the Lincoln Park Cultural Auditorium,
On Friday 30th of September 2002
(Photo's and Text)
(a) Kurt Armsden At B3 and Eric Larson (b) Eric Larson, with Frank Pugno at the A100
Playing Love Letters in the Sand Playing It Had to be You
As the months turned into weeks then into days. then hours, the excitement built up as the magic moment arrived. I had arrived in Boston a few days before, staying at Eric Larson's home where I spent time enjoying meeting Eric and hearing him play live on his Hammond and Wurlitzer Electrostatic organs and I knew that we were in for some great music in the Ken Griffin Style. We then spent two days driving through New York State, Pennsylvania, Ohio and into Illinois via Indiana, carrying all the electronic equipment that Eric was to use for the sound system, which had to link two Hammond Organs and produce the Ken Griffin Sound as close as it would ever be thought possible. For myself seeing so much new American landscape and places roll by was a very interesting experience. Quite suddenly the day of reckoning had arrived and after meeting Andy Antonczyk (Illinois) we found our way to the Lincoln Park Cultural Centre and Eric started setting his sound equipment up, on the stage, I started to meet others who until now had just been names! Kurt Armsden, who had come from Maine, and Sally White from Indiana. Sally is a most charming and very elegant lady. She had had got a number of copies of a B&W print of Ken and kindly gave each of us a copy. I am especially pleased with my own copy as Sally kindly signed it. Then the two Hammond organs arrived, one a rental and the other Frank's very own A100 model. In addition there were two Yamaha keyboards. It was nice meeting Frank for the first time. We had exchanged many e-mails and chatted a couple of time by phone but it doesn't equal actually meeting him. As the equipment built up I suddenly found myself meeting more and more people, Joan Brown and her son Craig who had come from Michigan and was doing the video and audio recording for the evening. Then there was Brian Wessel, from Illinois and Mike McCormick who had flown in from Oklahoma. While I was pleasantly surprised at meeting each new person, it was only natural that I was especially looking forward to meeting Kirby Griffin, his sister Kay and Kirby's son Kerry and it was a very exiting moment when they were suddenly there in the hall. They had flown in from Oregon while Kerry had come from Maryland. Not only had I renewed my contact with Kirby, after that 35 year gap, but it was a great moment to have actually met and talked with him. It was also a very moving moment for me when I realised that a number of the audience whom I had never met before or even had contact via these web pages had actually asked for my by name and was looking forward to meeting me. It is a strange experience when that happens and you are over 3000 miles from home.
As the equipment came together our three organists, Kurt Armsden. Frank Pugno and Eric Larson were soon taking turns at rehearsing and it was quickly known that the evening was going to be a considerable success. It was magic watching Sally clap and dance to the sound of Ken's music, she was starting to thoroughly enjoy herself. As they were so busy rehearsing it was obvious that I wasn't going to get all the information I thought I would need to put my part as m. c. together. However I think this turned out for the best as each player had their own routine and banter arranged therefore I thought it best to say as little as possible and let their fine music speak for itself. However what little I may have said, it was as direct and straight from the heart which I hope came over to everyone listening.
With slightly less than an hour for a meal and general chat the Ken Griffin Dedication Evening was quickly upon us and the show got on the road by Kurt Armsden on the Hammond B3. Kurt very quickly warmed to the audience with his fine playing as Ken and a virtually note by note arrangement of "Marie", followed by Are You Lonesome Tonight, My Heart Cries For You and Five Foot Two (Eyes of Blue). Kurt then played Deep Purple in the style of another favourite organist, Jessie Crawford, who also influenced Ken greatly. Kurt played, first, in the Crawford style and then concluded as he thought Ken would have played it. Both interpretations were sweet and very smooth. If you know Ken's recording of College Medley's you will have enjoyed Kurt's arrangement, using different tunes in the same genre and then adding a couple that were on the record. A Great piece of interpretation. As he continued with Over the rainbow and the audience reaction grew stronger and livelier and by the time Kurt concluded with Don't Take Your Love From Me, he well deserved the standing ovation, which I think even surprised Kurt. The beam of pleasure in his face was a joy to see.
