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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A journey into jazz

video by Terry Mayer

By Brad Walseth/Contributor

Walworth County is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of down-home gritty jazz music.

Terry Mayer/The Week
Dan Trudell practices playing at his home on Lake Tombeau in Nippersink.
But surprisingly, this area is the home to the occasional exceptional musician, who has taken to the fresh air, lakes and hills as a peaceful respite from the dark nightclubs where they often perform.

One such musician is jazz organist/pianist Dan Trudell, who makes his home on beautiful Tombeau Lake in Nippersink.

Trudell's musical journey began in the '70s, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, when his parents bought the young man an organ. The young musician was exposed to his parents' "standards" from an early age, and while playing to the rhythms supplied by the organ, developed his own arrangements of popular music of the time from artists like Burt Bacharach and the Tijuana Brass.

His prodigious talent was noted and he won acclaim and awards for his musical abilities. Importantly, he also began taking lessons from a college professor, whom he credits with providing the discipline necessary to further his talents.

Playing classical organ through high school and at church, Trudell continued experimenting; sometimes, he says, playing in one key for a half hour at a time. Mostly immune to the rock music of the era, Trudell instead listened to his parent's seemingly 'unhip' collection of 101 Strings, Pete Fountain and Bert Kampfaert albums.

"It was kind of corny, I guess," Trudell says, "but I learned chord changes. Then, as a teenager, I got into Maynard Ferguson and Chuck Mangione and kind of turned into a 'jazz nerd,' playing in the jazz band while still studying classical."

This varied musical background led to Trudell becoming a classical organ/tuba major in college. Transferring to a pre-eminent music school, North Texas State, he met a number of jazz musicians who have gone on to successful careers, including saxophonist Pat Mallinger.

From college, Trudell and Mallinger went to work playing on a cruise ship, a popular choice for many young musicians starting out, and one that led to youthful adventures.

"We snuck a stowaway onboard with us," Trudell reminisces with chuckle. "We got caught and almost got thrown in jail in the Bahamas."

One happier result of their time onboard led them to be invited to spend a summer jamming at the drummer's home near Boston, where Trudell soon found himself working with some of the top musicians in that city before joining the music scene in New York City for a time as well.

In 1990, Trudell moved to Chicago where he found work playing nightly at a downtown hotel.

Mallinger followed his friend here and, in 1994, asked the organist to join his Sabertooth Organ Quartet for what would be a highly successful run as the regular late-night Saturday band at Chicago's storied Green Mill Lounge for over a decade.

A well-received live recording of the band at the Green Mill was made, which documents Trudell's stint with the band.

During this time, the keyboardist was acclaimed as the top organist working in Chicago, was named a Rising Star of the Hammond B-3 organ by Downbeat Magazine, and worked with some top names in jazz music like Kenny Burrell, Randy Brecker, Ron Carter, Buddy DeFranco, Aretha Franklin and more.

Trudell ended his association with Sabertooth, who continue to play the late Saturday slot at the Green Mill, a few years ago, but has maintained his longtime friendship with Mallinger.

Despite living far from the downtown music scene, Trudell keeps busy, playing at a church in Franklin every Sunday and holding the piano chair with the world-famous Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

He leads several groups of his own, including Who's Your Daddy, The Dan Trudell Trio, and The B3 Bombers, who excited the crowd with their performance on the main stage at last year's Chicago Jazz Festival.

The Bombers include, among others, old friend Mallinger, as well as former James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield, a Madison resident, and Elkhorn guitarist Mike Standal. Nor has the multi-talented Trudell forgotten his tuba, and he continues to play gigs on that instrument when asked.

Trudell's playing is a deliciously funky blend of styles ranging from blues to jazz to the Grateful Dead, that recalls organ masters like Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and Larry Young, and is enthusiastically delivered with that unforgettably squishy B-3 organ sound.

You can catch Trudell live at places like The Jazz Estate in Milwaukee, Chicago's Symphony Center and Chicago nightclubs like Pops for Champagne, The Green Mill and Andy's.

You can find out more about Dan at www.sonicbids.com/dantrudell.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This guy rocks. I've seen him a few times at the green mill and at the estate. He is by far the best jazz organist I have ever seen. Quite versitile. He can go anywhere from the blues to acid jazz. I highly suggest going to see him.

March 23, 2008 8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hopefully the Lake Geneva area will realize what talent they have living amonst them and we can hear him play regularly????

March 24, 2008 4:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan is the man! He's an awesome pianist. I've enjoyed him for years.

April 15, 2008 10:34 AM  

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