Greg Hatza Organ-iztion at The Mainstay, Saturday, Sept. 2

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Greg Hatza

Greg Hatza, one of the great, unsung heroes of the jazz organ brings his group to The Mainstay in Rock Hall, Saturday September 2,  at 8 p.m. for an evening of blues, R&B and soul  jazz.

An acknowledged master of the jazz organ, an expressive instrument that bears traditions ranging from gospel to blues. Hatza coaxes his own brand of rootsy, blues-based jazz from the instrument, a funky, soulful, sinuous sound that satisfies the groove junkie in every listener.

A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, Hatza’s musical instincts developed as early and as naturally as the ability to walk, and by the age of four, he was picking out blues and boogie woogie tunes on the piano and started formal lessons shortly thereafter. He became obsessed with the Hammond B3 organ as a teen when a friend turned him on to records by Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Ray Charles, and Johnny Hammond Smith. At 16, he played his first professional jazz gig with the Frankie Scott Trio, playing around small towns in central Pennsylvania.

Because there were no jazz organ instructors at the time, he was largely self-taught, learning from local and visiting organ players at jam sessions at a local club called the Grand Hotel.

It was at the Grand, that Baltimore Colts football great and jazz fan Lenny Moore heard him and asked the teenager to perform at a club he was opening in Baltimore. Moore became his manager and Baltimore became Hatza’s home. He played at the club for four years and during that time recorded two albums for MCA subsidiary label Coral Records, “The Wizardry of Greg Hatza” and “Organized Jazz.”

In the late sixties, Baltimore was still an organ town and had its share of great players. Hatza really got a chance to hone his jazz organ skills by playing with the best musicians in town. Moore’s club was a great stopping point for national jazz artists who came to Baltimore to perform.  It was here that Hatza met his mentor Jimmy Smith and got to play with him. He also met and got to play in jam sessions with such personalities as Kenny Burrell, Groove Holmes, Damita Joe, Philly Joe Jones, Roland Kirk, Les McCann, James Moody, and Sonny Stitt.

With the trend towards more advanced electronic keyboard and rhythms, Hatza adapted to the trend, switching from the Hammond B-3 to the electric keyboard and piano. He played in different be-bop groups and as a member of the contemporary fusion band Moon August which was awarded the title “Cultural Ambassadors” for the city of Baltimore under then Mayor Kurt Schmoke. The group traveled to Kawasaki, Japan for the 20th anniversary celebration of the Kawasaki/Baltimore Sister City Exchange.

Since then Hatza has become a fixture on the Baltimore jazz scene. He received a degree in composition from the Peabody Conservatory, and a Master’s from Baltimore’s Towson State University, where he taught jazz, piano composition, improvisation and music theory for many years turning students on to the wonders of the organ as well.

He also expanded his stylistic scope to include distinct international elements studying tabla, sitar and erhu, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle.

In 1994, Greg met Joey DeFranscesco who told him the Hammond B-3 was enjoying a popular renaissance.  He formed the Greg Hatza ORGANization and has been performing and recording on the instrument non-stop since that time. For the last fifteen years, in partnership with the Rev. Dred Scott, he formed a group called Jazz in the Sanctuary which performs jazz-gospel concerts throughout the tri-state area. Hatza also currently serves as the Choir and Music Director at St. Gregory the Great Church in Baltimore and performs Indian/World Music fusion with the Grammy nominated group Melodic Intersect.

About his latest recording, “Digging Up My Roots,” Hatza says, “The music on this CD is a collection of R&B and Blues songs that I grew up with in Reading, Pa.”

“My father owned a small restaurant that had a juke box which had all the current R&B, blues, and rock & roll songs. When the box was serviced for new records, they gave the old 45’s to my father who in turn gave them to me.”

“When I was around 14, I bought my first Hammond organ, the compact M series. Around the same time I joined an African American R & B band that played current and older R&B and Blues songs. I must acknowledge that the African American community in Reading and later in Baltimore was very embracing of me and my music and was very instrumental in helping to form my career as a jazz organist.”

The Mainstay (Home of Musical Magic) is the friendly informal storefront performing arts center on Rock Hall’s old time Main Street. It is a 501(c)(3), nonprofit dedicated to the arts, serving Rock Hall, MD and the surrounding region. It is committed to presenting local, regional and national level talent, at a reasonable price, in an almost perfect acoustic setting. Wine, beer, sodas and snacks are available at the bar.

The Mainstay is supported by ticket sales, fundraising including donations from friends and audience members and an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council. Admission is $15 if purchased in advance and $18 at the door. Information and advance ticket sales are available at the Mainstay’s website. Reservations to pay at the door can be made by calling 410-639-9133.

Upcoming Mainstay performances include:

September 4    Joe Holt welcomes Beth McDonald

September 7    Katie Thiroux

September 11  Mainstay Monday: Joe Holt welcomes Tom Baldwin, bass

September 16  Melissa Aldana

September 18 Joe Holt welcomes Paul Midiri and Mike McShane

September 23 John Rimel and Mike Proutt

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