Previous Columns 1998

Dutch Jazz Critics
Interview with Herbert Noord

This column was published December 1998


Generally spoken in art and especially in music Dutch (Jazz-)critics' are not well known for being the most beloved species of the human race. As a matter of fact they figure at the social ladder below window cleaners and cabdrivers.

First question in a Dutch critic matter is: 'Are Dutch critics' a necessary evil or can they be avoided?' The right answer is that Dutch critics' are an evil, not necessary and must be avoided. The best art is made without the help of any critic and so is the best music. Mostly Dutch music critics' are failed musicians. The amount of third class bass-players among them is alarming high. In my whole musical career I received good and bad reviews from Dutch critics' but both had one thing in common. The people who wrote them didn't know what the heck they were writing about.

There are two kinds of Dutch critics'. The first kind are the ones that haven't got a clue about the thing you are busy with and are not interested either. Except for getting their piece of journalism ready and take the money. The advantage of a non interested Dutch critic is that you can tell him everything you want and he will write it down. The deadline and the money are waiting for him. A nice example of this category is the Dutch critic who once interviewed me and started with an outstanding thoughtful question: 'Do you like playing a Hammond organ?' I answered that I liked playing the triangle better but that it was for my physical condition to drag around an instrument that had three hundred times more weight.

The other kind of interviewers asked me the whole time what my thoughts were about Jimmy Smith. For instance when I said I was influenced by Charles Mingus he ignored my remark and asked if I was influenced by Jimmy Smith? Of course, I replied, I am also influenced by Jimmy Smith, but my main influences are Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey. But you are also influenced by Jimmy Smith, he insisted, because you play like him. I replied again that Jimmy was for sure one of my sources but not the most important one and that comparing Jimmy Smith with me, was comparing a carrot with a bag of potatoes. The result of this interview was an astonishing headline in the newspaper the next day: 'Herbert Noord says: 'Jimmy Smith is a bag of potatoes'. Lucky for me that Jimmy doesn't read the 'Dutch Daily Duffer'.

Dutch critics today and those from the past must have been born completely deaf. About one cd's I made with Advanced Warning we received a review in which was written that the bass was not heard. A really incredible remark for those who have heard our cd's and have been to a concert of Advanced Warning. Another critic wrote a glorious article about one of our cd's which was very nice, but I have to admit after reading the article I wondered what he had written about, because I hadn't recognized neither our music nor the cd. In a recent conversation I had with the manager of one of Holland's most famous jazz/funk stars we agreed Dutch critics' to be a bunch of reluctant amateurs. A year ago Hans Dulfer had even to sue a critic who had written a completely wrong and sickening article. He won the case.

Also sickening was the review a Dutch critic wrote after a concert we did with guitar-player Paul Weeden. Paul, who is a very friendly and gentlemanlike person, was interviewed in the brake by a journalist who had an attitude if he was 'The Almighty' himself. Paul stayed calm and gave all the required information but made the mistake to mention his dear friendship with Wes Montgomery and himself. After a couple of days a friend send me the review and I couldn't believe my eyes. The article had everything to do with the friendship with Wes and nothing with the music Paul played at the concert. As a matter of fact the critic was so rude to write: "Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are" and described Paul as a bad friend. Don't be surprised if I tell you that this critic was a third row guitar-player who could not even properly tune his instrument.

Question: Why are critics' hearts so coveted for transplants?
Answer: They have had so little use

Interview with Herbert Noord (Published 28.11.98)

by Robert Ceatree

Was the organ your first love?

Oh boy, do you want to hear the long and complicated story or the short one?

Perhaps we should better begin with the short one.

I started my musical career as a piano player and being neither an Arthur Rubinstein nor an Erroll Garner most of the piano's I had to play on were mediocre instruments. You could sometimes literally break your fingers on the keyboard and they were always out of tune. But nobody cared because most of the time you couldn't hear the piano anyway. The question was how to solve these problems?

By buying a Hammond?

In my wildest dreams. Those organs were too expensive and how to transport them? Off course I had seen those Hammonds in the music stores, but they were out of reach. I was waiting for a cheaper and more transportable solution and suddenly, in the beginning of the sixties, it was there and even had a name: Philicorda. This was a small, four octaves as I remember it well, electronic organ developed by Philips. It was very transportable and it had an amplifier with two speakers and a reverb.

A relief?

Sure. The instrument sounded a little bit like a Hammond and after I started to play the instrument, a lot of different musicians asked me to join their groups. Even a guy as Willem Breuker was impressed and somewhere around 1966 we sometimes played together. On the other hand the instrument had it's limitations and I realized that I finally should have to choose a real Hammond or to go back to the handicapped pianos.

This choice should have been an easy one?

Musically speaking, yes. I liked the sound of the Hammond, but financially it was a little bit more difficult but I solved that problem and at the beginning of 1967 I could call myself the proud owner of a L 100 Hammond organ.

Completely satisfied?

I was in heaven. Every gig was a pleasure. In that time I had a band with Hans Dulfer, who is a great admirer of the sound of the Hammond and always wanted me to play as he called it, the 'water-organ-sound'. He meant the full organ sound with vibrato and a tremolo Leslie, as loud as possible. On the recordings I made with him you can hear that sound.

But the L 100 wasn't the end of the story?

More the beginning, because after a while it occurred to me that the sound I heard on the recordings of the great American Hammond-players was quite different from my own sound. When I looked into why there was this difference the answer was that those guys were playing on the big Hammonds, the B's and C's. To achieve a big one was the next step in my Hammond career and in 1972 I was able to buy a second-hand A 100. That was it!. The influence that this instrument had on my way of playing was enormous, it opened a whole new world. I could now play the bass-line as I wanted to and create my own sound. In the same year I also bought a Sisme Leslie cabinet that solved all the amplifying problems, because it was so powerful that you could even fill a big concert hall.

