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Hank Marr: 1927-2004
Hank Marr

Born: January 30, 1927 in Columbus, OH
Died: March 16, 2004 in Columbus, OH

Hammond organist and educator

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2005 Todd S. Jenkins

While he never gained a public profile to rival Jimmy Smith, Groove Holmes or Hank McDuff, Hank Marr was one of the most soulful and entertaining organists in jazz. Marr died on March 16, 2004, in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio. He was 77 years old.

Marr was born on January 30, 1927, in the Flytown section of Columbus. He learned the piano at his neighbor's house, trying to pick out chords he had heard on the radio. Once his parents bought a piano of their own he began jamming with friends like saxophonist Roland Kirk, who lived down the street (Kirk's nose-flute feature "Flytown Nose Blues" was an homage to their old neighborhood.)

After his military service, Marr played piano professionally around Tampa for a couple of years before returning home to study at Ohio State University. A gig with the Sammy Hopkins Trio was followed by work with Rusty Bryant. At that time the Hammond organ craze was just beginning, and hearing Wild Bill Davis play at Birdland sold Marr on the virtues of the electric keyboard.. The widespread airplay enjoyed by Jimmy Smith added fuel to the fire. Bryant and Marr worked for a time in Atlantic City, where the organist put together his first trio. Marr, Smith and Davis became friends while cycling their way through the city's organ clubs, and the younger man learned much from his idols.

In 1961 Marr was signed to King Records, which had just dropped "Honky Tonk" hitman Bill Doggett from their roster. King expected more Doggett than Smith from their new signee, and Marr experimented with his instrument's stops until he came up with his own, orchestra-like signature sounds. He debuted with Greasy Spoon, which brought him a fair amount of acclaim. He recorded sporadically throughout the 1960s and toured the nation regularly. Later in the decade he became musical director for television performer George Kirby, and a string of TV appearances increased Marr's album sales and gigs.

In 1983 Marr began teaching music at his alma mater, Ohio State, becoming an associate professor of jazz studies. August 12, 1990, marked the official Marvelous Hank Marr Day as the city of Columbus honored one of its favorite sons. He also received a Continuing Legacy Award at the Columbus Music Awards. The 1990s brought an association with jazz education guru Jamey Aebersold, who had Marr record a Hammond organ play-along record. Aebersold also issued several of Marr's albums on his Double-Time imprint, including the fine Groovin' It! (1996).

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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With 1 reader comment, posted June 6, 2011