April 2006:
Vanessa Rodrigues

see her biography and discography, click here!

picture of Vanessa Rodrigues Vanessa tells her story
how she came to the organ:

I've been told that my fascination with organ goes back to when I was 4 years old. My parents took me to a restaurant in Toronto called "The Organ Grinder"; there was a huge Wurlitzer theatre organ in the middle of the restaurant and while the organist was playing, he could trigger things that would pop out of the walls and make noise or blink. My Dad wanted to take me back there the next night too because I just sat and stared at the organ. This was very amusing for him, and it was a bonus because I didn't give my parents any hassle like I usually did at dinner time!
When I was 8, I used to watch "The Nature of Things" on TV, a very interesting science show hosted by David Suzuki; one night he did a program about pipe organs. I was so amazed, and determined to find one and play it. That proved to be very difficult in Edmonton where I grew up, because there are so few big old churches, and even when I would find one, they wouldn't let me touch the organ. But that didn't stop me from loving the instrument and hoping to eventually get my hands (and feet) on one.
I was already taking piano lessons, and more or less enjoying it, so I stuck with it. Much to my teacher's disMay, however, even though I loved classical music, I wanted some variety, and I started playing Broadway show tunes and ragtime when I was about 12. Then when I was 14 I attended a jazz camp at the University of Alberta. After that I knew that jazz was my calling.
I continued with piano and went to McGill University in Montreal; I noticed throughout my university studies that I was really having a love/hate relationship with the piano, and realizing more and more that I didn't feel I had anything interesting to say in the context of jazz piano. I couldn't believe I had loved jazz so much and now didn't feel that way anymore. It later came as a pleasant surprise to me that I had simply chosen the wrong instrument as the voice of my jazz story ...
I had started listening to the Tower of Power in my third year at University, and when I heard Chester Thompson play that unbelievable solo on "Squibcakes", my mind was made up. I was going to learn to play organ, and start a Tower of Power tribute band. I started writing out the horn parts, but still hadn't played a Hammond organ yet. Even though I knew I loved the sound, I had no idea at the time what a powerful spell it would cast on me. A friend of mine had one in his basement, so one day he asked me to come try it. I didn't even know how to switch it on, so he did that for me. It took a little while to map out how all the buttons and drawbars are connected, but once I figured it out and managed to get a note out of it, there was no going back. The Hammond organ has been the perfect vehicle for me to weave all of my musical influences together - it can sound gritty and growly on groove music like funk and latin rock, yet beautiful and sweet on a jazz ballad, and always reminds me of that deep sustain of the pipe organ that I have been so drawn to for almost 20 years.
This has been such an exciting and positive journey so far. I have had the opportunity to study with the great Dr. Lonnie Smith, to travel to perform in Denmark and Japan, and to host jam sessions at home in Canada, sharing the stage with many fantastic organists and other musicians who love the Hammond B-3. The farther I go into this world jazz organ, the more I realize that it is something very special, and that all of these other organists feel just as passionately about it as I do. It is an honour to be chosen as the IAJO organist of the month; in my sound clip here I talk about what a great experience it has been for me to get to know of all these other fine organists and organ enthusiasts who truly understand what a special thing we all have.
Please do visit my website www.vanessarodrigues.com or send me an e-mail: vanessa.rodrigues@mail.mcgill.ca -- I would love to hear from you. Thank you for supporting jazz organ. Best wishes from Montreal, Canada.
Vanessa Rodrigues
Vanessa has also produced an audio file speaking about his way to the Hammond organ. Click the PLAY button to listen to Vanessa !


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