Sid Gribetz presents organist Mel Rhyne in a five hour radio broadcast this Sunday, May 14, 2023 from 2-7 PM on “Jazz Profiles” on WKCR.
Melvin Rhyne is one of the masters from the 1950s heyday of the jazz organ, but he is not so widely remembered today. He should be.
Born October 12, 1936 in Indianapolis, he attended the segregated Crispus Attucks High School, which had a legendary music program and nurtured many jazz greats who came of age when Indianapolis had a thriving jazz scene. Rhyne originally played piano, notably backing Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
When Jimmy Smith and other pioneering giants made the Hammond organ a popular jazz instrument, Rhyne picked it up, but he maintained his pianist roots in his approach to the heftier organ sound.
Rhyne’s major acclaim was as the organist in the legendary guitarist Wes Montgomery’s original trio. Beginning in the local Missile Room nightclub in Indianapolis, Wes’s trio was “a dynamic new sound” and became an international sensation. The group performed a series of sessions on the Riverside label that have a lasting legacy as classic jazz records – Jingles, Missile Blues, Fried Pies, Boss Guitar, and more.
Moving on from Wes in the late 1960's, Rhyne began his own career quietly in the Midwest. He eventually settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was a leader of the local jazz community as a performer, teacher and mentor.
Starting in the 1990's, Rhyne made more touring concert appearances and a series of well-received recordings, mainly on the Criss Cross label. These efforts regained national, and even worldwide, attention. In this vein, Rhyne would lead his own bands, some in the organ-guitar-drums trio format, and some with younger generation horn players added to the combo.
Rhyne’s organ style didn’t “pull out all the stops”. Instead, he played crisp clear lines, could swing in the pocket, and achieved his orchestral backing from his sophisticated manipulation of the keyboard, in distinction to the sometimes more frantic grooves of the B-3. While Mel could, and did, play the soul and funk of the organ sound, his attack included the more complex textures of modern jazz piano, translated to the organ timbres.
Mel Rhyne died in 2013 at the age of 76. Our program will explore the classic records with Wes Montgomery and many delights from his later recordings.