“Sometimes you need to change your taste” These are wise words from the late great Charles Earland, but who is Charles Earland? Charles Earland was born on May 24, 1941 in
Philadelphia. Although today he is known as one of the greatest Hammond B3 organ players, he began playing alto saxophone and Baritone sax through high school. Earland’s switch to the organ was not from lack of skill on saxophone, as his first tour featured him on saxophone and Jimmy Mcgriff playing hammond B3 but as Sonny Hoppson, a local club owner and friend of Earland’s recounts “During intermission you could find Charlie at Buck Greens organ. Not only would he be checking out the keys, but he’d be thinking about Jimmy Smith(one of the more popular jazz organists of the time” he would slowly transition to playing only organ after that. After switching to organ his career took off. He released many albums as a leader and played as a sideman for many Jazz stars such as Lou Donaldson and Irene Reid. His work as a leader featured a unique soulful style that could bring out a smile in anyone. Many of his albums feature a mix of jazz standards and pop tunes of the time period all arranged into swinging jazz charts. His most famous arrangement is of the song, “More Today Than Yesterday”, which features Earland playing the melody while the horns dance around him responding to the melody with tasteful harmonies; while the song “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, which is usually played as a pop ballad or soul rock, is heard as straight ahead swing in Mr. Earlands 1999 version from the album Cookin With The Mighty Burner and a less known version which features it arranged for a full horn section. His takes on Jazz standards bring out the soul and the blues that were so prominent in the roots of jazz; songs like “Sister Sadie”, another track from the album Cookin’ With The Mighty Burner, showcase his deep connection to the blues as
he effortlessly burns through the changes utilizing the blues scale and modal lines that
showcase his genius melding of the modern jazz and blues styles.
Moreover, an important side note is the names of Earlands albums. Two themes are
common among his album names Black Pride, and The Mighty Burner. He was known to many as “ The Mighty Burner” because his groove was simmering hot, this nickname was acquired in the 1970’s and many of his albums after that feature it including: Cookin’ With The Mighty Burner, Third Degree Burn, Front Burner, and many more. Another common album theme was of black pride. His most popular album , a prime example of the Mighty Burners pride, is Black Talk. Not only did this album top the billboard charts, but it features the title track “Black Talk”, one of Earlands many musical commentaries on his life and the life of an African American. The song “Black Talk” specifically features a classic jazz call and response between the organ and the horns during the melody, but what makes it unique is the continuation of this call and response into the solos. This motif mirrors the gospel singing where one person goes up and preaches to the rest of the chorus. Since Earland’s organ career took off after the Civil Rights Act was passed 1964, many of his compositions and albums featuring black life are portrayed in a celebratory way, saying, “Life is good!” At least for me,personally,my love for Charles Earland comes from the joy that emanates from his compositions. His music, while not very complex or innovative as other jazz musicians of the time, embraces happiness with rich harmonies and a unique organ sound easily recognisable. In many of his records Earland can be heard shouting and laughing along to the music. The mood in these albums is so jubilant you have to ask whether they were recorded in the studio, or in his backyard at a party. Even as a shift in musical taste through the 70’s and 80’s occurred, Charlie was right there along with it bringing in the top of the world's talent and burning the house down with every song. Some of his later disco hits include , “ Coming to You Live” which featured Micheal Brecker on tenor sax, and my
personal favorite of his experimental works “Leaving This Planet” ,a fusion of rock, funk, jazz,
and disco featuring Joe henderson(T-sax) and Freddie Hubbard(TPT). All in all Charles Earland was an innovator, but not the type that is in your face yelling, “Im different!” He sat in the back, burning on his organ, jamming with his friends, creating wonderful music for all to enjoy while not having to think about troubles. His music will always hold a special place in my heart, and his funky grooves will always be beating in my ears. While Earland had many ups and downs in his life, he always kept the music positive and ALWAYS kept the people dancing all the way up until his death in 1999 due to heart failure.
Listen to Charles Earland: