Bruce Katz Band
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"Bruce Katz Band"

...Katz cooks up a brilliant marriage of blues, jazz, gospel and soul - Jazz Times

"Of Professors and Longhairs - profile of Bruce Katz"

Bruce Katz: Of Professors and Longhairs. An “Artist in Review” By Brandon Findlay
News - News Briefs
Written by Greater Des Moines Music Coalition
Monday, 20 October 2008

Image When Bruce Katz comes to Des Moines’ Blues on Grand Saturday, October 25th, he will bring not only a new CD and the incredible band that recorded it, but also one of the freshest, hippest takes on American roots music currently going. Concluding his 17-show tour in Des Moines, the show promises to be, in Katz’s own word, “organ-ic”.

At a casual glance, Bruce Katz could be written off as yet another unknown journeyman, one of the faceless, and often nameless, musicians that lend vital support to many a touring star’s road show. A more careful look, however, reveals an artist of tremendous depth and range, with a resume that shatters all preconceptions one might have held.

From an early start with Big Mama Thornton, originator of the classic tune “Hound Dog”, and an inspiration to generations well past that hip-shaking Presley boy, to sharing the keys with Gregg Allman, a legendary organist himself and co-founder of the namesake Allman Brothers Band, Katz continues to bring a special mix of instincts and intellect to each unique situation. Need proof? I caught Bruce via phone between teaching engagements at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where we discussed everything from the virtues of music as academic subject to the inspiration of the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers as a younger man. He may very well be the Professor Longhair for a very different 21st Century.

New Record, Big Opportunities, and Local Connections

Live! At The Firefly is the first record in four years for the Bruce Katz Band, but as the first live album in the band’s catalog, it fulfills a long-desired goal for Bruce. For years, the bandleader had wanted to capture his band flying high in the live moment, but one key element had eluded him, until now. “I could never really envision doing a live album without a real piano, and that’s how we picked the Firefly in Ann Arbor, ‘cause they have a really nice grand piano.”

Built around a core of brand new compositions, several fan favorites, and a brilliant cover of Charles Mingus’ “Better Git It In Your Soul”, the album was recorded over two, three-set nights. The recording itself sounds as effortless as the pre-production that went into it. Mark Byerly, a Detroit-based musician/engineer recommended by the club owner, showed up with a modest mobile recording unit, carefully placed some mics, and captured a tight band mid-flight. “Sonically, [this live recording’s] as beautiful as anything I’ve ever done.” For a man with more than sixty recording credits under his belt, that’s high praise.

But having a great sounding record is only one piece of the marketing puzzle for independent artists. The music business, much like the global economy, has been trending towards chaos and possibly collapse. Where is it going? “I have no idea. No one does. It’s moving in its own direction, and it always comes full circle.” Closing that circle is a local company that is getting the record national distribution through a not-so national source.

Vizz-Tone Records, co-founded by Des Moines-based entrepreneur Chip Eagle, legendary Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin, and Richard Rosenblatt, founder of the critically-acclaimed Tone-Cool Records, is staking a claim in these rough industry waters by “valuing cooperation over competition”, according to Margolin on the company’s web page. Eagle, whose efforts through his own Visionation Publishing Company include the publication of Blues Revue, the top blues magazine in America, as well as BluesWax and FolkWax e-magazines, has moved to the forefront of American roots music journals. Eagle’s partners in Vizztone are Margolin, a beloved musician and active elder in the blues realm; and Rosenblatt, a great harmonica player who founded a label which would go on to win Grammy nominations, WC Handy awards, attain Gold Records, and launch the career of many great artists such as Susan Tedeschi and the recently deceased Sean Costello. Based just off I-235 in West Des Moines, VizzTone has a promising future that will hopefully bear much fruit for Central Iowa and beyond.

For Katz, distribution is still a key element, but taking it to the streets is the best course of action. “I’m doing it the old fashion way, by getting in the van and touring with it. [On a small independent label], that’s the only way to get yourself out in front of the people.”

