Quotes about Brian:
The Hammond B-3 organist Brian Charette weighs the ageless objective of soul-jazz with a trace of restless modernity- Nate Chinen NY Times
Both B-3 stylist and student, serious jazz scholar and glitzy entertainer, Charette is a burning soloist who understands the tradition of the Hammond B-3 as well its future—just as cerainly as he understands his place in that lineage- Ken Micallef Downbeat Magazine
Q Who's sticking out now on organ?
A There's a couple of young guys around. There's one guy -- I heard this one guy when I was hanging out in Toronto, Brian Charette!- Joey Defrancesco
A Master of Space and Time- Josh Jackson WBGO NYC
Reliably Burning- Bill Milkowski Jazz Times
Just the right proportions of refinement and rambunctiousness- Chris Barton LA Times
"Baby....... you a Bad Motorcycle!" Bernard Purdie
Review of Kürrent by Philip Freeman in Stereogum
Brian Charette, Kürrent
Organist Brian Charette is a sharp, witty player who blurs the lines between funky soul jazz, jam-band rock, and avant-garde weirdness. His latest album — recorded with guitarist Ben Monder and drummer Jordan Young — combines the expected sounds of the organ trio with intricate jazz-fusion melodies, squiggly ’70s synths, and bent samples. It’s got all the groove of his other work, but Monder is the kind of guitarist who’s happier shredding or tearing into a big riff than chopping out single chords. Charette meets him in the middle, sounding amazingly Larry Young-like at times as the guitarist gets his Mahavishnu on. Jordan Young is the perfect drummer for an ensemble this fleet-footed and multifaceted; he can hack and slash as easily as he can set up a subtle, ticking groove.
Review of Once and Future in Jazz Times
Feature Artist Profile Article in November NYC Jazz Record
Brian being interviewed and playing piano on Howard Britz' Podcast
Review of Once and Future in Jazzwise Magazine London, UK
Review of new album in Downbeat
Once & Future
★ ★ ★ ½
In every jazz lover’s mind there exists the perfect Hammond B-3 organ player. Whether that ultimate B-3 technician is Jimmy Smith, Charles Earland, Larry Young or Shirley Scott, certain defining parameters exist, regardless of the individual player.
But when it comes to Hammond B-3 mastery, Brian Charette wrote the book. Literally. His 101 Hammond B3 Tips (Hal Leonard) covers, among other topics, “funky scales and modes,” “creative chord voicings” and “cool drawbar settings.” Even more proof of his proficiency is heard on Once & Future, where Charette gives a master class in the many styles of B-3 playing, joined by guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Steve Fidyk.
Performing covers and original material, Charette’s B-3 touch is decidedly light, buoyant and playful. He brings his style to bear on hardcore grits ‘n’ gravy groovers by the acknowledged masters of the genre, as well as fare that puts me in mind of a cocktail party circa 1963. In that way, Once & Future acts as a calling card of sorts, a sampler of the many styles Charette and trio can bring to your next social function. Thankfully, there’s plenty of steam and smoke to balance the lighter punch bowl offerings.
The album kicks off with Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” delivered in groove-a-licious waltz-time goodness. Bubbly, swinging and steaming are apt descriptions here. The pace continues with Larry Young’s “Tyrone” (from 1965’s Into Somethin’), Bernard and Fidyk ramping up the temperature with able solos and fatback groove.
Charette’s sparkling “Latin From Manhattan” brings to mind Walter Wanderley as easily as it does Donald Fagen’s “Walk Between The Raindrops.” The trio knocks back Freddie Roach’s “Da Bug,” paints a dutiful rendition of “At Last” and stomps hard on Jack McDuff’s “Hot Barbeque.”
Other highlights include a beautiful, if jocular, version of Bud Powell’s “Dance Of The Infidels,” a note-perfect “Zoltan” as it appeared on Young’s 1966 masterpiece, Unity, and a cover of Wes Montgomery’s “Road Song.”
Both B-3 stylist and student, serious jazz scholar and glitzy entertainer, Charette is a burning soloist who understands the tradition of the Hammond B-3 as well its future—just as cerainly as he understands his place in that lineage.
Review of Smalls show by New York Music Daily
Thrills and Subtlety and Paradigm Shifts with the Brian Charette Trio
What’s the likelihood of seeing an organ jazz trio with piano and drums? About as common as seeing three jazz wits as great as bandleader and organist Brian Charette with his new trio including Henry Hey on piano and Jochen Rueckert on drums all on the same stage. Their humor wasn’t broad, some of it was very subtle, some of it very “inside.” And it ran the ganut, with rhythmic and harmonic jousting and the occasional elbow flying as they went into the paint. It’s impossible to imagine any band in New York having as much fun onstage as these three guys had Tuesday night at Smalls.
After years of being championed by this blog and its predecessor, Charette is finally getting well-deserved props from the mainstream jazz media. Organ jazz tends to get stereotyped as gutbucket, toe-tapping music, and a lot of it is – and is supposed to be. But Charette is pushing the envelope as far as anyone has with the style, as this unorthodox lineup attests. Rather than using pedals, the bandleader tirelessly walked the bass with his lefthand while conjuring up a continent worth of rivers of sound, some of them turbulent, some of them bubbly and a couple of them deep and menacing, with his right.
Hey, the longtime David Bowie collaborator, distinguished himself with his imaginative, minimalisticaly insistent lefthand attack while augmenting and spiraling off the bandleader’s kaleidoscopic tangents in the upper registers. Rueckert was the evening’s main instigator, playfully nudging or jabbing the shuffles and struts – and a couple of unexpected waltzes – into the fast lane, or off onto a siding at breakneck speed. Charette arranged an artfully dynamic setlist, as if to say, “Let’s get the complicated stuff out of the way and then do the party stuff after the break when everybody’s all liquored up.” Worked like a charm.
They opened with Time Changes, a wry over-the-shoulder shout back to Dave Brubeck. Rueckert gave the song a floating swing that enabled his own sly shenanigans as much as it smoothed the landing for Charette’s tongue-in-cheek metric mess-around. You might not expect to ever hear organ versions of Tad’s Delight, or Bud Powell’s Dance of the Infidels,as organ jazz or an absolutely rapturous and unexpectedly plaintive take of Larry Young’s Paris Eyes, but that’s Charette. The highlight of the first set was his original, Conquistador, which he explained away as a Spanish-Hungarian hybrid, turning up the smoke on his roto speaker for its rather grim Magyar harmonies.
