Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Rhoda Scott - Les Orgues de Noël

Since the beginning of LPs at the end of the 1940s, there has probably been more Christmas organ albums released than any other single musical instrument.

There are amazing Christmas organ albums (see Jimmy McGriff, Ethel Smith, or Earl Grant). There are decent Christmas organ albums (see Ken Griffin, Larry Ferrari, or Eddie Layton). There are terrible Christmas organ albums (see Hanna-Barbera or Alexander Goodrich).

From November 2005 to now, I've collected nearly 25 Christmas organ albums, easily making it the largest subgenre in my collection. So why am I adding this new organ CD to my collection? Brother, I wasn't about to miss this one from Rhoda Scott!

I first heard about Scott when I reviewed Ton Rückert's 2003 & 2004 Christmas Comps back in March, 2007. Ton had used the song "Winter Wonderland" in his 2004 Christmas comp. My comment at the time was:

GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS! Rhoda Scott's 'Winter Wonderland' is a swirling, rousing trip on the Hammond B-3 organ! Adding her Christmas CD to my wish list for sure!"

Rhoda Scott was born outside of Atlantic City, New Jersey on July 3, 1938. The daughter of a minister, she learned to play organ in her father's church beginning at the age of seven. While learning the organ, Rhoda found it more comfortable to play the pedals barefoot - a tradition she continues to this day!

Scott was schooled in the "proper" way of playing to achieve a "full" organ sound using all its facility. To this day, Rhoda plays her bass line exclusively with the foot pedals; not relying on the left hand finger-bass and "popping" action of only a few pedals. This technique frees up her left hand to chord through the changes while her right hand plays melody and solos.

She later studied classical piano, but she concentrated on the organ, eventually earning a Masters' degree in music theory from the Manhattan School of Music. By this time she had been asked by a choir member to fill in with a small band as a jazz pianist.

Enjoying the music, she agreed to stay on with the band on condition that she be allowed to play organ instead of piano. Choosing as her instrument the Hammond Organ, she soon became a preeminent jazz musician and is considered by many to be the top female jazz organist.

Her recording career began in the early 1960s with a bevy of singles and albums on the Prestige jazz label. Going up against well established organ masters like Jimmy Smith, Bill Doggett, and others (see above), her records were looked over and didn't sell. By the mid-1960s, Rhoda was on the outside looking in.

So in 1967, Rhoda said goodbye to the United States and settled in France where her genius behind the organ was instantly recognized. Her records sold off the shelves and her live performances were experiences:

She toured throughout Europe and Asia, making more albums along the way, and earning nicknames such as "The Barefoot Lady" and "The Barefoot Contessa."

Rhoda recorded a Christmas album in France entitled "Noël De Rhoda" back in 1977 (GEMM has a copy available for $91! Musicstack doesn't have it yet - adding it to my searches!). It appears that all of the songs from that album ended up on this compilation along with two Christmas medleys recorded in 1993 to round it out.

In total, you get seventeen songs - all priceless gems with not one bad note in the bunch. I'm still wild about "Winter Wonderland" - that is a trip and a half!

This comp was released in France first in 1994. However, some bright lad at Universal Music France pestered the powers that be in America to release this for Christmas in 2003. The result?

With the same seventeen songs, the same title (just translated), and the amazing sounds from Scott, this is the version you'll probably find in the Christmas bins - provided some clever lad at Target, Best Buy, or even Wal-Mart would have the courage and vision to put it there to begin with.

Both the import version and the American version are both online at where I got my two copies. You can't go wrong with either version - masterful stuff.

Rhoda is very much alive, continuing to perform barefoot behind beloved B-3 organ by Hammond (see below). Check out her website and do a search on YouTube to listen to more mindblowing playing on the organ!


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