Well, not the only way. Take last spring and summer, when Katz had an “unusual” audition for Gregg Allman’s band. “I was basically ushered onstage at the Beacon Theatre in New York to play “Stormy Monday” with the Allman Brothers Band during their annual ‘Beacon Run’ that March. Then, that summer, I sat in with them again at two large shows in upstate New York in front of 15,000 people each night. In one night, more people saw me than at my next 50 gigs!” Having seen Duane Allman lead the original incarnation several times, it was a dream-come-true for him. Similarly, other fortuitous opportunities, such as current engagements with the likes of the Band’s Levon Helm, bluesman John Hammond, and many others, have a kind way of finding his doorstep.

Early Starts and Lasting Loves

For Katz, it was a strange brew of childhood experiences that led him down his current path. Classical piano lessons at age 6 would unknowingly combine with a natural love of history and learning to prepare the young Bruce for a mid-20’s jazz legend patiently waiting in his parent’s record collection.

“When I was 9 or 10, I accidently stumbled on a Bessie Smith record from 1925, and from there, I got into early Dixieland, blues, and barrelhouse and boogie-woogie piano. And it was old, and I liked that.” If that was the spark, the fire was about to rage. “I worked my way chronologically through the styles, but not because of some preconceived plan. That’s just what my ears lead me to.”

“I heard rock and roll stuff also, and there was a little psychedelic rock and roll that I thought was cool. I saw the Grateful Dead many times when I was 18 or 19 (laughs), but when I was 14 or 15 I was just trying to figure out improvised ragtime stride piano like Fats Waller and Erroll Garner.”

This dedication to learning the history of his art would soon lead him into modern jazz realms where the bebop born of Parker and Gillespie would inspire yet another monumental change. Soon, Katz found himself at Boston’s Berklee College as a student, adding discipline to his burgeoning skills. This refinement prepared him for his first big break, as he joined the legendary Big Mama Thornton, performing with her until near the end of her life in the early 1980’s. “That was my first real touring, and she was so soulful and amazing”

From there, he joined Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, which threw down a unique hybrid of new and old. Infusing the R&B feel of the blues with the manic energy of punk rock, the band shared common ground with other period bands such as the Blasters and X. Constant touring further sharpened the growing keyboardist.

Touring can often be a double-edged experience, and soon Katz would leave the road behind to enter the New England Conservatory of Music, and began the studies which would result in a Master’s degree in Jazz in 1993. Just five months past graduation, blues titan Ronnie Earl came calling. ”With Ronnie, it was all about getting way deep into slow blues, of which he is the master.” Earl’s affinity for slower-tempo blues crying is indeed legendary, and soon enough, he swept Katz back onto the road, and into the studio, resulting in many composition and arrangement credits over six albums and five years with the Broadcasters.

But a deeper current was running parallel to the Broadcasters, and before the release of this third solo album in 1998, Katz made the tough decision to leave the Broadcasters to make his own mark. That album, “Mississippi Moan”, drew wide acclaim and affirmed the new bandleader as a force on his own. Since then, he has become a highly-respected and in-demand artist, and from 1995 on, a professor at the same Berklee College he once attended as a student.

His decades of hard-earned wisdom would soon find a student body quite different from his generation. “I have students who’ve never heard anything before 1990. You know, ‘old school’ for them is 1996.” But Professor knows best. “I go as far back as I can with them. Even if you’re doing electronic-hip-hop-influenced-fusion-whatever, if you understand what American music was like in 1922, it can only make you better. And I do have a mission about history and the tradition of American music, which is something I’ve been into for my entire life.” This mission has seen him giving master classes on piano and organ playing at blues and jazz festivals all over world, as well as developing Berklee’s first-ever blues history course. “I’m good at communicating with people because I can put myself back in their position. I’m 56 years old, and I’ve been playing for 50 years. I guess experience counts for a lot!”

A Seasoned Band and Guitar (Non)Heroes

When asked to elaborate about his current group, the explosion of praise that poured forth spoke volumes about the talented artists who all share the songs, but also of their seasoned bandleader, who shows the same reverential commitment to them both on and off stage.

Bassist Rod Carey first worked with Katz in 1992, when both men found themselves working as members of the aforementioned Broadcasters. “Rod’s the best bass player in blues. Nothin’ fancy going on but it’s the most groovin’ stuff you’re ever going to hear.” After spending five years together with Earl’s unit, they continued to work together on projects with Duke Robillard, Hubert Sumlin, and, since 2003, as the foundation of the Bruce Katz Band. “In an organ combo, a lot of organ players are playing the bass, and there’s a certain simplicity and groove in those bands. [Rod] just fits the organ thing like a glove.”

