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The Hammond Jazz-organ story
Story copyright 1996-2013  by Prof. T.C. Pfeiler
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Original Hammond organs are equipped with specially designed electro-magnetic tonewheel generators. Designed as the Hammond organ model "A" console, it was patentet by the American inventor and clockmaker Laurens Hammond from Evanstone / Illinois (1895 - 1973)
in 1934.


Chief engineer John Hanert was the most important person beside Laurens Hammond from the first moment on. Early Hammond organs had serial number plates from "The Hammond Clock Company".

The Hammond factory was located at 4200 West Diversey Avenue in Chicago / Illinois. The first Jazz- organist in history was Fats Waller (1904 - 1943), but the real pioneer of the modern Jazz-organ was William Strethen Davis (1918-1995), better known as "Wild Bill Davis". Please note: he had nothing to do with the cornet player Wild Bill Davison! Wild Bill Davis is the "daddy" of every Jazz-organist and keyboarder. One of his first recordings at the Hammond organ was "Tambouritza Boogie" with Louis Jordan in 1950. The year before he recorded a number of solo-takes for Mercury Records.

"Classic" Jazz-organists play their own bass line. They dont need a bass player. The "classic" Jazz-organ trio was created by Wild Bill Davis. His basic conception with organ, guitar and drums was a powerful and enormous swinging vehicle from the first moment on! Sometimes a saxophonist is added.

Soon Wild Bills conception was called a "organ trio" and became international standard. Most todays Jazz- organists work with such a "organ trio" conception. T.C. Pfeiler, today Austria´s first international known Jazz-organist and featured artist on Tonewheel Records was lucky enough to have Wild Bill Davis as his first and most important teacher. In the late 1980´s, Davis and Pfeiler recorded a LP, called "Wild Bill Davis / T.C. Pfeiler - 70th / 30th Anniversary Live Concert". They played at the same time on two separate Hammond B3 organs ! Soon, this fantastic album became a collector´s item.

Most Jazz-organists prefer the Hammond organ, model B3 or C3 console with  Leslie, model 122 or 147 with tube type amplifiers. The legendary Hammond B3 and C3 was equipped with two keyboards, called "manuals". Each manual had sixtyone playing keys and twelve reverse colored "preset keys", located at the left end of each manual. The manuals are called "Swell"(upper) and "Great" (lower). The bass - keyboard had 25 notes. Both manuals plus bass-pedals are controlled by a single expression or swell-pedal. The swell-pedal was operatet by the right food of the organist. It was a sensitive and fast working unit and a helpful tool to set dynamic accents. With four groups of nine harmonic drawbars for both manuals, each had eight degrees, plus two extra drawbars for the bass pedals, the organist could create millions of tone colors. "Touch Response Percussion" with second and third harmonic, installed for the first time in 1955 in models B3, C3, RT3 and M3, and the incredible scanner-driven "Selective Vibrato", installed for the first time in former models B2, C2, RT2 and M2 in 1948 are exclusive Hammond-effects. From todays view the model B3 console saw a unusual long producion period: it was made from 1955 to 1974! The Hammond Organ Company of Chicago / Illinois sold the B3 as the "Home Model"!

Complete with bench and bass pedal-keyboard it weights approx. 425 pounds and qualifies the travelling Jazz-organist for a second business: furniture transports. The model C3 console was equipped with the same technique but used a different cabinet style. It was offered by the Hammond Company as the "Church Model".

The "Concert Model" was called RT3. It had a wider "C3 like styled"cabinet and 32-note bass pedal set. A vacuum tube generated bass solo-system was featured. B3, C3 and RT3 consoles had no built in sound- systems. A pre-amplifier was installed. The best sound result came with Hammond model P/PR 40 tone cabinet or with Leslie 122 or 147 rotary-sound speakers, all powered by tube type power amplifiers.

With built in power-amplifier and speaker system, the RT3 was called D100 console.The Hammond organ, model A100 console used a narrower C3 cabinet with built in power-amplifier and speakers. The A100 series also featured Hammonds new spring reverb-system. A100 models could be ordered in many different and very distinctive cabinet-styles, with or without locking top and backwall. Today, early Hammond consoles became collectors-item status. Regarding production quality: Laurens Hammond was a true fanatic! Today you can find countless old Hammond organs in mint condition all over the world. Hammond- fans are very enthusiastic people. They want to keep this classics running!

Beside the full size consoles, Hammond also produced a line of smaller organs, called "spinets".

Hammond spinet organs like series M3, M100, L100, T100, but also the later produced full size console organs series H100, X66, X77, E100, R100 and the drawbar-less church organ, model G100 are not really important for the history of Hammond Organ Jazz. Laurens Hammond passed away in 1973 and sadly the Hammond Organ Company stopped the production of "tonewheel organs" in 1974.

Hammond´s new production-line was completely restyled and used conventional techniques. Most of the new Hammonds after 1975 had a terrible sound and Hammond was out of business soon! Over the next years the Hammond Comp. saw some different owners, but nobody could bring back the glory of the old days!

With the new smaller keyboards, everything has changed and the real Hammond-sound was unpopular for many years. The new wave of "Acid Jazz", born in England brought back the good old Hammond-sound in the late 1980´s. The 1990´s  brought us a powerful re-birth of the Hammond Jazz-organ tradition. Quality is timeless!

Transistors, quartz technology or todays digital processors - nothing, absolutely nothing can replace a tube-amplified, original Hammond organ with electro-magnetic tonewheel generator, scanner vibrato and touch-response percussion. NOT TODAY AND NOT TOMORROW! 
 

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