Ironically, the best song of the night – and Charette’s compositions are songs in the purest sense of the word – happened to be the only moment in more than two hours of music where he lost the crowd. At that point, it was almost one in the morning and all the college kids and a smattering of tourists were full of booze and primed for a party anthem or two. So when Charette brought the eerie cascades of Hungarian Major down for thirty seconds or so – you know, suspense, and dynamics – the kids weren’t with it. But he got them back with the lone Jimmy Smith number of the evening, a pouncing, sprightly take of The Cat. There was also a funky, funny homage to Fred Wesley of the JB’s, and a take of the first jazz tune Charette ever wrote, a look back on a time when the Bach he’d begun with was still front and center in his fingers. Which isn’t to say that it ever left, testament to this guy’s originality and fearlessness in mashing up sounds from jazz, classical, funk and even some deep roots reggae. Charette’s next New York gig as a leader is on New Year’s Day, 2017 at half past noon – yikes – at Jules Bistro on St. Mark’s Place. Then on Jan 11 at 7 PM he’s at Smoke uptown leading a killer trio with guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Ari Hoenig.
Interview with Hammond U.S.A at LA NAMM show
2016 Downbeat Critic's Poll for organ. 4th Place!
Review of brand new album June 2016 Once and Future on Step Tempest
Organist Brian Charette (also quite a fine pianist) has a new album whose concept came during a break at a recording session where he found a copy of his book "101 Hammond B-3 Tips" resting atop the studio's organ. Looking back through the instructional guide where he had written about the "giants of the Hammond Organ", Charette decided his next album would include works by many of this giants as well as nods to the new "Lions" of the instrument.
"Once & Future" is his fourth Trio CD for Posi-Tone and features guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Steve Fidyk. Out of the 14 tracks, three are originals, one is a standard ("At Last" from the pens of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren), and the rest come from either organists or jazz greats - there's even a mighty funky version of James Brown's "Ain't It Funky Now" which would sound out of place on an album by The Meters. There's the hard-edged funk of Larry Young's "Tyrone" that he recorded on his debut for Blue Note "Into Something". A little more of "swing-funk" is heard of "Hot Barbecue" which Jack McDuff recorded in 1965. Fidyk's cymbal work is pretty impressive as is Bernard's chunky riffs and sparkling solo. The legendary Jimmy Smith wrote "Mellow Mood" for his collaboration with guitarist Wes Montgomery who contributed "Road Song" to their project. Charette and company play the tunes back-to-back; the former has a bit of a mysterious sound in the opening that flows throughout the organ solo while the latter is a medium-tempo groove with a pleasant melody and excellent solos from Charette and Bernard (this is his second recording with the organist's trio).
There are a pair of splendid cuts back-to-back in Bud Powell's "Dance of the Infidels" and Woody Shaw's "Zoltan" (as recorded by Larry Young in 1966). Both tracks swing with delight, the former jumping atop the excellent bass lines of Charette while the latter retains the marching band introduction from the original before Fidyk's fine cymbals sets the pace for the organ and guitar.
The leader's three contributions include's the program's closing track, the blues-soaked shuffle "Blues For 96." The sounds the organist gets from his various drawbar settings changes from track to track as well as during the song. What stands out is that not only does each song have its own personality but also that Charette, Bernard, and Fidyk never lose their focus or push the proceedings but let each song unfold organically. And, they are having fun.
"Once & Future" is a pleasure to sit down and listen to. Everyone plays well, the program is smartly chosen, and, with a little digging, you discover organists you have never heard (for instance, Freddie Roach and Leon Spencer). Hats off to Brian Charette for another fine disk. Now, see if you can convince producer Marc Free to record your Sextette!
Derek Taylor's Dusted review of Once and Future
Organ aficionados dismiss Brian Charette at their own disservice. With a Positone label contract in his pocket he’s stepped up his fecundity over the past year and turned out a string of albums that refuse to cow to critics that consider the instrument gauche or played out. Lesser hands accorded such liberal access to the avenues of album production would likely risk a tapering in quality to keep up. Charette’s kept his success record clean, balancing creative ideational execution with a conspicuous mindfulness aimed at fun.
The catalyst for Once & Future is at once unexpectedly self-referential and more broadly historical. At an earlier session Charette happened upon a copy of his own book 101 Hammond B3 Tips on the studio instrument and consequently started pondering the pantheon of players influential to his development. Fourteen pieces pay homage to these eclectic electric forefathers with three coming from Charette’s own design. Guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Steve Fidyk both show themselves game at exploring the guiding conceit of the date to the hilt.
The program starts orthodoxly enough with Fats Waller and the nascent organ inroad “Jitterbug Waltz” lathered here with a heaping helping of swollen, suspirating pedal sustain. Initial predictability gets upended as Charette vaults to the other end of the stylistic organ spectrum with Larry Young’s “Tyrone”, juggling interlocking Latin and funk components while deferring to Bernard for first solo honors. Barely a quarter century separates the two compositions, but each is of seismic importance in measuring the evolution of the instrument’s importance in jazz.
Charette’s “Latin from Manhattan” intentionally matches the formidable kitsch quotient of its title with a syrupy string of fills and a light samba beat. Bernard and Fidyk recline into their roles amiably unperturbed by the lounge-scented surroundings. Freddie Roach’s “Da Bug” works over a rolling call-and-response boogaloo rhythm while Jack McDuff’s “Hot Barbecue”, a Harlem club staple from the Hammond Sixties heyday, gets its well-deserved due with declamatory titular band refrain intact.
Back-to-back burning renditions of Bud Powell’s “Dance of the Infidels” and Woody Shaw’s “Zoltan” signal another course change to more modern fare. Charette flips a switch and hits the angular, staggered theme of the former with a tumescent knife-edged tone that almost eclipses Bernard’s careful comping. The latter tune gives Fidyk the chance to share his press roll and cymbal accent expertise in tandem with the leader’s aggressive tonal swells and spirals. James Brown, Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery comprise the album’s compositional final stretch alongside a few more originals. Charette’s win column remains uncompromised throughout.
Great review of Once and Future in Something Else magazine
While unboxing guitarist Will Bernard’s delightful latest offering Out & About a few months ago, it was impossible not to rave on the key contributions of his combo’s organist Brian Charette. Charette has regularly put in stellar supporting roles whether it’s for Posi-Tone Records stablemates like Bernard or any jazz leader of note in need of some maximal Hammond B3.
And that speaks nothing of Charette’s playing when Charette is in charge of the sessions: he once had the audacity to put his organ alongside four horn players (Music For Organ Sextette) that ended up being one of the most inspired organ jazz record in recent years.
Once & Future (Posi-Tone, June 3, 2016) doesn’t reach for such levels of risk-taking but it does offer the occasion of hearing Charette again trading licks with Bernard, only with the leader/sideman roles reversed. No horns this time as Charette’s group is reduced to the tried-and-true organ/guitar trio (Steve Fidyk brings the drums). As a noted educator of the B3 (he writes instructional books and articles, conducts masterclasses and teaches at workshops), Once & Future can be thought of as a ‘clinic’ record where he touches on many of the various techniques of the jazz organ as well as many shades of sub-styles, from Jimmy Smith to Larry Young. In keeping, only three of these fourteen tunes are his and many of the rest might be familiar to you. They may also titillate with Charette’s manner by which he carries these songs.