Drummer Ralph Rosen is the most tenured of Bruce’s quartet, and the bandleader was equally complimentary when discussing his skinsman. First playing jazz in mid-80’s together, Katz found a kindred spirit in the drummer’s taste and style. “We’ve played together for 13 years, but I’ve known Ralph for 20. His shuffle feel is among the top 5 in the world.” Continuing, “Once again, it’s an undefinable ‘feel’ thing where so many people don’t have it.” With strong doses of R&B, New Orleans, and the many feels of the blues converging together, Rosen has proven to be a perfect foil for both the right and left hands of his bandleader.

The freshest addition to the group, guitarist Chris Vitarello is actually an old hand at finding a perfect groove with a keyboardist, as his time with organist Jimmy McGriff and pianist Mitch Woods can attest. A mutual friend and DJ for WDST radio in Woodstock, New York introduced the two when Katz was looking for a guitar player a few years ago. “It’s hard for me to find players who can play real blues, but then understand jazz and allow themselves to draw from all these styles.” Reflecting on the band he feels so satisfied with, Katz offered a rather charmed appreciation of it all. “There’s a lot of guys who narrow themselves…but all these guys share my vision of wide-ranging elements that could be called ‘blues’. And they’re hard to find, so I think I’m lucky.”

When done speaking of his guitarist, the love affair did not necessarily translate across the board. Asked to comment on the growing obsession with the Guitar Hero culture, from video games to magazines to festivals, he was quick to give voice to what seems to be a growing concern among many blues musicians of the non-6 string variety. “Yeah, you know, it does kind of suck! (laughs)… [but] it’s a little difficult sometimes, and I don’t know why. I’ll be trying to get into a three-day festival, and I’ll have a promoter say to me, ‘Well, we already have our keyboard player’. Seventeen guitar bands and you have [New Orleans pianist] Henry Butler and that’s it?”

“I like guitar. Physically, guitar players can run around the stage and piano players are sitting behind the piano and maybe people think it won’t be as fun or it will be more intellectual. But I’m coming from Jerry Lee Lewis and that whole barrelhouse piano style. “

Ever the historian and teacher, Katz closed with this; “I think, also, that there’s a lot of guitar players… that sound exactly the same, which is rocked-out blues. Stevie Ray Vaughan was great, and I loved Stevie Ray, but SRV knew everything T-Bone Walker ever played. But the people who copy SRV, a lot of times they don’t go further back than SRV and they are copying a style that they don’t have a real foundation for.”

When told that his well-crafted instrumentals are reminiscent of the great blues instrumentals of Freddie King, guitar players were safely back in vogue. “I definitely take that as a compliment. Sometimes, bands throw instrumentals away as filler before the singer comes onstage. I look at these songs as a pop writer might craft a vocal piece. It’s all about the melody and building a great song through arrangements and dynamics. I love Freddie King. Freddie King rocks!”

Bruce Katz on the web:
VizzTone Records:

By Brandon Findlay
- Des Moines Music Coalition

""Live! At the Firefly" Review"

Shokan’s Bruce Katz is a true local treasure, a consummate keyboard king who lays down top-end boogie-woogie barrelhouse piano and the grittiest, greasiest organ grooves this side of mid-’60s Newark with equally jaw-dropping ease. Be it blues, jazz, soul, R&B, or rock; as a side man to the likes of Gregg Allman, John Hammond, Little Milton, Jimmy Witherspoon, Ronnie Earl, Alexis P. Suter, or Chris Bergson; or when leading his own Organiks or this self-named aggregation during a pair of 2008 dates at Michigan’s Firefly Club, the highly inflammable Katz always burns red hot.
Live! At the Firefly is Katz’s sixth disc as a leader (after 2004’s likewise recommended release on the Severn label, A Deeper Blue) and the first to feature his longtime regular guitarist, Chris Vitarello who offers up fleet, George Benson-esque stylings on the cooled-out “Ice Cream Man” and turns blistering on the funky “Bugged Out.” Other attractions here include a whiplash-inducing romp through Charles Mingus’s “Better Get It In Your Soul” and, perhaps especially, the late-night slow-cookers “The Blue Lamp” and “Marshall County.” But like any Katz gig, the whole session turns into one big, down-home roadhouse party soon enough, so picking faves can become a chore.
- Woodstock Times

