Welcome to spring New York! I can think of no better way to introduce the season of new beginnings than with some delightful jazz. The itch for a worthy jazz show kept coming back and luck finally stated my appetite. I managed to get in touch with a jazz musician who has been a staple in my collection since I was a kid. His name is Brad Shepik. Not only did the man invite me to a show presenting his latest work as part of the Brad Shepik Organ Trio alongside his talented contemporaries Gary Versace and Mark Ferber, but he shared their latest album “Top Down” as well! The new album is simply a breath of fresh air in the jazz world. While down south in Naples, FL I was able to explore “Top Down” and prepare for a night of astounding music.
Jazz clubs are usually well placed venues made specifically for the genre at hand. However, now and then a venue gives a little more of a rustic feel and 55 Bar, which has been around since 1919, is a perfect example an old dive. Eager to escape the unusually windy streets, 55 Bar was an ideal recluse for the night. I made my way into the small quiet space and took a seat at the old, sticky, wooden bar. All along the walls hung jazz posters, record sleeves and the radio dimly played classic jazz in air of the room. A couple of posters I recognized included Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and the Harlem Jazz of 1958 that I have in my own apartment. I was definitely in the right place. The ceiling was old and broken down with stains covering many of the cracks. It was a simple and comfortable setting to be in with no glam needed. Sitting on the rocky timber stool, I ordered a Heineken and got eager for the show to begin.
Brad and crew were setting up in the back corner and seemed completely at ease. Of course, I would expect nothing less from the veteran musicians. Along the tables in the space lingered a diversely tiny crowd silently sipping their drinks. Much of the conversation was discreet and the coolness of the audience was apparent. Finally, it was time for the set to begin. First the proprietor, much to the amusement of the band and fans included, gave a long introduction. Eventually, the Brad Shepik Organ Trio took us all in with a soft thunder roll that followed with a smooth pluck of the guitar. As it is evident in Brad’s past recordings, his finger work was as quick as ever. The precision and focus was the next thing to admire as the man worked his constant magic. He made sure to lead the way and keep the spirit of their jazz in deep flow. The thoughtful licks were fast and often offered a momentary lapse for dramatic pause in reflection. Each echoing wail was sublime. Brad was a gum chewing jazz master unveiling yet another epic in his discography.
Gary’s organ was fantastically alive and well. Each note and blare that emitted for his instrument was equally matched with his intense persona. His powerful stare and jolts unveiled a passion like no other. His organ course was low and somber compared to Brad’s optimistic guitar. Gary’s style kept him on a path that was entirely his own to pave. He was in his own world that completed the rest of the great jazz the ensemble continued to create throughout the evening. When the guitar and organ came to pair up, both followed a bright and fluid tone. Gary played with twitches of pure satisfaction.
Now, Mark on the other hand had an equally wide array of power as he transitioned constantly in various speeds and rhythm. Out of everyone, his role was important by keeping the soul of the music moving forward and whatever pace he let on. He may have also been the epitome of cool that night. When he needed to, he was just as fast as the rest of them but was able to keep the slow beats in the limelight. Mark’s pulses were a blend of rock, funk and jazz and each one meshed together beautifully in pairing with the rest of the music.
Brad continued with some unique grinding string jazz as the newly packed house cheered and marveled on. There was not an empty seat in the place. I was totally enamored and could not stop tapping my fingers on my knees as I closed my eyes. They had me hooked. The Brad Shepik Organ Trio held true to the organ power and made jazz that was simply enjoyable. What makes their music successful in many ways is that it sounds uplifting and commanding all the way through. They were men in who were simply doing their thing for the sake of the craft.
My favorite two songs from “Top Down” are Major Major and Sweet Suzy. Major Major has a nice rock and roll vibe to it that combines nicely with the jazzy feel that breaks on through later. Gary’s solos in the song are just wonderfully crafted and urge the listener to bob their head with comfort. Sweet Suzy is a tune that really helps showcases Brad’s guitar skills in grouping with Gary’s organ. All the way through there is an impeccable rhythm that is addicting to listen to from all three musicians. Gary’s organ just shines through in both perfectly and the intermittent guitar licks just makes it worthwhile.
Listen to “Top Down” and get a feel for what I am talking about. Better yet, go see the trio perform and be amazed. Their style and refinement will encourage you to seek out more of their timeless work both past and present. I guarantee you will be content and will begin tapping your feet for the rest of the day. So start this weekend right with some Brad Shepik Organ Trio!
Photo credit: Caroline Mardok