Tommy Shugart Organ Trio at Dunedin Brewery: Honoring the Masters
We noted recently about the five different groups that Hammond B3 master Tommy Shugart is a part of, including several that he leads. He plays regularly at The New Standard in Winter Park, Florida, and last weekend he brought his two bands to Dunedin Brewery for a show Friday, March 19, with the The PJ’s and on Saturday with the Tommy Shugart Organ Trio.
We made it to the Saturday show — a little late. We already knew that Rion Smith, the great drummer with Shak Nasti, Sam Rivers’ Riv-Bea Orchestra, and (until its demise) Blue Man Group, would be sitting in for Anthony ‘AC’ Cole. What we discovered was that guitarist Mike Ryan had also called off the gig. Fortunately, John Dorney, who plays with Shugart in The PJ’s, filled in — superbly.
Shugart kicked off set one with the Grant Green classic “Jan Jan” (Live at The Lighthouse 1972); this would prompt a great exchange later). Then the trio tore into a Reuben Wilson gem, “Ronnie’s Bonnie” (On Broadway 1968). The entire night would glisten with delicious funk from the ’60s and ’70s, and we plan a discussion soon about this young man’s extensive knowledge of great music. They revel in honoring the great tradition of the organ trio from the chitlin’ circuit to major performances by artists such as Jimmy Smith.
We arrived just as they tore into Kool & the Gang’s “Dujii,” from the band’s third recording, Live at PJ’s (1971). Everyone was relaxed; those early Kool albums are just that — extremely cool funk jazz. Smith was providing perfect time while Dorney and Shugart were bouncing thoughts back and forth. Shugart is a joy to watch as he makes the Hammond B3 organ bend to his will. The depth of his mastery of the instrument is amazing.
From there the trio laid down a solid cover of The Young Rascals’ “Groovin’” (title track of their 1967 album) before unveiling a fine new original tune, “Swallowtail.” Dorney was crisp in his solo on this tune. He stood out on Jimmy Smith’s “Root Down” (title track, 1972) as well, Smith impeccable with the time. They took an extended look at “Cold Sweat” from James Brown’s 1967 album of the same name. Dorney was even more adventurous here, and Shugart was magnificent as they closed set one.
Back on stage, they jumped on Kool and the Gang’s “Sea of Tranquility” from that group’s 1970 debut, another beautiful slow soul ballad (and recall that Sea of Tranquility was where Apollo 11 landed in 1969). Following that up was an Eddie Harris composition from his 1968 album Plug Me In titled “Lovely is Today.” And, yes, it was.
The highlight of the evening (well, one of them) was a new Untitled Original that was total kickass funk. Smith, who had been largely perfunctory working into a new combo, opened up completely, and from here on the set was beyond amazing. There was a Rolling Stones vamp to the tune, Booker T., too, and Shugart’s best showing on the bass pedals. He and Dorney had great solos, and Smith rocked a great feature on drums, his polyrhythmic muscles on display.
Shugart and Co. next tore into two Stevie Wonder tracks from Fulfillingness’ First Finale: “Boogie On Reggae Woman” segueing into a very slinky “Creepin’.” It was about this time that I asked, “Are you taking requests?” When I called “Jan Jan,” Shugart said, “We opened with that.” I let it go. Jessica Majewski, one of the most important music patrons in our area, did not. More to come.
Shugart honored The Mighty Burner, Charles Earland, with “Letha” (Black Drop, 1970). That is some deep funk right there. Next he educated us with, as he described it, Jamaican chill, in this case from reggae master Jackie Mittoo’s 1970 album Now, which was tremendous.
It was after 11, quitting time, and there was Majewski, haggling with Shugart, and damned if they didn’t take the stage one more time for… “Jan Jan (Reprise)” (or maybe “Jan Jan (A Slight Return).”). Either way, they CRUSHED their second take on that tune, closing out a brilliant night of funk jazz history.
[SET 1: Jan Jan (Grant Green), Ronnie’s Bonnie (Reuben Wilson), Dujii (Kool & the Gang), Groovin’ (The Young Rascals), Swallowtail, Root Down (Jimmy Smith), Cold Sweat (James Brown); SET 2: Sea of
Tranquility (Kool & the Gang, D’Angelo), Lovely is Today (Eddie Harris), Untitled Original, Boogie On Reggae Woman > Creepin’ (Stevie Wonder), Leetha (Charles Earland), Hot Tamale (Jackie Mittoo); E: Jan Jan (reprise)]