"Bruce Katz Band "live" at the Turning Point"

The Bruce Katz Band – The Turning Point – Piermont, NY -- September 27

Some say Bruce Katz points the way to the future of the blues. Evidence could include the rapt, all-ages crowd in this small, basement club who witnessed his journey through the ancient heartland of soul under a universe of space-age cool . At the helm of his band of top-flight musicians, the long-haired, bespectacled keyboard wizard took a packed house on a thrilling tour of musical styles from Bartok to Professor Longhair, incorporating them all into his distinctive blues groove. Billed as a CD release party for his new release, Live At The Firefly, the two-and-a-half hour show allowed Katz and the band to play all 12 songs on the record and a few old favorites, all delivered with passion and skill.

Mirroring the CD, they began with the charming shuffle “Deep Pockets,” Katz on his Nord C3 organ spinning soaring flights of fancy, then pulling it back to earth in an instant. His handsome, young guitar player, Chris Vitarello, delivered a fiery solo, accompanied by a wide range of facial expressions – a conversation between the man and his ax. Veteran bass player Rod Carey stayed tight and loose following the sophisticated changes of drummer and composer Ralph Rosen, barely visible at the back of the small stage but a large rhythmic presence. Katz got nice and funky on piano on the New Orleans-style “Night of Joy,” then ecstatically played the organ with his entire body on Charlie Mingus’s “Better Get It In Your Soul.” His engagement in the performance is always absolute and it’s hard to take your eyes off him when he is in that zone. The band, too, played flat out but with the subtle elegance of musicians who instinctively connect. Carey, Rosen and Katz all played in Ronnie Earl’s band and Vitarello and Katz are also two-thirds of The Organiks, an upstate NY roots band.

There are no vocals on the new CD, but band members contributed some during the show, notably Carey’s amped-up “High Blood Pressure.” In another departure from the CD tracks, Katz and Vitarello faced off in the slow blues “Get In The Mood,” spinning the musical intensity like a long, sad story. Following a gorgeous guitar solo, Katz, playing one-handed piano, stopped abruptly, then stood up and remained utterly still for a long moment before pounding out the finale. The audience was visibly enthralled by the drama of their performance. The slinky “Ice Cream Man” commemorated the Brooklyn-born Katz’s former occupation in East Flatbush, and they topped off the first set with a frenetic boogie-woogie tune inspired by Ed Norton of The Honeymooners. The band took off like a speeding train, the cheering audience barely able to keep up with Katz’s hands and Vitarello’s insane guitar solo.

The second set showcased some personal favorites – the emotional blues “Marshall County,”inspired by the band’s visit to a Mississippi prison, Katz’s dazzling solo tour de force on “Southern Route” and the lovely and mysterious “Victoria,” written for Katz’s wife. The playful intelligence of Katz’s playing is reflected in his song titles.“Know It? I Wrote It!” is the punchline to an old joke, he explained, (although he declined to tell it.) “Crew of Two” is “our fondest dream,” he cracked, and the jazzy and hip “Compared to What?” actually has lyrics, Katz said. “We use the think system up here,” he said. “We’re just going to think them.”

The enthusiastic crowd, from mature jazzheads and longtime fans to a crowd of young basketball players from the city, were all tuned to the same wavelength, thanks to a consistently fascinating performance. In further appreciation, the lack of a dance floor didn’t keep some in the audience in their seats, and there was plenty of dancing in the aisles by the final song, “Brother Stevie,” a groovy little number written for the band’s genial agent Steve Langbein.

