Is it called "Organ Monk" because the guy at the Hammond C3 is wearing a monk's habit? Or because the band presented a program of all Thelonius Monk tunes at the JJA Awards at the Blue Note? It's a little of both. "The Organ Monk plays anything," says Greg Lewis aka the Organ Monk, and I can hear the sly grin right through the telephone. But seriously, who would have thought these classics would take to the sound of the C3 so gracefully? And it's a gas to look at, too, I mean the last time I saw a Hammond with a Leslie it was back in the 70s and some roadie at a rock show was griping about having to load and unload the thing for every gig. (By the way, under that monk's habit Mr. Lewis has a physique that hefts the instrument like it was made of Leggos.) The songs played here are "Ugly Beauty" and "52 St Theme" Now, I'm no jazz expert, but this is some serious fun with serious music.
Of course, I had to ask Howard Mandel, the president of the Jazz Journalists Association for some erudite info and how he came to choose this particular act to close the JJA Awards ceremony at the Blue Note. So here's the low-down: "I discovered Organ Monk in 2011 at a gig at 55 Bar, and I was astonished they aren't better known in NYC, since organs are making a comeback in popularity, the compositions of Thelonious Monk have become important standards, and Greg has a unique approach both to the material and to his instrument. The interplay between Greg's organ and Ron Jackson on guitar is fantastic -- Monk is seldom played on guitar, and the breadth of his ouevre has not been previously tapped by an organist, either. Jeremy Clemons offers really intelligent drumming to the band -- he knows those songs, he's not simply keeping time -- and Reginald Woods also has the tough tenor sound that stands up to strong organ and guitar interactions, besides insight into how to improvise on Monk's melodies, which seem simple but require genuine understanding -- he has it."
If you want to know more about the band and the Monk's raison d'etre, there's a website, greglewismusic.com, with a complete list of upcoming gigs around NYC and tons of info.