Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group — Free
July 10 | 6:30 pm - 8:30 pm- Free
Part of Portland Parks & Recreation’s Summer Free For All. Summer Free For All events are free and everyone is welcome. Plan an evening of music with family and friends — bring chairs and blankets, pack a picnic or purchase something tasty from the local food vendors on site. Learn more about this event here.
The Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group, called “Jimmy Mak’s signature band” by The Oregonian, performed on Thursday nights for 20 years at the noted Pearl District music venue. That’s a remarkably long run, but the band’s roots extend back even further than its September 1997 debut at Jimmy Mak’s.
In 1997, most Portland music fans were familiar with Mel Brown as the dean of Portland jazz drummers and for his earlier stint as a Motown staff drummer (working with the likes of Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson, and the Temptations). But before that, Mel had gigged around the NW with Billy Larkin & the Delegates, a funky organ group. (The band had a regional hit record, “The Pygmy,” which was covered by Booker T & the MG’s.) Similarly, in 1997 organist Louis “King Louie” Pain was known to Portlanders for his work with the great Portland blues/soul icons Paul deLay and Linda Hornbuckle (now sadly both deceased), but his roots were in the soul-jazz organ group genre. In the mid-seventies, back in his native Bay Area, Louis had cut his teeth playing in an organ group led by Bay Area sax legend Jules Broussard, who Mel had actually worked with a few years earlier.
Within a month of the group’s inaugural Jimmy Mak’s gig, customers were lining up down the block on Thursday nights. The band’s unrehearsed-yet-tight Hammond B-3-anchored style (featuring organ bass), dubbed “the sound of spontaneity” by The Oregonian, was something totally new to the young, hip Pearl District audiences. Adding to the coolness of the gig: mixed in with the young fans were some veterans of Portland’s ‘50s & ‘60s jump jazz scene–rooting the band on and, in the case of the late Sweet Baby James Benton, occasionally sitting in.
The group’s sound is no longer entirely unique in Portland; as early as the late ‘90s, young soul-jazz organ groups, inspired by Mel’s band, began to spring up. But what has always made the Mel Brown B-3 Organ Group special isn’t really its instrumentation or material: it’s the talent & soul of the band’s members, and their love of creating exciting music together “on the spot.” Audiences can’t get enough of it!
On November 14, 2013 and December 2, 2014, the band celebrated the sixteenth anniversary of its Thursday night Jimmy Mak’s gig with a pair of special shows that were recorded live. In his rave review of the first of those shows, The Oregonian‘s David Greenwald wrote that the group’s performances, “take a jazz blowtorch to pop history.” On June 12, 2014, the band released not one but two exciting new CD’s recorded at those gigs! The CD’s are entitled, 16th Anniversary, Part 1: Ticket To Ride and 16th Anniversary Part 2: More Today Than Yesterday. The latter CD was reviewed by Downbeat Magazine in August, with reviewer Frank-John Hadley stating, “Something special occurs when this local quintet appears at Jimmy Mak’s jazz club in Portland, OR.”