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Friday, December 13, 2013

In the past several months I have come to grow even more fond of the organ. I have read Jesse Crawford's biography by Landon > Jesse Crawford Poet of the Organ; Wizard of the Mighty Wurlitzer. Here is a man who did not have an easy beginning. His mother had to give him up to an orphanage, but her dedication to him was never slighted. She found a way to get him the cornet  he needed for his band and others noticed talents in him right away. He became proficient at leading musical troop and was discovered by a Priest who invited him to come lead a new boys band and live in his home and have full access to the piano. Something which thrilled him because at the orphanage the boys were kept away from the piano for fear they would carve their initials in it.

 Jesse responded to an ad which stated the need for a traveling pianist who could double on horn. From there he landed a full time stationary theater position playing piano. He made a couple of lasting friends there and one encouraged Jesse to write melodies for his lyrics. Jesse also struck up a friendship with a local organist, Ned Douglas. One day Ned fell ill and asked Jesse if he could fill in for him on organ. He practiced all morning and played the show. Jesse almost immediately responded to the tone of the organ and not long after when Douglas quit he took over his position. While at the theater he was able to practice 7-8 hours a day before his shifts. One thing led to another and the theater cut back the organ music and relied on piano music played by automated piano rolls for much of the day due to financial problems, and eventually had to phase Jesse's position out entirely. He was poor during those months, but he was learning his craft and before long landed a full time gig paying an excellent weekly pay. In his off hours he went to watch another organist, Chauncy Haines. He would take his day off from the theater and travel several miles to go watch Mr. Haines play, sitting very close to him and absorbing everything he did. Soon Jesse was playing to larger audiences and it was at one performance that he noticed how a woman was reacting to his ballads and thius inspired him to investigate what it was about his technique that caused such a response. He soon developed his classic glissando roll, which became the theater organs most beloved effect. 

Jesse began playing organ in 1911 it wasn't long after that he became acquainted with the all new  Robert Hope Jones invention- the Theater Organ. Hope Jones designed an organ which could play all of the voices in the orchestra including percussion. Hope Jones is also accredited with inventing electro-pneumatic action ( allowing the organ console to be located anywhere since one wires were required to trigger the notes and tab (voice switch) settings. This action also allowed multiple settings to be saved for later retrieval ( which are called pre-sets and are the little round buttons located between the keyboards for easy access while playing). Hope Jones was also responsible for the theater organs most beautiful voice - the Tibia Clausa. As well as the Diaphone. Robert Hope Jones worked with Wurlitzer designing what would become the greatest theater organ made. Wurlitzer's name is synonymous with theater organs.

I highly recommend adding Jesse Crawfords organ music to your listening list. I recently discovered a good website which has many of his old radio programs. Also there is a great 1978 film which is now posted to Youtube which also features Jesse playing live, called  ' Legendary Theater Organists '.
There is aslo a very cool Paranount film short about the Hammond Organ in that 78' film. Definitely check it out.
Also watch the hour long NBC biography program about theater organist / radio organist Rosa Rio . Just Youtube search ' Blair Rosa Rio '

Have a safe wonderful holiday. And watch for black ice.
PS- watch my Youtube playlist called - Organ Holiday Music 

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