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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.”