He begins paying homage to perhaps the original organ jazz great, Fats Waller; “Jitterbug Waltz” is a 3/4 swing that might be common in mainstream jazz but for some reason isn’t done as often where an organ is involved. At least not with the lilting grace that Charette seems to do so effortlessly. But he can get funky like the best of them, too: Jack McDuff’s “Hot Barbeque” captures the fun of the original’s boogaloo. Charette’s take on James Brown’s “Ain’t It Funky Now” evokes Grant Green’s, but his nasty solo is actually a nod to the late Deep Purple organ giant Jon Lord.
Homage to Young is played on a number written by Woody Shaw, “Zoltan,” which had launched Young’s masterpiece album, Unity. Charette’s solo here is astonishing, he picks up where Young left off and takes it higher. Bud Powell of course wasn’t an organist, he was bop’s most important pianist. But Charette takes on his “Dance of the Infidels” with the right bright attitude and of course, that swing. Jimmy Smith’s “Mellow Mood” is undertaken with Charette not so much recalling Smith as the exotica expressions of Korla Pandit, a twist that like everything else Charette attempts in these sessions, lands on its feet.
“Latin From Manhattan” (streamed above) is Charette’s own samba and he also contributes the blues shuffle “Blues For 96.”
Bernard wasn’t brought on to be a bystander and he delivers tasty blows on Larry Young’s “Tyrone,” goes on one mean blues streak for “96” and gets it square in the pocket for “Ain’t It Funky Now.” Fidyk was given a tall task to pivot from swing to funk to Latin to Elvin Jones’ unique polyrhythmic swing on “Zoltan,” and is never less than rock steady.
Brian Charette gave aspiring jazz organists a lot to chew on with Once & Future but as is evident from my thoughts above, you don’t have to be a student of the instrument to appreciate this record. It’s the perfect record for aspiring (and accomplished) organ-jazz listeners as well.
Review of new album by Dan Bilawsky in All About Jazz NYC
Brian Charette: Once & Future
By DAN BILAWSKY
Published: July 10, 2016
Sign in to view read count
Nobody who wields an instrument of any sort can truly escape the gravitational pull of history. There are many who try to fight it, but better to embrace what came before, acknowledge where a sound or concept originates, and use that knowledge as both a port of arrival and a point of departure. There are no severed ties between past, present, and future; there are only visible and obscured links.
Organist Brian Charette's fourth album on the Posi-Tone imprint is fully invested in that art of recognition, the belief in invention, and, perhaps most importantly, reconciliation between the two. Charette covers a good deal of music written by or associated with some iconic organists—Fats Waller, Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff, and Larry Young among them—and puts the material through his own spin cycle, influenced by modernists among us like the forward-thinking Sam Yahel and chops 'n' groove champion Joey DeFrancesco. The album falls a notch or two lower on the quirky/freewheeling scale than his previous releases for the label, but it's just as enjoyable and listener-friendly.
Charette travels through fourteen songs here with a pair of label-mates who are well-suited to this environment—guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Steve Fidyk. Together they reconstitute a series of classics and should-be classics with originality and taste, mixing in three originals from the leader for good measure. Jocular moods and serious skills mix often, grooves run deep, and transience triumphs, both in terms of style and song length. This crew moves easily and quickly from funk to swing and soul to bop while extending on the tradition(s).
That once and future blend is always in sight, as demonstrated right off the bat on the back-to-back pairing of Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and Young's "Tyrone." The former is tied to the jovial, cascading melodic truths of its origins while the latter is reborn as a funky vehicle in seven. The remainder of the program is no less invested in the idea of bridging then with now. Charette and company have a blast visiting and/or retooling different times, places, and styles—hard bop via "Da Bug," a twenty-four bar blues waltz from Freddie Roach; boogaloo in the form of McDuff's "Hot Barbecue"; straight-up dance floor designs, courtesy of James Brown's "Ain't It Funky Now"—and they invite the listener to smile and join in the party.
Track Listing: Jitterbug Waltz; Tyrone; Latin From Manhattan; Da Bug; At Last; Hot Barbecue; Dance Of The Infidels; Zoltan; The Scorpion; Falling Fourth; Ain't It Funky Now; Mellow Mood; Road Song; Blues For 96.
Personnel: Brian Charette: organ; Will Bernard: guitar; Steve Fidyk: drums.
Great Review of Alphabet City in Downbeat
An in-demand organist on the New York scene, Charette pushes the envelope in a few unconventional directions on his ninth release as a leader. Joined by guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Rudy Royston, the versa-tile crew incorporates James Brown-inspired funk (“They Left Fred Out”), unabashed fusion (the aptly named “Not A Purist”) and Eastern European folk elements (“Hungarian Major”) into the eclectic mix. “Sharpie Moustache” is a minor blues that falls somewhere between The Meters and BookerT & The MG’s while the rock-ish “Disco Nap” turns Royston loose at the tag. “Avenue A” is a gentle ode to Charette’s beloved East Village neighbor-hood and “Split Black” offers Bernard a chance to stretch out on a distortion-laced solo. And while the closer, “The Vague Reply,” is perhaps the most conventional B-3 number here, it is clear that Charette wants to take the organ out of the jazz lounge and test-drive it down some very different roads with this ambitious release. -Bill Milkowski
Review of Alphabet City in Jazz Times
Review of Alphabet City in Ottawa Citizen by Peter Hum
New York organist Brian Charettehas been a tear recording recently — Alphabet City is his third album as a leader on Posi-Tone in about a year and a half. The all-originals disc features him with guitarist Will Bernard and the ubiquitous drummer Rudy Royston, who seems to be on about one in five discs that I receive these days, and with good reason. Charette, by the way, is touring in support of Alphabet City, and hitting the Rex Jazz and Blues Bar in Toronto tonight (Oct. 14) and Thursday, joined by drummer Jordan Young and guitarist Ted Quinlan. Most of Charette’s dozen concise tunes on the new CD falls into several categories. The bracing Larry Young-esque opener, East Village, its more relaxed companion piece West Village and Detours are assured swingers. So is the disc’s closer, The Vague Reply, an edgy minor blues. Charette, Bernard and Royston also have lots of time for funkier, riff-based tunes such as They Left Fred Out, a shoutout to James Brown trombonist Fred Wesley.
Sharpie Moustache is slower and earthier, with a bridge that opens into bright country-tinged twanging. Disco Nap begins in a mellow frame of mind but grows more agitated. The catchy Avenue A has a nice open, upbeat feel to it. Furthest in left field are several outward-bound tunes that feature Charette adding sonic quirks with circuit bent synthesizer as part of his rig. Take for example, the odd-meter, ostinato-driven Split Black; With its raucous distorted guitar, synth effects and early prog-rock vibe, Not A Purist lives up to its name. Hungarian Major explores an exotic scale within a broad soundscape. That leaves the plaintive, waltzing White Lies as the album’s closest thing to a vulnerable ballad. Throughout, Charette, Bernard and Royston display plenty of depth and versatility in making the most of the material and making it come alive.
