Brian Charette Is One Weird Organist
The last time I was here, I was chased out of my agent's place in West Hollywood with a baseball bat...Long story short, out comes the bat and I had to pack up my things in Trader Joe's bags and split. Halfway down the strip to my friend Samsonic's house, I passed a few other LA bums with their stuff in bags just like me. We looked each other up and down for a moment, then kept walking. I'm hoping this [L.A.] outing has a little less drama. -Brian Chrette's email pitch to LA Weekly
"Feel it," says the New York-based organist Charette, offering his pinky finger. "It's fused." We are standing at the bar of a small French bistro in Manhattan, having just met five minutes prior. His pinky finger is fixed into a permanent crook due to an amp falling on it ten years ago. "I can't play classical anymore" says Charette examining his damaged digit. "But I can still play jazz!"
Charette is the consummate road-warrior, and he has the scars to prove it. His pulpy organ sound has backed such disparate artists as soul-jazz legend Lou Donaldson and scarf-draped dandy Rufus Wainwright. This Tuesday Charette plays the first of three gigs in Los Angeles at the Mint alongside guitarist Greg Erba and drummer Andy Sanesi.
The night before we met, Charette played a gig in Boston. The next day, he was bound for Prague. After Los Angeles comes a couple of weeks in Southeast Asia. This dedication to gigging, although not much for his social life, has brought him before a lot of crowds. "I play about 330 gigs a year. In New York in the '90s, I'd play ten or eleven gigs a week!" He adds wistfully: "Those days are long gone."
To make up for it Charette has taken to what many stability-craving musicians do: he's teaching. "I just started writing these master class articles for Keyboard magazine. They're a lot of fun and the response has been great." Tackling subjects like orchestration and chord voicings, Charette has found a forum for his techniques, and he offers private lessons via Skype.
Charette has a controlled sound on the organ, taking a classic approach to both technique and instrumentation with his bands. His nimble lines follow in the footsteps of B3 masters like Jimmy Smith and Dr. Lonnie Smith. His patience and deliberation led WBGO tastemaker Josh Jackson to declare Charette a "master of space and time."
But Charette isn't just master of musical battles. As his website kungfugue.com attests, Charette could probably beat the shit out of you too; after all, he holds a "black sash" in White Crane kung fu, whatever that is. After ten years of study with a few less-than-stable mentors, Charette could probably do some damage, crooked pinky and all. He is even embarking on a project to bring his passions together, incorporating kung fu into his music like modern dance.
For now, Charette is focused on playing as many gigs as it takes to pay the rent. Despite being warmly embraced by the people of the Czech Republic finding an audience in sunnier domestic climates has proven difficult. "I have put more time into booking Los Angeles than anywhere else," says Charette. "I've made three trips to L.A. in the last year and a half. What's interesting is the crowd but I love it in L.A. I especially like walking there."
Charette performs at the Mint tomorrow, January 24th. He'll also be appearing at the Baked Potato on January 26th and leading his sextette at the Blue Whale on January 27th.
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