Kurt owns Ken's original Mother-of-Pearle Hammond AV, which he keeps in excellent condition and it would be nice to hear him play this instrument. At times it must appear that it is Ken himself who is playing.
Frank Pugno quickly followed on his own Hammond A100, which he kindly supplied. As playing like Ken Frank played a number of tunes in his own style and if you have heard his CD you would have been taken by the closeness of the same sounds and playing. Frank's professionalism shone from the first few bars and he soon had the audience with him but I think they were completely bowled over with his 'Plantation Boogie' which had the hall really rocking. The other numbers Frank played were, You Can't Be True, Dear, The Ferry Serenade, The Woman in the Shoe, Louisiana Waltz (a great interpretation of the Wurlitzer E.S. on the Hammond), On The Trail and Summer Samba.
Frank concluded with It Had To Be You and In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room accompanied by Eric Larson, who played the overdubs. Their arrangement and finely syncronised playing produced an identical interpretation to Ken's recordings. It was interesting too that Eric's technical knowledge had made the two Hammond organs sound so identical that you couldn't really tell which organ was being played.
Eric Larson..... Eric is already well known in our group and he also had a few of his own fans in the audience and he too quickly got off to a rollicking start. Perhaps lesser well known to the overall audience was Eric's great sense of humour and he used both to advantage and often quite subtly. Eric played You Belong To Me and Hernando's Hideaway. However the number that brought the house down was his arrangement of Ken's finger-crunching 'Bumble Bee on a Bender' which, as with Frank showed a dexterity at the keyboard that was quite mind blowing. Eric's humour shone through when he made a impromptu voice accompaniment to his own playing when having explained how he had lived with rhythm machines so much it was engraved in his mind. He then played an impromptu dittie making his own voiced rhythm sounds, which had the audience in stitches. A great comedy performance.
(c) Elizabeth & Eric Larson
By way of change of pace Eric was accompanied by his wife, Elizabeth, who sang two numbers, My Wonderful One and, Me And My Shadow, which Eric claims, he and Elizabeth have dedicated to each other. This was a very pleasant diversion from organ solo's and Elizabeth had the audience singing along with her.
Kurt and Eric played a number of tunes as a duet, Cruising Down the River, Dream and, Love Letters in the Sand, with Kurt playing the melody on the B3 and the B3 output running through a DSP to make it sound like the Wurlitzer ES vibrato. Another amusing moment came when, accompanied by Kurt, Against his better judgement, so he said!, played the melody to Ain't She Sweet, Eric added some ---- well, almost 'rude' sounds, from the Yamaha keyboard. This appears to have gone down well with everyone -- I was going to say that everyone was 'blown away' by it, but perhaps that's not quite the best choice of words to use in this instance!
There were two more novelty sections which made a pleasant break in proceedings! One complete programme of the "67 Melody Lane" TV series was presented on a large back-projection TV. This was the first programme, on the tape and which helped those who had never seen Ken before see what he looked and sounded like. I think it worked well for the younger people in the audience who must have been wondering who this man was, that we were dedicating an evening too after he had passed on nearly 50 years previously. It was for sure that the young people equally enjoyed themselves and the video will have played its part on showing them what both TV and presentations were like back then. Also on this programme was the excellent playing by Marg Mienert who played Flight of the Bumble Bee at a terrific pace. From this we learned from Mr. Young that Marge had been very popular and still making records and appearing in shows, and as far as he know was still with us. Perhaps we may make contact with her some day. From the Griffin family we learned that 15 programmes were scheduled for the series but that after five Ken stopped them as he didn't like the 'hammy' style and claimed he wasn't an actor. Likewise I believe he didn't care for wearing the toupé he was made to wear on the show. However, as usual, Ken gave 100% to his performance and we have to be thankful that these films were made on 16mm film, which preserved the shows so that we could see and hear Ken after nearly half a century later. Again, thanks to Andy Antonczyk for making it possible to show the programme on such a large screen. Andy also produced some transparencies from black & white photographs and these were projected on the wall and as people arrived photo's of Ken and his nephew Kirby were on view, which all added to the mood of the evening. The tunes we saw Ken playing were: Finiculi, Finicula, Brams' 5th Hungarian Dance and My Old Kentucky Home. I am sure seeing Ken on this tape helped everyone, and especially the younger people in the audience to learn more about Ken and to whom we were really paying tribute to.
