Snarky Puppy’s Cory Henry on five organ essentials
If anyone’s going to preach the gospel of the Hammond organ, it should be Cory Henry. After all, he’s gotten to know it pretty well in the years since his fingers first touched keys during his mom’s choir rehearsals at their Bed-Stuy church. He was maybe 2 years old at the time. “I think I crept up behind her and maybe played a phrase or a note that made her happy enough to at least say, ‘Oh, this kid is not crazy,’” Henry joked in a recent phone interview. Playing organ for the Sunday set over the course of his childhood gave Henry a hearty, traditional education on the instrument — “because they were older, they didn’t want us playing crazy stuff,” he said, laughing — but also gave him time to see its whole spectrum, from Sly and the Family Stone to Elton John. Now, having just won his second Grammy with the fusion group Snarky Puppy, Henry’s hoping to fill the Hammond-size hole in his heart with “The Revival,” an 11-track tribute to what he worries is a dying presence in modern pop music. The aim, he said, is finding what made him fall in love with the organ, and seeing it spread. “What makes me really excited,” he said, “is that the longer I play now, the focus for me changes from trying to define that music to really trying to discover the passion I had when I first found it.” Henry brings that passion to Berklee College of Music on Monday; in anticipation, he assigned five pieces of required listening for anyone looking to worship at Hammond’s altar.
1. Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson “They had a concept of playing the same songs in different kinds of ways, on the piano. They would play ‘[Take the] A Train’ 10 different ways, and record them, and as a musician I thought that was amazing because none of them was the same. So with ‘The Revival,’ I wanted to play music that I really, really loved, and then I wanted to play it 20 different ways.”
2. Billy Preston “He’s my favorite organ player. He’d been playing for the Beatles, then playing for Eric Clapton, then doing his own thing. Billy Preston was his own artist, all behind the Hammond organ, which spoke to me in a very direct way. He took the organ from pop to rock to blues, then into the church, and then into the world.”
3. Bobby McFerrin “I felt like the organ, because it’s so lyrical, there’s a few lyrical principles like his to how I play songs like ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ or Stevie Wonder’s ‘All in Love Is Fair.’ So I probably gotta say Stevie Wonder. . .”
4. Stevie Wonder “I love his choices of artistic R&B soul, wrapped up in the whole church thing.”
5. Herbie Hancock “He covers all of those areas in a very hip way, like the lyrical element plus the Art Tatum/Oscar Peterson element, plus his own element. He’s all of those things, and probably five more things.”
Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles perform at David Friend Recital Hall, Berklee College of Music, on Feb. 29 at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets $17. 617-266-1400. www.berklee.edu/events/cory-henry-presents-revival