–Kay Cordtz
- Blues Revue

"Bruce Katz Preview"

Organist/pianist Bruce Katz is known for touring with Gregg Allman and John Hammond and studio work with many 12-bar stars, but it's hard to beat his own fertile mix of blues, bebop, soul jazz, rock, R&B and gospel riffs. On a superb new live CD, Katz starts off with an instant grabber in the Jack McDuff tradition, followed by a cool cover of Charles Mingus' "Better Get It in Your Soul" and fruitful detours into New Orleans piano, boogie-woogie and organ funk. (9 p.m. Sat., Famous Dave's Uptown. $5.) (T.S.) - Minneapolis Star Review


Bruce Katz Discography:

Bruce Katz As A Leader

“Project A�, Bruce Katz/Joel Frahm, Anzic Records, 2009

“Live! At the Firefly�, Brown Dog Music/Vizztone, 2008

“A Deeper Blue�, Severn Records, 2004

“Three Feet Off the Ground�, AudioQuest/Valley Entertainment, 2001

“Mississippi Moan�, AudioQuest, 1997

“Transformation�, AudioQuest, 1994

“Crescent Crawl�, AudioQuest, 1992

Selected Recordings With Other Artists

Joe Louis Walker, “Between A Rock and the Blues�, Stony Plain, 2009

Duke Robillard, “A Swinging Session�, Stony Plain, 2008

Paul Rishell/Annie Raines, “A Night In Woodstock�, 2008

Bo Diddley, “Turn Up The House Lights, Live In France�, 2008

Eric Mingus, “Healing Howl�, 2008

Alexis P. Suter, “Just Another Fool�, Midnight Ramble, 2007

Bryan Lee, “Katrina Was Her Name�, Justin Time, 2007

John Hammond, “Push Comes To Shove�, Blue Note, 2006

Little Milton, “What About Me?�, Telarc, 2005

Ronnie Earl, “Best of Ronnie Earl�, Rounder/Bulls Eye, 2005

Debbie Davies, “All I Found�, Telarc, 2005

Bryan Lee, “Live and Dangerous�, Justin Time, 2004

Debbie Davies, “Key to Love�, Shanachie, 2003

Enrico Crivellero, “Keys To My Kingdom, Electro-Fi, 2003

Bryan Lee, “Six String Therapy�, Justin Time, 2002

Duke Robillard, “Living with the Blues�, Stony Plain, 2002

Mighty Sam McClain, “Sweet Dreams�, Telarc, 2001

Joe Beard, “For Real�, AudioQuest, 2000

Mighty Sam McClain, “Blues for the Soul�, AudioQuest, 2000

Mark Erelli, “Mark Erelli�, Signature Sounds, 1999

Joe Beard, “Dealin’�, Valley Entertainment, 1998

Mighty Sam McClain, “Journey�, AudioQuest, 1998

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, “The Colour of Love�, Verve, 1997

Various Artists, “Keys to the City�, Magnetic Productions, 1997

Kenny Neal/Tab Benoit/Debbie Davies, “Lonesome for the Road�, Telarc, 1996

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, “Grateful Heart�, Rounder, 1996

Mighty Sam McClain, “Keep On Movin’�, AudioQuest, 1996

Jimmy Witherspoon, “Spoon’s Blues�, Stony Plain, 1994

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, “Live in Europe�, Rounder, 1994

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, “Language of the Soul�, Rounder, 1993

Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, “Still River, Bullseye, 1993

Cercie Miller, “Dedication�, Stash, 1994

Albert Washington, “Step it up and Go�, Iris Records, 1993

Mighty Sam McClain, “Give It Up To Love�, AudioQuest, 1993

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, “Live Emulsified�, Rounder, 1989

Barrence Whitfield and the Savages, “Ow Ow Ow�, Rounder, 1987

Arni Cheatham, “Romantha�, Talented Tenth



Bruce Katz is a legendary keyboardist (Hammond B3 and piano). He has recorded 6 CDs as a leader and appeared on nearly 70 other CDs with the likes of Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Little Milton, Jimmy Witherspoon, John Hammond, and many, many others.
He currently is a member of Gregg Allman and Friends and played with the Allman Brothers on their Fall 2009 tour. In 2009 he also toured with Maria Muldaur, John Hammond, J. Geils and led his own band on a number of tours.
Bruce blurs the lines between blues, soul, jazz, rock, Americana in an original and exciting way, playing mostly original music, both instrumental and vocal. He has been nominated for the past 3 years in a row by the Blues Music Awards for "Piano Player of the Year". This award is given annually in Memphis and used to be known as the WC Handy Award. It is the equivalent of the "Blues Grammys".