Review of Alphabet City by George Colligan on Jazz Truth
"Alphabet City:" Brian Charette's Triumphant New Album
Hammond B-3 organ is kind of a thing unto itself. It's not just an instrument, it's a lifestyle. You could take that literally when you consider that, whether you play a "clonewheel" ( meaning a digital keyboard which is designed to emulate the B-3 sound) or an actual B-3, C-3, or what have you Hammond organ, you need at the very minimum a car, or maybe a van, a storage space, and perhaps 3 friends to help you carry the organ into the club( hopefully not up the stairs!). Don't forget about the Leslie speaker! I have always considered myself a dabbler in the B-3 lifestyle( I've recorded and toured as an "organist" but I'm not anyone's first call...also didn't have three friends to help with the lifting....ha ha). It seems as though older generations delineate clearly who is a pianist and who is an organist( meaning you won't see McCoy Tyner playing organ, or Jimmy Smith playing piano....not that I'm aware of....at least not frequently.....). Among the younger generation, you have the dyed in the wool organists like Joey DeFrancesco, Cory Henry, Pat Bianchi, Jared Gold, and then you have the guys who went from piano to organ, like Larry Goldings, Gary Versace, Mike LeDonne (and I guess yours truly.....come on Downbeat give me a chance......).
Then you have Brian Charette. After reading Charette's bio, I see that he has a classical piano background. I am familiar with some of his writing in Keyboard magazine on the harmonic techniques of Olivier Messian. Charette could be put in the latter category of pianists turned organists; however, after listening to his latest release on Positone, " Alphabet City," he has convinced me that organ is his true calling. He's so convincing on the instrument; the bass lines, the groove/hookup with drumming wiz Rudy Royston, the fluidity of his right hand, the cool drawbar settings he uses for "comping" for guitarist Will Bernard's solos- all of these things for me put him in the solid " organist's organist" category.
"Alphabet City" has something for every jazz fan: clever, brainy up tempo burners( "East Village"), funky jams( "They Left Fred Out"), medium tempo groovers( "West Village"), psychedelic fusion experiences( "Not A Purist"), soulful second line sermons( "Sharpie Moustache"), music for driving on the highway( "Disco Nap"), music for haunted houses("Hungarian Minor"), music for 70's TV shows("Avenue A"), and so much more. This is not " Back At The Chicken Shack" by any means, and yet Charette, even with the weird sounding smattering of synths and variety of moods, convinces me that the Hammond B-3 is his voice, and he's taking it out of the box and bringing it into the 21st century. Essentially, Brian Charette's "Alphabet City" is the type ofrecord I wish I could make!
Catch Brian Charette at the Jazz Standard on October 13.
In depth interview in Czech magazine Harmonie
Review of Alphabet City in Dusted Magazine
The East Village neighborhood of Brian Charette’s residence, Alphabet City is also the organist’s ninth album as a leader and his second of 2015. Signing with the Positone label last year has certainly upped his recorded output, but one of the potential dangers with rampant fecundity is a nosedive in quality. Charette hedges his bet on that score by sticking to a winsome trio formula with guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Rudy Royston joining him in the realization of a dozen originals.
The format may be a familiar one, but Charette invests his compositions with plenty of personal flair and meaning from the opening bebop sprint of “East Village” where his whirring fills work as rocket fuel for Bernard’s fleet single note solo. “They Left Fred Out” works as a playful musical indictment of the omission of Mr. Wesley from the narrative arc of a recent James Brown biopic. Royston resides easily in the pocket with tight snare syncopations and Bernard once again takes the spotlight bolstered by some feverish comping from the leader.
“Sharpie Moustache”, a funky instrumental ode to one of Charette’s favorite cocktails, and the laidback “Disco Nap” supply more comedic fodder in their titles and ebullient delivery. “Not a Purist” brings in a strong British prog sensibility with Charette officiating over a bank of circuit bent synthesizers for a breakneck A-section. Bernard gladly takes the bait, dialing up his amplification and distortion for a solo that feeds into a kaleidoscopic finish. “Hungarian Major” switches gears and flips switches once again, exploring the intricacies of an Eastern European scale for an outcome that’s part zamboni, part planetarium head trip.
Constrained to jukebox-sized proportions for the most part, the pieces aren’t verbose enough to outlast their welcome. “Detours” is the lengthiest at just over five minutes and its concentrated blend of off-kilter chords and diagonal rhythm changes from Latin to shuffle serve as just the sort of varied playing field Charette thrives on. Bernard’s brittle, rock-inflected picking cuts through another electronics-augmented assault by the leader on “Split Back” while “White Lies” and “The Vague Reply” align as two sides of an ideational coin in exploring the confluence of Lydian harmony and the blues. In Charette’s playbook the selection of source material is always an equal opportunity venture.
Winner 2014 Downbeat Critic's Poll "Rising Star:Organ"
4th Place 2015 Downbeat Critic's Pool climbing from Winner: Rising Star Last Year
Great Double review of both new records from DownBeat
Cheeky Jazzwise review from the Sextette's London Show
Brian Charette Organ Sextette – Pizza Express, London
“I’m gonna get myself a cocktail,” Brian Charette decides as show-time looms. With a borrowed Hammond B3 and high-class local stand-ins for his New York Organ “Sextette”, Charette is relaxed and interested in the prospect of these strangers playing his music.
His six acclaimed albums are influenced by Larry Young at least as much as the inevitable Jimmy Smith. More even than that, he’s an Anglophile prog-rocker at heart, idolising Keith Emerson, and was pretty much drummed out of the sometimes stiflingly doctrinaire New York scene for several years for playing rock. His music tonight doesn’t raise the soulful steam his instrument usually suggests. Its boredom with bop or soul-jazz verities leads to less well-mapped territory; even so, there’s a feeling that he’s boxing himself in for the jazz circuit’s sake, and not letting rip with all he has.
Gareth Lockrane (flute), Sammy Mayne (alto sax), Osian Roberts (tenor sax), James Allsopp (bass clarinet) and Matt Fishwick (drums) are Charette’s enviable pick-up band. It’s the clarinet that gives this line-up its edge, finding sinuous melancholy on ‘Computer God’, as the alto completes a pensive ascent. Allsopp suggests the urban romance of ‘40s New York, too, before the sax was fully king.
‘Fugue for Kathleen Anne/The Ex-Girlfriend Variations’ (exes are, Charette confesses, a theme) begins sounding like mediaeval court music on the Hammond, then becomes smooth, churchy funk, surging forward as Charette pours it on for the climax. The B3’s versatility, evoking both 1960s futurism and Anglican classicism, is fully explored.
‘Risk’ begins as a tiptoe down the stairs that becomes a drunken tumble, before Charette settles into a sort of smooth staccato, then strikes a more jarring beat with drummer Fishwick. ‘Prayer for an Agnostic’ includes a comfortingly mournful alto solo, and more introspective tenor work. Charette again shows church chops, though he hasn’t darkened the door of one for years, and finishes faintly recalling The Band’s Americana organ genius, Garth Hudson.
