At a cursory glance, one could easily underestimate the uniqueness of the Hammond B-3. Like all instruments in the keyboard family, it has black and white keys and is capable of fulfilling various musical roles. Yet, in the hands of a true player, it becomes readily apparent that the B-3 is truly distinct. Its heart beats with a slow, undulating vibrato, whispering warm, rich stories into the ears of its listeners. With its two-tiered keyboard and foot pedal setup, the B-3 transforms players into musical octopuses. Their limbs conduct an invisible orchestra, each note a player responding to the conductor’s command. Indeed, the Hammond B-3 is an ensemble beneath the fingertips and toes. While merely managing the synchronistic demands of this instrument is quite a feat, even more impressive is confident ease projected when this instrument is helmed by well-seasoned artisans.
On two consecutive nights, The Soraya’s stage will reverberate with the soulful sounds of the B-3, played by two bona fide masters on the instrument — Booker T. Jones and Matthew Whittaker. Although separated by more than 50 years in age, their stories are similarly deeply rooted in the soulful sounds of the blues. Since the early 1960s, Booker T. Jones’s eclectic mix of gospel, soul, rock, jazz, and R&B styles has left an unmistakable mark on countless recordings. The music world quickly recognized and appreciated this signature blend, known as the “Memphis sound.” As a teenager, Jones’ prodigious talents contributed to numerous studio sessions for Stax Records and their various acts, among them Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett. Initially, Booker T. and the M.G.s provided support as a collective backing band for the label, but soon found success on their own. Their catchy, bluesy instrumental “Green Onions” dominated the charts, gained commercial acclaim, and became an integral part of the soundtrack to the 1960s’ social and political upheaval. Over the years, Booker T. has recorded and toured extensively, consistently thrilling audiences with his evolving and infectious groove.
Sharing the bill will be another prodigy of the instrument, Matthew Whitaker. Born with perfect pitch, Matthew’s talent was already gaining recognition at a time when other children were starting to take their first steps. His grandfather gifted him a keyboard at age three, and through constant musical exposure, he began to replicate songs from recordings, live performances, as well as the multicultural sounds of his northern New Jersey landscape. He quickly got the attention of established industry veterans including bassist Christian McBride, violinist Regina Carter, and keyboardist and long-time Apollo Theater musical director Ray Chew. Their guidance and mentoring relationship evolved to the point that they also became collaborators, which underscores the trust, respect and seriousness that developed along with ability. With three recordings as a leader to his name, appearances on TV shows, a documentary, and an Emmy Nominated commercial for which he contributed the music, we are witnessing developing stages of a colorful career that is continuing to bloom.