*cover article from Manhattan Plaza News June 2003
by Maria Ciaccia
photos by Teddy Fung
JON HAMMOND Jazz Man
Jon Hammond's story is one of survival. Survival as a jazz musician, survival as a Manhattanite. The organist-accordionist has survived because of perseverance, love of his art, tremendous humor, and gratitude. His new independently produced and marketed CD, HAMMOND'S BOLERO, which contains only music written by Hammond, is both a statement and a tribute. As his CD notes begin, "This record marks a new beginning for me, and I would like to dedicate it to all those who, like myself, are striking out on their own and going it alone. Don't be afraid to follow your dreams. I did and now this record is for you!" Following his dream at times has not been easy.
Take his living situation. Hammond is fairly new to Manhattan Plaza---a resident for just two years---and like everything else involving this multitalented man, there's an interesting story attached. "I'm living under a lucky star after years of putting up with all kinds of adverse conditions. Manhattan Plaza has been a great, great help for me." Living in the Clinton area, Hammond survived six ceiling collapses in his apartment and was finally driven out by sick building syndrome, i.e. poisonous mold in the walls. He realized it only after watching an epsode of 60 MINUTES. Did he sue? "No," he says. "Put it this way---the title song for my TV show is called 'Late Rent.' I used to pay my landlord partial payments, etc. so I never sued."
As a further testament to his Manhattan survival, Hammond is a nineteen-year-veteran of cable access with his own television show, aptly titled THE JON HAMMOND SHOW. Manhattan Plaza residents Todd Anderson (tenor sax) and Bill Warfield (trumpet) have been featured as part of the band. the show airs on Monday at 9:30 p.m. on channels 56 and 108 and various times on other channels. For more information, viewers can check Hammond's website, http://community.webtv.net/laterent/JONHAMMOND
Jon Hammond Band
But before the glamour of Manhattan, CD's, opening for Bonnie Raitt, and some other high-class gigs, Hammond paid his dues. Attending the Berklee college of Music in Boston in 1973, he earned money on the wild side. "I used to play in these Mafia striptease clubs seven nights a week. Boy, that was the end of an era. I was working for the Venus brothers, notorious gangsters, and I was the house organist at the infamous 2 O'Clock Lounge, the Mousetrap Lounge, The Hungry I---all these clubs that were in what was known as the Combat Zone in Boston."
And how did he get to New York? "Well, I knew a stripper named Didi Bangbang, a really nice girl. She knew I had a van. When you have a van, you get some interesting calls. She had a show at this burlesque club in New York so she said, 'Drive me and I'll introduce you to New York.' This was in 1975. She had wild props, like a plexiglass round platform with disco lights inside of it. We loaded everything in this army green van and drove to New York."
From New York, Hammond went on the road with a show band called Easy Living "It was one of the top show bands---this was before disco---and you'd get on the different circuits. We were in the $10,000-a-week bracket."
Just one problem. "I get the call for a really great gig, but it's always at the end. When you see me show up, it's a doomsday situation. The band toured for six months. We were in Toronto working at the Four Seasons Inn on the Park, one of the nicest hotels I've ever been in in my life. I was living like a king. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Well, they had installed a DJ booth---the first place we ever played with one installed. He played on our breaks. They would cross-fade, meaning we would re-enter playing the music he had been playing. But I could see the handwriting on the wall. The disco thing had not really come in and taken over yet---the very first tune that was a big disco hit was "The Hustle." "We had to do it with the band. That tune was like the death knell. Disco came in and the bands went out."
A musician's life involves a lot of travel, and that Hammond has done---back and forth throughout North America, from New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Cape Cod, and Toronto. "Around 1977, I ended up in Boston again. There I heard through the grapevine that Lou Colombo, the trumpet player, was looking for an organist for a private harbor club in Harwichport, Massachussets. Another great job. One of the members was Tip O'Neil, who became Speaker of the House, and I played all of his private parties. He was always very nice. That lasted for two years and then they reduced the nights."
In September 1981, Hammond fulfilled his dream of a lifetime---traveling to Paris on the Concorde. "I lived it out exactly as I saw it in my dream." Hammond recalls. "I had a haircut. I bought a dark blue suit. I bought a case that I still travel with today. Every man was wearing the same suit I was. As soon as the plane took off, I realized I was leaving the continent for the first time and I got very emotional."
Hammond stayed in Paris "as long as I could. I wrote music there. It was more than I hoped it would be. I swore I'd come back to live. I ended up in Europe for six years, actually in Frankfurt, going back and forth to the States, from 1991 to 1997." For being a consultant on the design, Suzuki gave him an XB-2 Hammond organ, which was a big help to him.
A career change occurred when he and his band were hired to play at the Jazzkeller in Frankfurt. "I went on a TV show to promote it," he recalls, "Later on, I took a cab to the club and there was a huge commotion outside. I thought it was due to a group playing an earlier set. I said to the cab driver, 'Gee, I hope they finish soon.' the driver said, "They're waiting for you.;" Though Hammond did very well in Europe, including a concert on Radio France, a trade war soon found american jazz musicians being cut out of European work. "I came home on Pakistan Airlines" the former Concorde passenger remembers. Hammond is used to the roller coaster ride of the musician---one day on tour with Percy Sledge, the next day coming home from France with $50.