Lockrane plays the funkiest, hardest-blowing flute I’ve heard in a while on ‘The Question That Drives Us’, as Charette calls and conducts from his stool. ‘Cherokee’ and Gershwin’s ‘A Foggy Day’ (“the most traditional tune in our book”) offer more familiar ground, perhaps reluctantly, but Charette’s breathy club organ on the latter leads his ad hoc band into sleek, cruising union by its end.
It would take a greater mind than mine to explain Messiaen’s harmonic ideas, as apparently explored in ‘French Birds’, but as white-shirted altoist Mayne leans back to play bop and Charette helps Fishwick start to really hammer it, it all works.
Charette accurately announces ‘The Elvira Pacifier’ as “our reggae tune…with a disco ending.” Its melodic optimism rises in volume and speed, in a decent climax. The atmosphere stays low-key, as if nothing crucial is at stake. But some worthwhile ideas achieved by disparate musicians linger in the mind.
– Nick Hasted
Jazz Times Review of Square One and The Question That Drives Us
Hammond organ master Brian Charette leads a spirited, driving trio on Square One, his relatively straight-ahead and winning debut on the American label Posi-Tone. The Question That Drives Us, on the Danish label SteepleChase, features a Charette sextet of unusual voicings on a more complex and worldly outing. Each CD reflects different facets of Charette, a restless composer, arranger and sonic colorist who leverages the B-3’s musical palette with zest and aplomb.
Not that the music Charette plays on Square One is simple-minded, but it is compact and purposeful, deployed for maximum drama. In fact, it ranges wide and goes deep, from the neo-soul-jazz of “Aaight!” to the melodic, shimmering ballad “True Love” and the sharp, witty “Things You Don’t Mean,” a hypnotically rhythmic track with a sci-fi flair that sets up the free, gnarly finale, “Ten Bars for Eddie Harris.” Sparked by the guitar of Yotam Silberstein, who is as much of a sonic adventurer as Charette, and Mark Ferber, whose knowing drumming spans second-line and electronica-informed rhythms, Square One blends originals with a sharp, boppish take on Joe Henderson’s “If” and a spare, respectful rendition of “Ease Back,” a 1969 Meters tune that never loses its pop and snap. Charette’s band, no matter the format, has fun. While this is serious music-making by instrumentalists who know their way around all kinds of styles, it’s music to be enjoyed and even danced to rather than studied.
If Square One is tight and fierce, The Question is easily as disciplined but perhaps more conversational. Bracketed by the slouchy, clever “Blazinec” (note how the tune deconstructs then gets itself back together) and a take on Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche” that affirms Charette’s bop bona fides, The Question features Itai Kriss on flute, Mike DiRubbo on alto saxophone, Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, John Ellis on bass clarinet, Charette on B-3 and Jochen Rueckert on drums.
The title tune is a kind of round. “Answer Me” is a funny, funky tune built around the notion of dialogue, the calls shifting slightly to evoke slightly shifting responses. “Svichkova,” like “Blazenic,” seems a kind of character study, Charette’s B-3 serving as the narrator of the story. “5th Base” is a cinematic neighborhood prowl; Rueckert’s ride cymbal ushers in a smoky Ellis bass clarinet turn.
There isn’t a weak tune on this album, which ends upbeat with three accelerating tracks: the bubbly “Denge Merenge,” the smooth, creamy “I Came So Far to See You” and the Parker classic. No matter the style on the SteepleChase disc, its cuts bristle with cleverness and personality. Charette has assembled a sextet equal to any task he sets, a group that can raise the roof while it blows your mind. Subtly.
Peter Hum interview from Ottawa Citizen
About six years ago, on the other side of the world, Brian Charette came to the decision that has transformed him into a self-described “driven” man.
“I was in a hotel in Tokyo for three days. I was 36 years old, and I had just broken up with a girl. And I’m like that’s it, I’m going to be a great Hammond organist in jazz,” he recalls.
It’s not as if Charette would be starting from scratch. The New Yorker, now 41, had been gigging on organ since he was 20, and before that he was a precociously talented pianist.
But since his Tokyo epiphany, Charette, who in the next week will play gigs with his trio in Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal and Les Brasseurs du Temps in Hull, has worked hard to raise his game artistically and career-wise.
Charette recalls that he first immersed himself in music and the piano when he was all of three years old.
“My mother played piano, we had a piano in my house in Meriden, Connecticut. On the piano was a green book of American folk songs. One of the first things that I did when I was able to do things, I would walk down to the piano, I would open the book to a two page song called The Great Wall Of China. It had a picture of the Great Wall Of China on top and I would just sit there for hours and play the piano, staring at this picture.”
“I had a piano teacher until I was about 12 and I wasn’t super into playing the piano and I quit and I started playing guitar.”
But a few years later, Charette returned to playing piano in his high school’s jazz band. And before too long, he was playing all kinds of gigs.
“When I was about 15 I started to play a lot of gigs with bands. I went on some auditions. I don’t remember how it all began really. I started to play music a lot. When I was 16 I was already working four or five nights a week. They were all different kinds of things … I played in a bunch of tribute bands … When I was a kid growing up, Hartford was an amazing scene for music. Brad Mehldau was from there. Joel Frahm was from there … all of these guys that went on to be huge jazz stars.
“I started to play lots of great gigs, I actually became friendly with a booking agent who would put me on gigs with Lou Donaldson and Houston Person, the Blues Brothers, lots of big acts that would come through town. I almost played with more people like that when I was 17 than I do now.”
What made music such a fun and engrossing pursuit?
“It was very empowering. I was kind of a heavy kid, I actually had hearing problems for the first part of my life, when I started playing music it made me feel pretty powerful. I got some nice girlfriends … very primitive stuff, you know.
“It made me feel like I realized my purpose. I knew then that I knew I was going to this. There was never a question of oh what will I do. I knew then that that was it.”
Charette speaks of these gigs matter-of-factly. He says that jazz basically came quickly to him, but he isn’t one to boast.
“I don’t think I was that good. I got quickly got the system of the piano for jazz. I think I progressed a very far way in a short a mount of time and then it took me a long time to get the last little bit.
“I was kind of 40 years old when I was 15. I feel like my personality has changed a lot. But the playing, my approach, that has been in place for a long time … I don’t sound a lot different than I sound now. Maybe I play a little less now. I play some strange harmonic systems.
“My approach is not mystical. It’s all science. It’s all shapes and patterns. The only real thing I can do is notice patterns. I’m not super-smart or super-talented. I just see patterns and I work hard.”
While Charette attended the University of Connecticut for classical music, he has also taken lessons from two of jazz’s foremost teachers.
“I had two guru teachers who totally changed my life. Kenny Werner was one. I actually studied very little with him.
“Then Charlie Banacos, I studied with him a lot. He is where a lot of my ammunition came from. He was a genius guy. He basically showed me all the modern jazz stuff. What Michael Brecker was doing, what George Garzone was doing, what Chick Corea was doing, That really demystified that stuff for me.
