on this recording. The piece starts with a 15/4 groove, moves to 4/4, and finally ends up in 5/4 for the jam out, with different harmonic and melodic material in each section. Ken says, “My goal is to take the listener on a journey. In 7-Sticks I envision riding a boat up the river into unknown lands, kind of like in Apocalypse Now, but hopefully nobody is shooting at us . . . and no tigers.” Kansas City’s favorite musical son, Charlie Parker, has influenced almost all jazz musicians. In homage, Ken wrote a line titled All Ice Blues over the changes to Charlie Parker’s Blues for Alice. Things really get going when the group “trades sixes” with the drums instead of the typical “trading fours.” Todd Strait’s uncanny ability to finish another musician’s phrase is demonstrated wonderfully. The “New Orleans back-line groove” has been used on many organ jazz records featuring organists such as Brother Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Ken contributes a new tune in this bag called Big Cheese. The title is a combination of “Big Chief” the venerable Professor Longhair New Orleans standard and “Cheese,” a word sometimes used to describe the thick Hammond sound. In this version, the trio really gets going and moves into a funky backbeat during each of the fine solos. The CD closes with the full version of the OJT Theme. The repeated use of the theme gives the listener the feeling of checking out a live performance. If you want to really check out a live performance of Ken Lovern’s OJT, a CD release party is scheduled for Sunday, October 30 at Jardines from 7-10 p.m. A Lawrence gig is scheduled at the Jazzhaus for Thursday, December 29. CD’s are available at The Music Exchange, Borders, online at and CDBABY, and at any gig.

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