A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, Greg Hatza’s musical instincts came to him as early and as naturally as the ability to walk, around age four he began formal lessons. The Hammond B-3 became his life’s obsession as a teenager. Because there were no jazz organ instructors at the time, Greg was largely self-taught, picking up most of his insider knowledge from the organ players at jam sessions at a local club called the Grand Hotel. It was the Grand that Baltimore Colts football great and jazz fan Lenny Moore asked the teenager to perform at a club he was opening in Baltimore. Moore became Greg’s manager and Baltimore became Greg’s home. The organist played at the club for four years and was something of a young jazz lion himself, recording two albums for MCA subsidiary label Coral Records, The Wizardry of Greg Hatza and Organized Jazz.
In the late sixties, Baltimore was still an organ town and had its share of great players. It was here that Greg really got a chance to hone his jazz organ skills by playing with the best musicians in town. Lenny’s club was a great stopping point for national jazz artists who came to Baltimore to perform. It was here that Greg met his mentor Jimmy Smith and got to play with him. Smith later advised Greg on his soon to be recorded albums. He also met and got to play in jam sessions with such personalities as Kenny Burrell, Groove Holmes, Damita Joe, Philly Joe Jones, Roland Kirk, Les McCann, James Moody, and Sonny Stitt.
Greg Hatza’s formal education includes a Bachelor’s degree in Composition from the Peabody Conservatory and a Master’s from Towson State University, where he subsequently taught jazz, piano composition, improvisation and music theory for many years. He also performed with the Towson Jazz Faculty Quartet in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Diggin’ Up My Roots, is Hatza’s Lucky 13 album, featuring a greasy groovy good time. Hatza and his crew really serve up a rollicking good-time sound and the nord C2D Organ is steaming hot. The first cut is “Baltimore Strut,” it seems a fine tribute to his roots in Organ jazz/blues. A swingin’, deeply groovin’ sound that instantly sets the tone of what is to come. Saxophonist, Peter Fraize gives an outstanding solo with full throttle lines and a round warm sound. Guitarist, Brian Kooken digs in with jazz/blues lines that are soulful yet delicious jazz lines all sewn up into a canvas that allows organist Hatza to wail and shout atop, with quick building lines and trills, it’s the best of blues and jazz rolled into one, and if your pulse hasn’t jump started by now; check it – as I guarantee your feet are already moving.
Another pleaser in the mix is “High Healed Sneakers,” a mid -tempo slinky groove written by Robert Higginbotham and made famous by Tommy Tucker in 1964, the group definitely kept the original essence of the tune, and its authenticity rings through. Again, Fraize rails off a high-flying solo, with Kooken using a highly-sophisticated jazz/blues vocabulary in his note choices.
I have always had an affinity for “Back at the Chicken Shack” and Hatza has learned his history well, a Jimmy Smith classic, Hatza lays it out soulfully and with absolute authenticity. This organist truly grew up through the ranks, he is dripping with soulful elongated lines and links the lines between jazz, blues and soul with rarity of execution. Smith is a hard act to follow, but Hatza certainly is no slouch, and you can tell, he has put the time in the trenches to pull off this tune.
Overall, Diggin’ Up My Roots is a worthwhile offering that should stay in the forefront of your mind long after you take a listen. Hatza has created a lasting sound, and his ensemble of compadres, add to the depth of the overall enjoyment. A highly enjoyable release, that features an exceedingly tight group sound.