Gene Ludwig gooses his Hammond B3 organ so effectively, standards are refreshed, and originals hook instantly. In his late 60s, the Pittsburgh-area native hits town this week, reunited with his partners from 40 years ago, guitarist Jerry Byrd and drummer Randy Gillespie.
Heavily influenced by Jimmy Smith and Johnny "Hammond" Smith, Ludwig began on piano but switched to organ in the '60s. He has worked with the likes of guitarist Pat Martino and singer Arthur Prysock, and he replaced Don Patterson, the funky Columbus native, in saxophonist Sonny Stitt's group. Ludwig's playing is supple and soulful, and his quartet establishes a strong if not trailblazing groove.
Ludwig's music is soul jazz, that easily identifiable blend of rhythm & blues and jazz so popular 40 years ago, when people like saxophonist Gene Ammons and organist Charles Earland ruled the nightclub roost. Bob Porter, a legendary boardman who produced many soul-jazz dates for Prestige in the '60s, is a big fan of Ludwig's. In a recent interview with jazz journalist Bill Milkowski, Porter declared: "Gene is, in my estimation, a real jazz-organ player from the old school. He puts it right down the middle. And for my money, he's playing better now than ever."