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Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio digs into vintage sounds

Seattle band opens North Shore Jazz series at West Van library
Delvon Lamarr
Seattle’s Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio performs at the West Vancouver Memorial Library tonight as part of this year’s TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, West Vancouver Memorial Library, tonight at 7:30 p.m. as part of North Shore Jazz component of TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Band’s that play together – really play together – stay together.

Delvon Lamarr recognizes there’s hordes of top-notch musicians out there, but if the grooves don’t click, well, then something’s not right, he says.

“There’s a lot of great musicians and there’s a lot of bands that are on the stage and they’re all good – but nobody is playing together. I listen for that,” Lamarr tells the North Shore News from his home in Seattle. “That’s what we try and do: we play together. Nobody’s getting in the way, nobody’s showing off. Just simple grooves and music.”

The band, which also includes guitar player Jimmy James and drummer David McGraw, will be showcasing some of their fine vintage grooves and simple soul sounds when they perform in West Vancouver tonight as part of this year’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Lamarr, a veteran in the Seattle music scene, recalls with fondness his early forays as a drummer and trumpet player before really finding his niche on the Hammond organ. At 16, for example, he remembers drumming with local legend Patti Summers, and before that playing in his own band, Variations: The Jazz Disciples.

But at 22, he got a call to play drums with a revered organ player named Joe Doria, who showed him that the instrument could be more than just a church showpiece or a background component in some jazz and popular music.

“It’s historically been one of those instruments that was in the back – in the church, behind things. It’s a real treat to actually pull it to the front and give it the proper notice it deserves,” he says.

Immediately drawn to the instrument once he saw it in action, when Lamarr was finally invited to take a crack at it he found he was more than adept.

“When I sat down on that thing, it was like I’d been playing it like my whole life. Everything just connected. I had no prior piano – nothing. I just sat down on it and everything worked. I basically learned how to play the organ by watching Joe,” he says.

After tinkering with his own musical stylings on the organ, Lamarr found his groove after taking a deep dive into the soul-jazz aspect of the instrument, noting that his own band – the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – mines a vintage 1960s and ’70s soul sound using “Hammond B3 mixed with tasty guitar lines and old school style pocket drumming,” according to a description on the trio’s Bandcamp page. 

The group self-released an album, Close But No Cigar, in 2016 that was eventually picked up by an Ohio-based soul label called Colemine Records who re-released it this year to rave reviews.

“We weren’t even planning on recording,” Lamarr admits. “Half of those tunes on that album we actually worked out in the studio. Some of them were unfinished, some of them were completely changed from the way we played it on stage, we just did it in real time.”

With song titles like “Al Greenery” and “Little Booker T,” the trio proudly wears their influences on their sleeves, with a focus on playing in harmony together, locking into a groove, and giving listeners music they can vibe with. “I want people to feel it, man,” he says when asked what he wants people to experience when seeing the band perform.

Although Lamarr’s been a mainstay in the Seattle music scene for decades, this is the first time he’s led his own group – a role he says he reluctantly accepted after connecting with his talented bandmates and being encouraged to undertake his own project by his wife Amy Novo, who’s now the band’s manager.

“Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio was actually put together by my wife. … I’ve been in so many bands over the years that were doing great, they had all the potential in the world, and they just fell apart for one reason or another. I’ve had time and time again really good bands. She got tired of my complaining about it,” he says with a laugh.

The first person Lamarr connected with was McGraw, who he knew he wanted as soon as they started jamming together. “His pocket was just strong, his playin’ was on point,” he says. “He wasn’t doing anything flashy. I was like, ‘I want to play music with that guy.’”

James wasn’t the band’s original guitar player, but he and Lamarr had known each other for years prior, finally getting to play together in a project that’s succinct with both their musical passions.

“If you talk to Jimmy James he’d be the first to tell you: ‘I just play in the back and I try not to get in the way.’ David has that same approach. I think that’s what makes our chemistry so good together, is because we all have that.”

As the band’s popularity mounts, they’re playing a host of different venues this summer, from clubs and festivals, to libraries and bars. Lamarr assures that “it’s always a good time whenever we play regardless where it’s at,” noting that wherever they do end up playing, people are always captivated by the sight (and sound) of his Hammond organ.

“A lot of people are fascinated,” he says. “No matter where we go I get a million questions about that thing.”

He sees his role as both musician and educator for all things organ related. “You hear this thing in like dang-near every music. Sometimes you don’t notice. But the organ is in … everything,” he says with a laugh.