How did you create your own sound?

That was a process that took years and even after twenty-five years of playing I am still busy with it. I think that it never finishes. The possibilities of the big Hammond are so overwhelming that you can create a different sound every day. The sound is also dependant on your mood and the environment in which you are playing. In my opinion it is a never ending story. In the beginning I made a lot of mistakes. I was fascinated by the sounds I heard on the recordings which were coming from the other side of the ocean. The sounds that were created by Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Jimmy Mc. Griff, Jack Mc. Duff and my personal favourite Larry Young. I worked with equalizers, boosters, different reverb's and more electronical shit. But then I realized that the sound I heard was partly produced by the studio, partly by the organ they were playing on, and as you probably know every Hammond sounds different, partly by the organists and partly by a lot of other circumstances. Such as the type of Leslie cabinet, the fact that the electrical power in the USA is 110 volt, and so on and so on. After thinking this over, I skipped all the electronics and returned to the basics: The Hammond with a Leslie. To discover this simple solution, took me about fifteen years.

To illustrate what I mean, I have the following story:

Brother Jack Mc. Duff did an European tour with his band and for the Dutch gig's they rented one of my organs, the C-3, which is by the way also the organ I mostly tour with. I installed the C-3 and myself on the stage. Sitting just two meters form Brother Jack, I could clearly oversee the whole situation, what kind of drawbar-settings he was going to use, the vibrato and percussion setting and so on. As a matter of fact he used almost the same settings as I do, also played the base-line with his left hand but the organ sounded completely different. It was my organ, he did not fool around with it, no secret electronic stuff and still it sounded completely different. When after the concert I discussed this experience with Brother Jack, his answer was simply: "When you sit behind the organ and play, you will always hear it differently than when you are only listening. It is all in your mind."

You did mention that you played the base-line withe your left hand. Do you not use the pedals?

Correct, I don't use the pedals. In the past with the L -100 and the A -100, I did study the pedals but it never satisfied me. The real swing wasn't there, but because I thought that the base-lines were played that way, I continued with my struggle. The reason why was very simple: When you listen to the recordings you can hear that a base-line is played. Because you know that there are pedals for the bass, the conclusion is that the bass is played by using the pedals.

Then came the first time that I could see Jimmy Smith in concert at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 1972. I was sitting on the stage right behind him and could clearly watch what he was doing. He was playing the base-line with his left hand and supported this base-line with accents on the pedal. Sometimes he didn't use the pedal at all and sometimes in slow songs he used only the pedal and played chords with his left hand. But the whole time he was moving his left-foot, a little bit faking though. I knew enough, removed the pedal from my organ, I am not the faking type, what you see is what you get, and never used the pedal again.

Playing the bass-line with my left hand fits more in my history, because I did a lot of Boogie Woogie playing before I started as a Jazz and improvising musician.

I suppose that you are influenced by many organ-players, and do you have special favorites?

Of course am I influenced by many organ-players but my main influences came from piano and tenor saxophone players as Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Ammons, Willis Jackson and Archie Shepp. My mother was a classically trained piano player and singer who also played in the style of Charlie Kunz and Winnifred Attwell. She had also early pre-war Coleman Hawkins recordings and liked Nat Gonella. That was the main base. Besides that I listened every morning to the radio, where a certain Dr. Anton v.d. Horst did a few minutes of piano improvisation in a classical way, he was a big influence on my improvising ability. Then I had a piano teacher who liked to play the stride-piano and pointed me to Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Willie 'The Lion' Smith. When I was thirteen I bought my first serious Jazz recording; Out of the Blue from alto- player Sonny Red, with Wynton Kelly on the piano. Wynton Kelly is one of my all-time favorites as are Bobby Timmons, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Less Mc Cann, a very underestimated Jazzcomposer and Gene Harris, oh boy can he swing. I am not naming any more names, because there are so many great musicians who brought me moments of joy. I will make an exception for Charlie Mingus and Roland Kirk, two of my main influences concerning my activities as a composer.

No organ-players?

I wasn't forgetting them. But I make a distinction between musicians who influenced me musically and technically. I have a big collection of organ-players, but there are only a few who are interesting in the way they make music. How experimental they are, that is very important to me, how far do they dare to go. Well the answer is, only a very few dare to do something interesting. First there is Jimmy Smith, no doubt. Till the moment he started to do the big orchestra things for Verve, he was experimenting. Without Jimmy, no Jazz organ. Besides that, he is a great musician who wrote a lot of wonderful compositions and I think that he is underestimated as a composer. The second in line, is my personal favourite Larry Young. Where Jimmy stopped, Larry took up the torch. Larry is not a phenomenal organ player, but he developed the art of organ playing in a very artistic way. The trio he formed with Grant Green and Elvin Jones, was the best I ever heard. It is sad that he died so young, but I feel very indebted to him. I should not forget to mention Eddy Louiss, a very interesting French organ player.

Now for something completely different, what about the present electronic organs?

I have my thoughts, but I am not going to share them with you and the readers of this article.

A reason why?

Sound is as taste a very personal experience. Personally I don't like the sound of the trombone. But that doesn't mean that the instrument is wrong. The same with all the electronic instruments of today. The sound they produce doesn't convince me. I have experimented with synthesizers, samplers and all kind of modules, you can't name it, but they don't convince my ears.

You are not going to swap your old and heavy Hammond for something light and modern?

No way, man not me.

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