The next two novelties was also something quite different. Another Ken 'play-a-Like' but this time on an Accordion! Brian Wessel played two of Ken's well known numbers, I Remember When and Roses, both tunes from Ken's 'Romantic Waltzes' LP. The Accordion is such a different instrument from the electric organ that it is impossible to think Brian could do such a good job but he played the notes exactly as Ken did and forced the instrument to get as close as possible to Ken's sound and arrangements and for that deserves the reception he got from the audience. Brian also played very old recordings taken live from a Radio Show on WMRO of Aurora. Brain's father made the recordings on a portable 78rpm record cutter, which some of you will remember. Unlike a normal gramophone there were two heads! One to cut the 'blank' wax platter and the other to play back the recording (Who said that the CD was such a new concept!). When you compare this old technology you couldn't expect too much and Brian did well to get a fair reception on a small portable cassette player, using the main microphone to amplify it to the audience. It was very interesting and historical to hear these 1943 live recordings and they played a part in our dedication to Ken.
(d) Brian Wessel, playing 'Roses'
For my continuing efforts as m.c. it was my greatest pleasure to introduce Sally to come up and say a few words about Ken. It was interesting in that Sally was the only person in attendance who had really seen Ken perform at his live shows. She said that she had been to at least a hundred and it was both moving and sad to hear her describe what a 'gracious' person Ken was and of the very last time she said goodbye to him, at a railway station. I think everyone fell in love with Sally. She showed her pleasure at meeting everyone and genuine surprise at how much everyone still cared about Ken and his music and she joined in the singing, clapping and dancing to this great tribute to Ken. During rehearsals I asked Sally what she thought on hearing Kurt, Eric and Frank play like Ken, she replied " It is quite scary".
(e) Sally White
It was now my turn to start feeling a bit nervous and emotional, as I next introduced Kirby Griffin and his sister Kay. Just as Ken had been gracious to his fans Kirby showed me the same kindness all those years ago, back in the 60's when I first made contact with him and he responded to my letters. He also sent me a large B&W print of Ken at the Mother-of-Pearle organ, which has remained a real treasure. For a young laddie in far away northeast Scotland that meant a great deal. Then suddenly after all those years when I wondered what had become of him, through the magic of the internet I not only renewed the contact but finally met at what was a very entertaining event.
After the talk Kirby was persuaded to play a tune on the Hammond and he chose to play You, You, You (are the one) which sounded exactly as he played on his LP "That Griffin Sound". Sadly Kirby hadn't played the organ professionally for a good 30 years and the emotions of the evening and a touch of nerves stopped him a little more than half way through but he needn't have worried as the audience was fully in tune with him and the applause was enormous. After a few moments Kirby more than made up for it by singing the full version of "You Can't Be True, Dear, accompanied by Frank Pugno on the Hammond. Kirby has a very nice voice and once again the applause was magnificent. Frank told us afterwards that he felt it was the greatest pleasure of his career to have been asked to accompany Kirby and will remember it for the rest of his life. It was certainly one of the many highlights of this great event. As with Sally, as the evening progressed it must have reopened many memories of Ken for Kirby and Kay and it wasn't surprising that they started to feel very emotional by the time they came to talk about Ken. It is hoped that these talks will be available on the audio and video copies.