“The system of music to me is so simple,” Charette says. “It’s so small. And it does the same thing all the time. It follows the rules. It’s my favourite thing about it, almost even more than the music, is that it’s a system that works.”
Soon after graduating from university in the mid-1990s, Charette moved to New York City, into the East Village apartment where he still lives. “I was still only playing piano and kind of starving,” Charette remembers. “I think I was a telemarketer for Carnegie Hall.
“And then I bought a Hammond organ rig, a small one … a Hammond XB 2 … I remember unpacking it in my kitchen. And I got called for an organ gig that night.
“I just started to get called to play organ. There were not a lot of organists at all. There’s still not a lot. If you’re in New York City and you play organ, you’re going to get called for a lot of gigs.”
“I kind of stopped playing organ for a while around 2000 … I was doing beats for rappers and stuff like this. I also went back to playing guitar a lot. On my first album, in 2001, I actually played guitar, not organ.
“I didn’t think of anything back then. I was actually not a very driven person then. I am a very driven person now. I was very different in that time of my life than I am now.
“But then about six or seven years ago, I became really interested in Hammond organ to the exclusion of all the other things that I’d been involved with.”
In other words, the decision in Tokyo was made.
“I started making a list of the things I needed to do to get to a better place in my career than I was. I needed a record deal, I needed all of these things, and I just systematically went about checking off the list.
“That was the first time that I really started to apply myself full to this.
“I had an album, that first one. Then I kind of did nothing until when I was 36, when I had my first Steeplechase record. That’s when I started to try to tour playing with my groups and play gigs in New York City in better rooms.”
Artistic development was also part of Charette’s plan.
“The first thing I did was I started to get really into Bach. I became able to play Well-Tempered Clavier. I basically learned all of Book 1. I took a few years to really assimilate all that stuff.
“I also worked on this strange harmonic system from the French composer named Olivier Messiaen.
“I started to study materials by Ari Hoenig, this drummer who’s amazing with polyrhythms. We played a lot. I’ve known him for 20 years. I work from his books, which are excellent. He also has great videos. He’s a brilliant mathematician. He’s a genius.
“To me, he and this drummer, Jochen Ruckert, and Danny Weiss, these three guys for time, to me, it’s like an endless study, those three guys.
“These three things around this time I started to get pretty deeply in.”
Charette calls his 2012 album Music For Organ Sextette “my first really worthwhile artistic statement.
“I feel like I did not really arrive on my previous efforts. My intention became very focused around that point. I was starting to get a real clear idea of what I wanted to do.”
“I’m kind of an unusual organist,” he elaborates. “I play really crazy shit. I’m not really a traditionalist. I was actually resistant to being that way. A lot of times when you’re hired to play organ, people want a very specific thing.
“For a while was losing lots of gigs. People were just like Brian, you’re too out. I tried to mute it for a long time. But I think with that sextet record, I started to say this is the way I want to play my music. That was a big step for me.
Earlier this year, Charette has seen two CDs under his name released. A second sextet album, The Question That Drives Us, came out on Steeplechase, and an organ trio album called Square One was released on Posi-Tone.
“I play more traditionally on the trio disc. But still I have this circuit bent synthesizer. I don’t know any organ trio records that have something crazy like that. It has solder wired in the back of it so it interrupts the circuits. The thing misfires and makes crazy electronic glitch noises.
“The big goal for me now is to get into the bigger festivals,” Charette says. “The dream is to play at Newport. I have a dream to play the Hartford Jazz Festival because that’s where I’m from. I just want to see how far I can go.
“My dream is to just wake up, think about music or exercise and have everything taken care of for me, and just go some place and play a concert and go to sleep. I’m a ways from there.
“I’m working a lot at making all of these things happen. It’s really do-it-yourself now. Everything that’s happened to me has come from me at this point. Marc Free (at Posi-tone) does great radio and press campaigns. I’ve hired people to do things. There’s some good publicists. I work with Matt Merewitz sometimes.
“I feel like it’s been a long road for me. I wish I would have been in this place 10 years ago. But better now than never.
What does it mean for Charette to come up and play a handful dates in Canada?
“I love it. I love being in Canada. It’s like the United States with no guns. It’s very beautiful, I like the clubs there. I love to play at the Rex too in Toronto.
And I’m half-French Canadian, so I would come up to Quebec as a kid and go to the Chateau Frontenac, so I have very fond memories of being there as a child.
“I was super into the scene in Ottawa (at the jazz festival) when we were there. I love to travel around and play gigs.
“I have to tell you, a lot of times I‘ll do concerts and tours and I won’t make a lot of money at all. But by being out there and being visible, other people hire me. It all works out in the end.
Take Five interview from All About Jazz
Meet Brian Charette:
Grammy-nominated organist/pianist, Brian Charette, has established himself as a leading voice in modern jazz. Besides being a critically acclaimed composer and bandleader, he has worked with many notable artists such as Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan, Lou Donaldson and countless others.
Charette is a Hammond endorsed, SteepleChase and Posi-Tone recording artist. In 2013, Charette released Borderline(Steeplechase), his sixth as a leader and was rated with 3 ½ stars in Downbeat. His recordings have been dubbed as "Reliably burning" by Jazz Times and he has been called a "Master of space and time" by WGBO. In the Spring 2014, Charette will release The Question That Drives Us and Square One for SteepleChase and Posi- Tone respectively.
This year, Charette has been playing very successful engagements in NYC, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, Spain, Indonesia, Czech Republic and Germany. He also just placed 2nd in the 2013 Downbeat Critic's Poll for "Rising Star: Organ" for the second year in a row.
Mr. Charette is an active educator. In addition to writing for Keyboard Magazine, Downbeat, and Muzikus, he teaches master classes all over the world, and is on the faculty of the Czech Summer Jazz Workshop at Jezek Conservatory in Prague. He also has a new Hammond Organ instructional video on mymusicmasterclass.com and is featured prominently on two new Mel Bay instructional DVDs by Rodney Jones and Sheryl Bailey.
Outside of music, Brian is passionate about chess and White Crane kung fu, which he holds a black sash.
Piano and organ.
Teachers and/or influences?
Kenny Werner and Charlie Banacos.
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I was three and would wander down to the piano, open a book called Folk Songs to a two page song called, "The Great Wall." I would stare at the animated picture of the Great Wall of China with people walking, merchants selling, and a horse drawn ambulance while improvising for hours.
Your sound and approach to music:
I play jazz but I would have to say I'm more of a rocker in my approach. I can be very angular and aggressive in the way I play. I try to balance this with extensive use of space and compositional devices. The solos in my groups are often very short and the motives of the pieces can be very minimal and trance inducing.
Your teaching approach:
I try to show students how to spend time practicing only things they are weak in. After they identify the problem, I tell them to only focus their practice on one weak area at a time until they really internalize the concept they are working on. For example, I had one student practice only in the key of Ab minor for a month. At the end of the month, the student always sounded amazing when we got to an Ab chord change and before had always stumbled over the chord.