Hammond recently returned from successful concerts in Germany at the International Trade show "Musikmesse" for the seventeenth consecutive year with his co-producer Joe Berger, of Ham-Berger-Friz Records, the producer of the CD. You got it. Hamburger/fries. Hammond's CD is currently getting radio play in Germany and National Public Radio stations in the U.S. Several manhattan Plaza residents are involved in the CD. On April 28, he had a launch party at Le Bar Bat.
Though only occasionally veering outside of the music world, Hammond did something unusual in 2001. "My mother called me and said, 'Jon, they're hiring at United Airlines.' I thought, what can it hurt to please my mother, I"ll apply. I did get an offer but I was unable to take it because it involved transporting luggage, and I couldn't do it because of my bad back. However, they then found out that I speak German. I was offered a better job in International. Now guess when I was supposed to start training? October 2001. Well, you know what happened to the airlines after 9/11, and you know what I said about getting a gig at the death knell. So this told me one thing, I'm supposed to be a musician." He's right.
*Update: Hammond in Moscow! *story: with pictures: http://community.webtv.net/GoldenPenMan/BLUESINTHEMOSCOW
BLUES IN THE MOSCOW WHITE NIGHTS by organist Jon Hammond (USA)
Tenor saxophonist IGOR BUTMAN & organist JON HAMMOND
Note: See's Candy *in box, is a major sponsor of jazz events & concerts in San Francisco Bay Area thanks to Charles N. Huggins and company.
Jazz Quad article: "Blues In The Moscow White Nights"
The story of my first concerts in Russia with Igor Butman (sax), Eduard Zizak (drums) by organist Jon Hammond (USA) for Jazz QuadComing to Russia to play in concert together with Igor Butman and Eduard Zizak recently, was one of the greatest experiences in my life/career! I was highly anticipating this journey for many reasons. First of all since my family originally came from Russia and Latvia many years ago, I had heard so many stories as a young child about the land and people I was about to visit. My grandparents were never able to return to Russia but when I arrived it felt like I was coming home.
From the beginning of my preparations I could see that this was not going to be any ordinary music tour! From obtaining visas it was apparent that the procedure was slightly different. I traveled with my girlfriend Jennifer on British Airways departing JFK to London and then from there we changed planes to Moscow. Upon arriving at Moscow SVO airport we quickly found ourselves among 20 persons who arrived with no baggage. There was nobody there to speak in English with from BA, so we had an interesting conversation and procedure with the official Lost and Found desk there and filled out the Baggage Irregularity Report papers. Leaving the customs area without our baggage we were very happy when we stepped out and saw a nice man holding a big Jon Hammond poster. We knew this was our man!
Luckily we came 2 days before the concerts and our bags were finally found and delivered to our hotel the next day.
Marat Garipov, the gentleman who came to pick us up, is one of Igor Butman's managers. Very nice guy and we had a great time speaking with him on the drive in to Moscow about his daughters and many shared interests. The traffic was very heavy coming in and it took about 1 1/2 hours to come in to Moscow, but we got a great first look at beautiful Moscow! What an incredible city...to me it looks like the Magic Kingdom that Walt Disney tried to recreate, only many of the buildings were built hundreds of years ago! Fantastic architecture.
When we checked in to the hotel, first we had to surrender our passports for some sort of official process. When we came up to our room on the 10th floor we found that we had a spectacular view of Red Square right outside our windows! The view was absolutely magnificent. Because it was the 3rd week of June, the days are the longest of the year and known as the White Nights. 10 at night looked like bright daylight! My first night I spent making many calls to trace our baggage and see about getting our passports back while my girlfriend slept. Finally back in posesssion of my instruments and our passports I was then very relieved and could really start enjoying the fact that I was really in Moscow!
The night before my first concert at Le Club, we were guests to attend the concert of bassist Alex Rostotsky and his fine group. We had a very enjoyable time dining and listening to Alex's music and got to meet him and his musicians later in the evening. We also had the pleasure of meeting Faina Antonova who is Igor's manager and also managing Le Club. She is very nice and took great care in arranging every detail of our stay in Moscow. I knew right away that we were in care of special angels. After a wonderful dinner/show and cappucinos at Le Club, Faina personally drove us back to our hotel, the famous Rossiya by Red Square. I was very tired by this point so I slept like a rock.
The next day was the big Friday of our first show. Most of the day I stayed in the room practicing my instrument and looking out at Red Square. Jennifer and I wanted to get to the club early so that we could get a sound check and settle in. Faina picked us up and we stuffed my organ and all our equipment in her compact car and off we went to Le Club in the Taganka Theatre Building.