(f) Kirby, Kay and Kerry (g) Kirby & Kay share memories of Ken
Kirby and Kay were delightful in sharing stories of Ken from when he was a child and growing up, looking after his younger brother Kirby (Kirby's father) after their parents divorced and then went on to become the famous person we all know. They showed a number of photographs which included Ken, one when he was around two or three and again in his early teens. Ken's success was gained by sheer hard work and a thought in his mind of what he wanted from the new electric organs and recording techniques of the time.
On a personal note, my worst fear was that the Griffin family would have gone away feeling disappointed but they really did enjoy themselves and played their part in the dedication, mixing and chatting with everyone. I am sure they must have had reservation when we first approached them on this idea and must have wondered who or what we were all about. I firmly believe the success was due to all the organists being both very enthusiastic and dedicated to Ken and his music and that no-one was trying to out play the other and whether they played solo or accompanying each other it was for pure pleasure.
The evening concluded with Eric & Kurt at the organs and Frank on a Yamaha PSR-740 keyboard, playing an excellent finally of 'You Can't Be True, Dear'.
Apologies for absence from.....
Wilfred Høsteland, of Norway. Wilfred sent me a longish letter to read out and while I fully intended to, time and events made this impossible. Therefore I simply mentioned some of it while explaining Wilfred's apologies. Wilfred was a good friend to Ken's sister Virginia and her husband and they had paid visits to each others homes. It was Wilfred whom we have to thank for getting the 67 Melody Lane 16mm films transferred to video and also the Radio Transcriptions to cassette tape. He also tried to get a dedication evening going some years back but couldn't find the people interested enough to get it up and running. We hope that Wilfred will be able to attend the next evening and will be able to take part as an organist as he had planned to do this time. Our thanks too, to Wilfred and his wife, who phoned the Lincoln Cultural Centre direct from Norway, to wish us well.
Johs Larson, of Denmark. Johs, as you will know from the web pages is also a fine organist although he doesn't try to play like Ken as such but has a very nice organ style of his own. It was particularly sad for me that he and his wife Stinne (Christine) weren't able to be there , but I know their thoughts were with us all the way.
Phil Gunsul (Illinois) was unable to attend but he kindly forwarded a copy of Ken's CD "Magic Organ Moods" and a CD copy of the LP that is supposed to be Ken on a Theatre Organ, to Frank Pugno, who then kindly presented them to me at the meeting. Later while visiting Andy Antonzcyk in his home, he played one of the tracks from this LP and also an identical track, but strangely, played at a different speed, on an LP by Reginald Foort, which appears to have answered that long standing debate of Ken having recorded on a pipe organ.. Further comments on this LP can be found on the 78rpm Collection page. However, I am very pleased to be able to include 'Magic Organ Moods" to my record collection and thank Phil for a very lovely present. Mike McCormick also kindly brought me a copy of Ken's 7" E.P. record of Columbia's "Ken Griffin At The Organ" (B-2501), which is also a welcome addition to my collection.
While I may have started the whole thing rolling by suggesting such an evening and slowly bringing together all those whom I thought would have the talent and enthusiasm to bring it off, I really must give considerable thanks to Andy Antonczyk who's enthusiasm for Ken and his music added by his very successful business experience, not only took on the job of finding a suitable venue and the hired Hammond but also very kindly took on the financial responsibility. Without his kindness none of this would have been possible. I have deliberately mentioned the places that people came from to show how far and wide Ken's fans are still found but also to prove how much personal effort and expense many of us had put into this event and making it one of the most enjoyable musical experiences in a long time. Fondness for Ken and his music remains considerable, all around the world.
I can't conclude here without giving a mention and a great thank you to Andy's mother 'Pat' who played her part by assisting at the door and welcoming everyone and also on supplying the light refreshments which all added to the friendly mood of the evening.
(i) Pat Antonczyk (j) Andy introducing Ken's Video
The Hammond B3 was supplied by The Beautiful Sound of the Countryside, Illinois and their staff did an excellent job of getting the Hammond into the building and up onto the stage, and of course having to dismantle it again afterwards.
