John "Fingers" Medeski

Medeski, Martin And Wood

Born in Louisville, KY in 1965, his family moved to Florida when he was very young. John grew up in Ft. Lauderdale, starting piano lessons at age five, and continued a classical training. While his father was a pianist, he credits his teacher from age 13 until he attended the New England Conservatory, Lee Shaw, as a major influence in his playing style. Lee Shaw once studied with Oscar Peterson.

In fact, John's earliest exposure to Jazz was thanks to a friend who played him an Oscar Peterson/Ray Brown/Niels Pederson trio album. At 19, he was hired by Jelly Belly's Jazz and Blues Band. John credits Jelly Belly for introducing him to dance and groove music, and instill in him a love for the Hammond organ sound.

Among the many gigs "Fingers" played in Florida, he played several times with Jaco, who sat in with his band. At the time (early eighties), John was playing a Fender Rhodes with effects. Jaco even offered him to go on tour in Japan, but he decided against it because his family had heard about Jaco's reputation.

As he exposed himself more to Jazz and other forms of music, Medeski names the following as influences: Mingus, Monk, Coltrane, Bud Powell, Jimmy McGriff, Larry Young, Ray Charles, Art Neville (The Meters), Hendrix, Sly Stone, Sun Ra as well as the classical composers Charles Ives and Mossien.

Now I know the question in a lot of Jazz fans minds is how did this organ player start a trio with a bass player? Billy Martin, Medeski Martin & Wood's percussionist, said it was just three friends coming together to jam and have fun. John met Chris Wood, MMW's bass player, when he was gigging around Boston. At the time, John had just graduated from the New England Conservatory, where he studied with Bob Moses among others. Billy was playing with Bob Moses, and the first time MMW played together was at one of Bob's gigs.

Medeski fulfilled the piano/organ duties in the Mandala Octet and the Chris Hollyday Quartet for a while, but his most notable and formative association was his stay with the Either/Orchestra. He recently joined them for their 10th anniversary concert, and will be on the upcoming compilation. He played organ and piano on the releases: _The Calculus of Pleasure_ and _The Half-Life of Desire_ (Accurate). He also played and recorded with David Byrne, Sam Bennett, Ken Schaphorst, and the Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra.

In the summer of 1991, the MMW trio got together in Billy's NYC loft to jam, and wrote their first song "Uncle Chubb". The band liked the sound so much, a combination of Jazz influences with Funk rhythms and the energy of Rock, that they "risked" putting out their first album on their own on an independent label called Hap Jones. Bob Blumenthal called the album "one of the brightest first efforts of 1992."

While some people may equate my description of their sound with Fusion, they sound nothing like Mahavishnu or Weather Report. Some would say that their sound is closer to the controversial term Acid-Jazz than some so-called Acid-Jazz flying off the CD shelves.

_Notes from the Underground_ was only re-issued by Accurate Records after their second release, once they were signed to Grammavision. That follow-up, _It's A Jungle In Here_ received 4.5 stars from Downbeat, even though the organ-bass- drums trio raised some eyebrows among Jazz circles. This CD included guests like Groove Collective's horn section and guitarist Marc Ribot, as well as a genial medley of Monk's "Bemsha Swing" with Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself".

In the summer of 1994, Medeski and Martin toured Europe with John Zorn's Masada, with Marc Ribot rounding up the quartet. Later that year, the MMW trio went back into the recording studio and decided to just have a jam session, trying to capture on disc the energy, improvisation and synergy of their live performances. The result was the challenging yet groove-ridden _Friday Afternoon in the Universe_.

That year also saw the release of the highly acclaimed partnership between John and his long-time pal and guitar wizard Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski, _Lunar Crush_ on Grammavision. This CD features some outlandish vocals by Gloria Tropp.

On a side note, at a concert for the media in Italy, Jack McDuff insisted on sitting in at Medeski's organ, even though the crowd wasn't into it too much. Also, in a recent Downbeat blindfold test, Lenny White was quite impressed with "We're So Happy" off the _Friday Afternoon in the Universe_ release, and gave it five stars.

In May of 1995, MMW recorded an album as sidemen with the vocalist Oren Bloedow as leader. The release is due out as soon as they find a label to distribute it. The MMW trio kicked off a three month tour in September at NYC's CBGB's 313 Gallery, and finished off with a four night stand there, with the "Big" John Patton/John Zorn quartet opening up for them.

1995 was also the year MMW first did some work for a movie soundtrack. Medeski said they have since been approached with several similar offers which they turned down. The _Get Shorty_ soundtrack includes MMW's "Chubb Subb", as well as Medeski playing organ (on a Casio!) for John Lurie.

You can catch Medeski playing organ on Trey Anastasio's (of Phish fame) recent debut solo release _Surrender to the Air_, as well as on the Rap group New Kingdom's new release. Also, the trio appears on Ken Schaphorst's latest release on Accurate _When The Moon Jumps_.

MMW recently released their latest album Schack-Man!

I asked John who would it be a dream come true to have played with, whether the artist be alive or dead. He named two of music's greatest improvisers, Hendrix and Beethoven!

On a last note, the Penguin Jazz Guide, one of the few respected books on Jazz releases, recommends seeing the band live, practically the only band they make that suggestion for. This organ and Jazz fanatic saw them 4 nights in a row in November 1995, and I was equally impressed by each show.


* denotes releases on which Medeski only plays piano.

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