When we arrived the big friendly doormen picked up my heavy cases like they were toothpicks and brought them up the stairs for me! Vladimir the sound engineer for the club was very smooth and professional, and a very nice guy. We got a good sound on the organ and then came Eduard Zizak the great drummer! I had already met Eduard in New York the week before when he was there performing with Igor's quartet at Birdland. Eduard is an incredible drummer and also a very nice guy. We made a little soundcheck and right away I could tell that he had listened to my music and we would lock up with some very tight grooves...no problem!
But where was Igor? I was hoping for a little mini-rehearsel with Igor but when I saw the public coming in to have dinner I knew it was too late for that! Igor arrived with his entourage and it was great to see him...he told me not to worry and apologised for not coming earlier. Igor is in big demand with a very busy schedule, so I am very lucky and honored that he could take the time to perform with me together even as his new cd album "Prophecy" was just released on the Universal Label.
We had time only for a 5 minute soundcheck and I showed Igor my book. This was going to be a very spontaneous performance, no doubt about it!
We decided to record it, and Vladimir did a fantastic job on the recording on their new digital recording console that they had just brought back from New York.
From the first notes I knew that this would be one of those magic nights I would never forget. The response from the audience was wonderful. I could only say in Russsian, "Ya LuBlu Vas"...which means, I love you all. And when I said the words to the people I got a great feeling back from them. First set was just fine and then on the break I was introduced to many press people and some fantastic local musicians. I was very honored that they all came to greet me. And then Igor proudly introduced me to 2 of the legendary jazz musicians of Moscow-accordionist Vladimir Danilin and guitarist Alexei Kuznezov. They said they had their instruments in the car and so yes we decided right away to make a live session together.
It was incredible from the first song on the 2nd set, playing together with these fantastic Moscow musicians! It felt like we had been playing together for 20 years. These musicians are some of the greatest I have ever heard and played together with. The audience was loving every bit of it, just as much as I! I was so happy that Vladimir was getting it all on tape and Jennifer was also running the video machine and taking pictures also. By the end of the night I was very satisfied with how everything went. Igor personally drove Jennifer and I back to the hotel in his nice car with fantastic sound system.
The next day we got a nice tour from our friends Eva Steiner and her nice husband Leo from the Austrian Embassy. We ended the afternoon by having lunch in the Rossiya and I got to have my first excellent bowl of Borscht!
I excused myself afterwards to take a nap as I was quite tired and knew it would be another big night at Le Club. I had a refreshing sleep and then I must say that the shower at the Rossiya is the best shower I have ever had in my life! The shower head resembles a little Sputnick! The water comes out full force...no water saving there at the Rossiya. Wonderful.
This time when Faina picked us up we didn't have the organ with us. For the first time I left my instrument in the club because I could see the security there is excellent, 24 hours.
Already there were journalists at the club to meet. I was very happy to meet Cyril Moshkow. We had many e mails before coming and he is a very nice guy also and very serious jazz journalist. He is the president of the Russian Jazz Journalist organization. We had a nice conversation and Cyril took some pictures of the concert for his website. Also we met Igor Moskvichev from Russian "Hit Parade" magazine and Mr. Kumalo from the South African Embassy.
Jon Hammond with South African Minister-Counsellor Mpendulo Kumalo
Igor Butman, Eduard Zizak, Jon Hammond
foto courtesy of Igor Moskvichev
The Journey Home to USA from MoscowAfter the 2nd successful night playing in trio with Igor and Eduard, we sadly said our goodbyes. But we are very excited about Igor coming to New York with his entire 18 piece bigband to perform in concert with Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in September!
Igor sent us back to the hotel in care of one of his professional security men. We were very happy and relaxed with no fears in the Moscow night as we sped through the streets in a taxicab back to the Rossiya.
The following day we had a chance to do a little more shopping for souveniers and pack all the bags for our trip back to New York JFK.
Checking out from the hotel the reception people were very friendly and asked me to autograph my new cd "Hammond's Bolero" for them *link: www.cdbaby.com/hammond they called me Jazz Man. We enjoyed our stay there very much!
It was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. I am happy that we have professional recordings of the concerts with Igor, Eduard and our special guest musicians Vladimir Danilin and Alexei Kuznezov. We are talking about creating a live cd release from the concerts at Le Club.
As they say, we came to "Celebrate the diplomatic power of jazz" with ™ "Blues In The Moscow White Nights"!
™ "The FINGERS...are the SINGERS!"
*Member Local 802, Local 6/ASCAP Artist
*special thanks to Igor Butman and Faina Antonova and Le Club team Moscow.
Jon Hammond tries on a Russian hat at GUM
Jon Hammond standing at the Le Club marquis
JON HAMMOND Hot Links!
Moscow White Nights...view outside our hotel window
Igor Butman & Gary Walker at WBGO
Jon Hammond and Igor Butman on Russian TV
Jazz Man, Ed Zizak, Igor Butman, Moscow Russia, Hammond Artist, XB-2, XK-1, XK-3c, B3, Organist, Blues, White Nights, Manhattan Cable, TV, KYOU Radio, HammondCast, Local 802 Musicians Union