Originally published in Earshot Jazz February 2015, Vol. 31, No. 2
At Seattle’s Seamonster Lounge, an unblinking giant squid eye stares from the mural. Tuesday means McTuff. Named after “Brother” Jack McDuff, the 1960’s organist who gave guitarist George Benson his first break, McTuff is an organ trio led by Joe Doria that sets sail from the Seamonster at 11pm.
On a recent foggy night in January, I decided to turn off my television, get out of the house, and book passage. Outside the Seamonster, I exchanged a nod with the middleweight bouncer perched on a bar stool. His presence portended a bustling business inside but his smile said, “Welcome aboard.”
Inside the humming pub I found an empty spot at the bar. Promptly, a doe-eyed bartender walked my way. “Guinness, please.” While the caramel stream of draft slowly filled the glass, I drank in the happy buzz of the crowd seated in the front room. The rows of spirits reflected in the wall behind the bar glowed shades of crimson, scarlet, ruby, garnet, cherry, claret.
Salvos of drums rattled from the back room. McTuff was warming up for their weekly voyage. Pint in hand, I ascended the gangplank to the back room, the source of the music.
Amid the sparse crowd in the back room, I claimed a space against the wall next to the Hammond organ. Behind the organ, like a skipper at the helm, Joe Doria’s meaty fingers rifled through a stack of hand written music at his perch atop the long wooden foot pedals.
Course plotted, Doria piled the scores atop the organ, took a swig from his whisky on the rocks, shifted some drawbars on the organ console, looked left to a black bearded drummer with a sweet smile – Tarik Abouzied – and set a libidinous lope a tick or two faster than a heartbeat. Straw-haired, slender-faced, long-fingered Andy Coe continued to connect electric guitar gear in the back corner while Abouzied and Doria piloted the groove deeper. Doria’s right foot pressed down on the volume pedal. Doria’s other foot danced atop the wooden bars, thickening the low line from his left hand. Abouzied’s mercurial percussive accents made his arms seemingly multiply like an octopus.
In an instant, the small room filled with undulating bodies, all facing the band. The air thickened with the organ’s gooey sound hugging the crowd and the drums cracking the backbeat. The wall I leaned against shuddered. Ten feet away, the spinning speaker inside the Leslie cabinet throbbed. It became impossible for me to stand still. My head began to bob in McTuff’s sonic wake. The space between the musicians and audience shrank to zero. This was full body contact live music.
Doria slid his palms up and down the keyboard, then leaned his whole forearm into the keys like a masseur. The organ purred, snarled, and growled at a room of smiling faces. Doria’s mild-mannered, clean-cut looks belie the loose sensual sound of his music. Slowly, step by step, Doria’s fingers shifted up the keyboard. Abouzied punctuated the rising swell with each chromatic ascent. Then, at the wave’s crest, I recognized the melody of Stevie Wonder’s “Tell Me Something Good” and the crowd sang along.
Next up, McTuff began a shuffle take on the gospel tune “Revelation” followed by Journey’s “Stone In Love,” and then the theme from James Bond’s “Goldfinger.” The common thread through the eclectic playlist was funk and fun. The room heated up. A small fan spun silently on top of the organ in an increasingly impossible task to sustain Doria’s cool. I finally noticed that my beer was empty.
Even though this organ stays put at the Seamonster, Doria’s broad sloping shoulders have grown accustomed to hefting his own 500 pound model into and out of his white Dodge van for other gigs. When a musician chooses to play vintage Hammond organs, every gig means moving the equivalent of a loaded sideboard. Like a sideboard, these organs are built of thick wood and loaded with metal. They are big mechanical electronic instruments built for homes and churches, not lightweight digital synthesizers made of silicon and plastic.
Doria bought his first of several Hammond organs after graduating from Cornish College of the Arts. He sold one to the Seamonster to anchor his steady gig there. At the Seamonster, Doria supplements the Leslie speaker by boosting the bass through another rig. The organ’s built in speaker acts as a monitor. The sound engulfs the room. It’s loud, but warm and funky.
The following week I caught up with Doria at Vito’s. He was performing with bassist Ian Sheridan and drummer Brad Gibson, playing jazz standards sprinkled with pop. On the break, Doria joined me at the bar to talk about upcoming projects. He is in the midst of recording new tracks for Spellbinder, the band led by long-time Santana drummer Michael Shrieve. Plans are in the works to bring McTuff back to the New Orleans Jazz Festival for the third time. At Neumo’s on February 12th, McTuff joins Industrial revelation and Heatwarmer to create a flotilla of inventive improvising ensembles from Seattle.