Your dream band:
I already have two dream bands with the trio and sextet. I do have a fantasy of playing piano duos with Chick Corea. I would also very much like to play with Roy Haynes.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
One time, 20 years ago, I was playing in Brussels. The King of Belgium had just died a few days before. We were playing in a very big festival with about 8,000 people. There were huge video screens on the side of the stage. The singer picked up a picture of the king that had just died from a cigarette machine backstage and held it up to the audience. There was a camera on him and all the people started to cheer. The road manager on the side of the stage started to wave his arms furiously to put the picture down. The singer gave the road manager the bird and told him to relax. Unfortunately, one of the cameras was on him, and all 8,000 Belgians saw was a big middle finger in front of the picture of their beloved king. They threw rocks and beer at us for an hour. We made the news and left very quickly the morning after the show never to return.
My favorite place to play is Small's in NYC. It has the best vibe of any jazz place I have ever been. I also feel so supported by Spike Wilner and the whole gang at Smalls.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
My favorite recording is definitely my new Posi-Tone record Square One. I feel like this is best sounding and looking recording I've ever made. I've been friends with Marc and Nick at Posi-tone for quite a while. We planned this record for about two years and the musicians, photographer, and graphic designer were very thoughtfully chosen. Yotam Silberstein and Mark Ferber are great friends and play my music like they wrote it themselves. I also love the sound of the organ in Michael Brorby's studio. Nick is amazing at mixing, and Marc is great with producing, radio and press. I feel like we make a great team and I have very high hopes for the future with Posi-tone.
In depth review in Jazz Inside Magazine
Downbeat Feature Article Jan 2014
Downbeat Sextette Review
2013 Downbeat Critic's Poll 2nd place "Rising Star: Organ"
July Smoke concert picked by Village Voice as one of the month's best concerts
Brian Charette Organ Sextette
Brian Charette has the Hammond organ tradition in his blood, covering every base from unaccompanied to classic trio to the advanced four-horn unit he calls the Sextette. At Smoke on July 10, he'll draw from the 2012 disc Music for Organ Sextette and get deep into things with Itai Kriss on flute, Mike DiRubbo on alto, Kenny Brooks on tenor, Norbert Stachel on bass clarinet and the amazing Jochen Rueckert on drums.
Review of the Sextette in the Prague Post
Brian Charette, far left, says Prague is a city that respects the arts, including jazz music, and that is why he keeps coming back.
As a jazzman, Brian Charette has backed Joni Mitchell, Chaka Khan and Joe Jackson at Central Park's Summerstage, and proved an accomplished solo Hammond organist on top of that. He has also been nominated for a Grammy, though not at all as a jazzman: His nod came for a comedy album that he participated on in a largely production capacity. In 2003, he worked the levels on the Warner Bros. debut album for comedian Robert Smigel, a writer for Conan O'Brien and Saturday Night Live's "TV Funhouse" bits, not to mention the voice of Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.
It was indeed on that very Yugoslavian Mountain Hound's Come Poop With Me that Charette and Co. got the near-Grammy recognition by extension. The dog rings up STD hotlines and calls cats the C-word, and sings a bunch with celebrity guests.
"I was not playing very much at the time," Charette writes in an e-mail. "The album was a big hit, but the content is a little profane, lots of swear words and sexual humor, so I'm a little on the fence about how I feel about it."
Charette does feel good, however, about playing his original jazz in Prague: He has done so several times in the past two years. Back in New York City, he has a Czech girlfriend, and, over on this side, he is simply awed by Prague and its cultural investments and rewards.
"I feel like the arts are so respected in this city, especially jazz music," Charette writes. "There is a feeling here like NYC had to me when I first moved there: lots of interesting bands and players and an audience that has great interest in the performances. NYC is so expensive now that most of my artist friends can't even afford to live there anymore. As a result, the crazy types (my favorites) aren't really around as much as they used to be."
He also notes that, for a city its size, Prague has a disproportionate number of jazz venues, and Charette should know this as he has so far played at a handful.
"I just want to say that I love playing music in Prague," Charette writes. "Of all the places I've been, it's my favorite place to be an artist. I feel like the scene for jazz music is especially great here."
Fans can prove Charette and his stagemates right by showing their support at one of three shows through Sunday, Dec. 9.
Interview by Sean O' Connell in LA Weekly
The last time I was here, I was chased out of my agent's place in West Hollywood with a baseball bat...Long story short, out comes the bat and I had to pack up my things in Trader Joe's bags and split. Halfway down the strip to my friend Samsonic's house, I passed a few other LA bums with their stuff in bags just like me. We looked each other up and down for a moment, then kept walking. I'm hoping this [L.A.] outing has a little less drama. -Brian Chrette's email pitch to LA Weekly
"Feel it," says the New York-based organist Charette, offering his pinky finger. "It's fused." We are standing at the bar of a small French bistro in Manhattan, having just met five minutes prior. His pinky finger is fixed into a permanent crook due to an amp falling on it ten years ago. "I can't play classical anymore" says Charette examining his damaged digit. "But I can still play jazz!"
Charette is the consummate road-warrior, and he has the scars to prove it. His pulpy organ sound has backed such disparate artists as soul-jazz legend Lou Donaldson and scarf-draped dandy Rufus Wainwright. This Tuesday Charette plays the first of three gigs in Los Angeles at the Mint alongside guitarist Greg Erba and drummer Andy Sanesi.
The night before we met, Charette played a gig in Boston. The next day, he was bound for Prague. After Los Angeles comes a couple of weeks in Southeast Asia. This dedication to gigging, although not much for his social life, has brought him before a lot of crowds. "I play about 330 gigs a year. In New York in the '90s, I'd play ten or eleven gigs a week!" He adds wistfully: "Those days are long gone."
To make up for it Charette has taken to what many stability-craving musicians do: he's teaching. "I just started writing these master class articles for Keyboard magazine. They're a lot of fun and the response has been great." Tackling subjects like orchestration and chord voicings, Charette has found a forum for his techniques, and he offers private lessons via Skype.
Charette has a controlled sound on the organ, taking a classic approach to both technique and instrumentation with his bands. His nimble lines follow in the footsteps of B3 masters like Jimmy Smith and Dr. Lonnie Smith. His patience and deliberation led WBGO tastemaker Josh Jackson to declare Charette a "master of space and time."
But Charette isn't just master of musical battles. As his website kungfugue.com attests, Charette could probably beat the shit out of you too; after all, he holds a "black sash" in White Crane kung fu, whatever that is. After ten years of study with a few less-than-stable mentors, Charette could probably do some damage, crooked pinky and all. He is even embarking on a project to bring his passions together, incorporating kung fu into his music like modern dance.
For now, Charette is focused on playing as many gigs as it takes to pay the rent. Despite being warmly embraced by the people of the Czech Republic finding an audience in sunnier domestic climates has proven difficult. "I have put more time into booking Los Angeles than anywhere else," says Charette. "I've made three trips to L.A. in the last year and a half. What's interesting is the crowd but I love it in L.A. I especially like walking there."