Our thanks to Frank Pugno who let 'his baby' the A100, away from his home for the day, and the trouble and effort he put into getting it too and from the venue.
And finally! Our thanks to the staff at the Lincoln Cultural Centre who were very friendly and helpful and supplied a microphone when Eric's one failed during rehearsals. Andy couldn't have found a nicer venue. The Hall was lovely with nice paneled walls and ceiling decoration and a reasonable size stage.
THE VIDEO ----- THE AUDIO.....
(k) Craig & Joan Brown and Eric Larson
As mentioned, Joan Brown and her son Craig brought along a nice video and recording set-up and a video and an audio recording was made of the event. It is hoped that they will be available on tape and CD very soon, Keep watching theses pages for further details. Our special thanks go to Craig who did a great job with the video and recording equipment but who also assisted Eric and acted as 'sound engineer' while Eric was at the organ.
Both Eric Larson and Frank Pugno have their own CD's available. If you are interested write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and I shall be pleased to put you onto Eric and Frank. Eric's CD is a complete Dedication to Ken and Frank's CD includes Plantation Boogie, which was a great hit with the audience.
(l) Eric presents Kirby with a copy of his CD dedicated to Ken's playing (m) Kirby with Kurt Armsden
After the event I had a further eight days to enjoy in Chicago and thanks again to Andy, who found me a very nice hotel next door to his own home, he helped give me directions to many places to visit over the week and also took me around virtually the whole of Chicago over the week both in the day time and in the magical night time lighting of the magnificent buildings. Andy had also just got himself a lovely new (well, secondhand!) Allan, two-keyboard, theatre organ and I spend numerous musical moments listening to him play. Eric and his wife Elizabeth came over and we were entertained by Eric on the Allan. On another evening Frank Pugno came over and entertained us with his professionalism. I even managed to go to the cinema one evening, where a live theatre organ performance was given. Its been many years since I enjoyed that experience. During my stay at Eric's home in Boston I enjoyed going to the Ice Rink where he plays on a Tuesday evening, and had a great time listening to and watching him play the Hammond there, while the customers skated. Every time he played a Ken Griffin number someone came up and thanked him for the great playing. Between staying at Eric's and then the Ken Griffin Evening, followed by Andy's musical moments this was indeed a two week holiday full of great organ music and happy memories.
I had a most pleasant late into afternoon on the Saturday with Kirby, Kay and Kerry when I managed to make my long wished for visit to Ken's Grave in Aurora. You will find a report on this in the (Link 7) Hits & News web page. In the evening Kerry kindly called me and invited me out for a drink and chat at a nearby bar. I enjoyed learning about him and his family as I am sure he did of my own and it made a lovely closing to the events, before the Griffin family had to return home on the Sunday morning.
I have always wished that I could have attended a live Ken Griffin show and while this remains impossible, the 'Dedication Evening' must have been the nearest thing to it. Ken's influence continues to live on within our group of very fine organists and the many dedicated fans, worldwide, who remain so faithful to his memory.
FURTHER PHOTO's OF THE EVENING
(n) Kirby & Kay hold the Audience's attention (o) Sally remembers the last time she saw Ken
(p) Kerry, Bill, Eric, Kay, Kurt & Frank
(q) Sally, Kirby, Bill, Kay & Kerry
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO EXPRESS YOUR THOUGHTS AND SHARE ANY PHOTOGRAPHS YOU MAY HAVE TAKEN DURING THE EVENING PLEASE DO PASS THEM ON SO THEY MAY BE ADDED TO AND RECORDED ON THESE PAGES.
a, b, i, k, & q = Mike MacCormick (Oklahoma)
c, d, e, f, g & h = Bill Reid (U.K.)
J, n & o = Elizabeth Larson
m = Kay Griffin (Oregon)
p = Kerr Griffin (Maryland)
"Ken's music just goes on and on"