Kevin Coelho’s “Funkengruven – The Joy of Driving a B3″

by E. "Doc" Smith on August 3, 2012

Kevin Coelho is the sort of teenage phenom that the Hammond B3 organ hasn’t seen in decades. It’s a measure of his gifts that the 16-year-old Californian’s debut album, “Funkengruven – The Joy of Driving a B3,” was produced by a renowned master of the B3: Tony Monaco, whose Chicken Coup Records imprint is released “Funkengruven” last month via Summit Records.

“Kevin is a fascinating and brilliant young musician,” says Monaco, who not only helmed the sessions but also lent Coelho the players from his hot touring trio: guitarist Derek DiCenzo and drummer Reggie Jackson. “In a lot of ways, Kevin reminds me of the young me! He has already studied an enormous amount and has a great grasp of what and how he wants to play. He really knows how to play that left-hand bass, which is the key to driving the music. Producing the record for Kevin was a wonderful experience for me, a real gift.” Coelho comes to the San Jose Jazz Festival August 12th.

Classically trained in piano, Coelho fell in love with the sound of the Hammond B3 when he first heard a recording of “Green Onions” by Booker T & the MGs, and he eventually graduated to adoring the records of jazz organists Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith and Don Patterson. The R&B of the ‘60s and ‘70s is a passion, too, with that material ripe for the picking by an imaginative Hammond player, he says about a track from “Funkengruven”: “ `Dock of the Bay’ was an early favorite of mine – and the organ just sounds so good in smooth, mellow R&B like that.”

“Cantaloupe Island,” also on the new CD, was a prime vehicle when Coelho was studying piano. “There’s a lot more to the song than just Herbie’s opening piano lick,” he says. “We turned it into a funk tune by changing the beat and putting a James Brown bass line under it, then did some arranging on the chords at the end, and voilà.”

Coelho, who was born on August 29, 1995, started studying piano at age 6 and began his jazz and organ studies at age 11. Along with Randy Masters and Tony Monaco, his jazz teachers include noted Bay Area Hammond B3 player Wil Blades. The young musician has also had master classes with Larry Goldings and Bennett Paster, among others.

In 2010, Coelho attended and performed at the Eastman School of Music Summer Jazz program as a rare freshman to be admitted. He has participated in and performed at the Stanford Jazz Workshop for the past five years, winning the Outstanding Soloist award multiple times as well as being honored with the prestigious Shape of Jazz to Come award.

With his group The Groove Messengers, Coelho performed at the 2011 San Jose Jazz Festival, and he also played the 2011 Stanford Jazz Festival, as well as at clubs and corporate events across the country in groups with such professional musicians as Charles McCarthy, Akira Tana, Jason Lewis, James Witzel, Ray Scott and Rob Gibson, among others. Coelho attends Los Altos High School in California, where he is a straight-A student.

In July, Coelho made a return appearance at the Luna Pier Bootleggers and Blues Festival in Michigan, and in August, he returns to perform at the San Jose Jazz Festival in California – showcasing material from “Funkengruven” with DiCenzo and Jackson at both shows.

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