Plain Dealer Interview by Chuck Yarborough
Eating is one of those hard habits to break. It starts the minute a kid comes into the world and ends when he leaves it. So in the meantime, you do what you gotta do to keep it up.
"The story is when I moved to New York 20 years ago, I was playing piano and I was starving," said Brian Charette in a Skype call from Prague. "On a whim, I bought a Hammond XB2 and a small 302 speaker."
"That night, I started to get calls to play organ gigs," said Charette, who brings his trio to Nighttown Tuesday night."That week, I went from no gigs to having three or four every night."
You might say it's worked out for him. In addition to continuing that eating habit – in moderation, of course – Charette has parlayed his organ skills into a jazz Grammy nomination and finished second to Mike LeDonne in Downbeat magazine's Rising Star poll on organists. His latest CD, "Music for Organ Sextette," is starting to show up on a lot of best of the year lists, including that of NY Jazz magazine, and this one from Something Else! Reviews:
"Charette had a great idea to shake up the traditional organ combo format by adding four horns to it and offered something unique that succeeded not because of the idea, but because the idea was executed so well," wrote critic S. Victor Aaron.
The B3 – his current organ of choice – is more common in rock circles, but it's not unheard of in jazz. It's just rare, which works to Charette's advantage.
"It is a typical instrument for jazz, but there are few people that really play it," he said. "There are thousands of piano players, but many fewer real organists. That also is why I like the organ."
Oddly enough, Charette hasn't been a lifelong jazz guy. His schooling at the University of Connecticut and the Hartt School of Music in his home state was in classical piano, his first instrument.
"I was not a prodigy. I was in my late 30s before I started to play on the level I needed to play on to be a contender," said Charette, who just turned 40. "It was very difficult for me and I worked very hard at it."
Naturally, there had to be inspiration, and it came from some unusual sources.
"I came to it [his specific organ sound] not through jazz, but just listening to the music of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Yes," Charette said. "Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman were improvising in those groups. Emerson is the bridge – a rock musician, but versed in jazz and classical. That's when I began to understand about jazz harmonies."
But that thought process has added a different dimension to Charette's style of jazz, which is not so much about precise playing as it is about emotional impact.
"I don't care about mistakes," he said of his bands – he uses different lineups depending on where he's playing. "I don't care if they play the parts exactly right. I want it to have emotional impact and I want it to involve the audience."
He calls his shows almost performance art. Entertaining performance art.
"I don't want to lump jazz into a category, but a lot of jazz is uptight, very controlled," he said. "Nobody is smiling. My aim for this group is to have jazz music everyone can enjoy and tap their feet to.
"I want girls to like it," he said. "It's rare to see girls at some jazz concerts," he said. "I want it to be for everybody." And that is why there are elements of reggae, hard rock and other genres in his music, sort of a jazz-seasoned smorgasbord.
Gee, is anybody else hungry?
Hartford Courant Interview by Mike Hamad
If the joyous intersection of jazz, funk, gospel, soul and blues could be expressed by a single sound, you might locate it among the manuals and switches of a Hammond B-3 organ.
In the hands of the right players — Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, Joey DeFrancesco, Barbara Dennerlein and others — the B-3 is a band within a band, slicing through drums and cymbals with melodic lines while laying down its own walking-bass counterpoint. The B-3 comps behind a guitar or saxophone with soul and grit, but without the percussive clatter of a piano. It conjures the church or speakeasy at will, like adjacent properties on the same sidewalk.
For two decades and counting, Brian Charette, who grew up in Meriden, has been one of NYC's busiest organists. Last year, Charette released two albums of organ-trio jazz, "Square One" and "Good Tipper," on Posi-tone Records, within a span of six months.
At Lincoln Center this past weekend, Charette served as musical director for a tribute to guitarist Wes Montgomery, who recorded his most exhilarating work in trios with organist Melvin Rhyne (Charette's primary influence). This Saturday, March 14, Charette returns home with his Mighty Grinders, a trio with guitarist Will Bernard and drummer Eric Kalb, for a gig at the 9th Note in New Haven.
As a teenager, Charette studied classical piano at UConn while picking up jazz from Ellen Rowe, Kenny Werner and Charlie Banacos. He gigged all over the state with the popular band Street Temperature and worked with bassist Paul Brown and saxophonists Houston Person and Lou Donaldson.
"It was really amazing, actually," Charette said. "In some ways, they were the brightest musical moments of my life, and I didn't even play organ yet."
After touring in the Czech Republic, Charette felt the pull of New York City; he moved into the East Village building depicted on the cover of Led Zeppelin's 1975 album "Physical Graffiti," where he still lives. (It's also one of his favorite albums.)
"I had never seen a cockroach before," Charette said. "New York is good, because everyone who comes here has to go through some sort of growth crisis of some kind. You really come up against your weaknesses, and you're surrounded by people who are really brilliant. You have to pull yourself together."
One night, Charette got a call to play organ, for a club gig right on his block. "I couldn't even play the organ at all," he said. Soon, Charette located a studio on the Lower East Side, bought a B-3 and went to work.
"I would practice it all day. I started to play a lot of gigs in Harlem, where you play with a lot of saxophones. It's a very good place to be for the Hammond organ. I cut my teeth up there with some of those acts, and I just started to do it all the time."
Even at clubs like the Blue Note, Charette plays a digital organ. "A lot of times, the B-3 is the worst option, especially if I'm on tour in Europe," he said. "The B-3s are really sketchy sometimes." He works closely with Hammond, who supplied him with the SK1, a one-manual digital organ designed to sound like a B-3.
"It's really incredible… One manual is a slight compromise, because you're used to playing two manuals, but for traveling, two manuals isn't even an option. There's no airline that would take that without charging you much more. Traveling with the instrument: Lufthansa just wrecked one of my keyboards. It's tough to travel. There's no great organ solution for traveling."
Of Charette's two most recent releases, "Good Tipper" is the more traditional collection, with 1960s covers (the Zombies' "Time of the Season" and Glen Campbell's "Wichita Lineman") and a slightly lounge-y vibe. "Square One" is slightly more adventurous; listen to the jagged metric shifts (on "Time Changes"), the occasional slips into bent-circuit electronica ("Things You Don't Mean") and rugged funk workouts (Charette's cover of the Meters' "Ease Back," for example).
Still, Charette suggests, the separation of the material into two distinct albums is a sort of sleight-of-hand.
"We had so much music recorded," he said. "A lot of times we have so much more music than we can fit on the albums, and I actually have a lot of releases for Posi-tone. They come out really quickly. I have another one coming in two months, and they're still playing 'Good Tipper.' I have a lot of material."
Charette's travels still include the Czech Republic, where he once lived for part of the year.
"My girlfriends have all been Czech for many years," Charette said. "I think any American who lives in Prague, that's their story. The girls are bewitching, for sure."