Local jazz organist revisits his past
excerpts from Tom Stevens’ last article for The West Volusia Beacon
A local pop artist and successful jazz-funk proprietor of the 1970s is still making music, though now with a new emphasis. Caesar Frazier of DeBary revisits jazz traditions and his old, familiar talent as an electric organist with his new record, Instinct.
The attention Frazier gained for his virtuosic playing ability earned him record deals, a spot in Marvin Gaye’s band, and a living for himself and his family.
Frazier is a master of the electric organ, particularly the B3 Hammond organ, which became a mainstay in jazz, rock and R&B in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Frazier recognized the unique character in the Hammond, one that he claims only a few people have been able to bring out.
“Jimmy Bradley exposed me to all kinds of jazz organ in high school,” Frazier said. Demp’s Place was where he first heard Jimmy Smith, the jazz improviser who introduced the B3 Hammond into popular music.
Recognizing how enamored Frazier had become with the music and the electric organ, his stepfather, James Bender, bought him a Silvertone electric organ. Bender was the head chef at the Holiday House in DeLand for years, and he worked hard, Frazier said. Even so, buying the organ put him in debt. When Frazier graduated from high school, he attended Florida A&M University, and sold his organ to help cover expenses. After a year at college, he recognized the empty space in his life that resulted from not having the organ, so his stepfather went into debt a second time to buy him another organ. This one was a Hammond (although not the famous B3 model). Without Bender’s support, Frazier doesn’t believe he ever would have become a professional musician.
“Would I have finished my undergraduate studies?” he wondered. “Would I have been able to stay on the performance path that I had craved since elementary school? I owe everything to my stepfather, James Bender.”
Frazier studied music for the rest of his time at FAMU, and immediately after graduating, he moved to Indianapolis to begin a successful career, which led him to relocate several times to New York and to California.
Frazier’s new record, Instinct, released Oct. 27, is a return to his musical roots.
“With this CD, I tried to cover a wider territory than I’ve ever done,” Frazier said. “Before, I was sticking to the funk and groove veins for commercial value. I’ve kind of done that on this CD, but I’ve also gone back to traditional jazz.”
With the new record, Frazier also decided to come back to focusing on the organ itself. In recent years, he has played primarily piano when performing professionally. On all 12 tracks on Instinct, he plays the Hammond B3 exclusively, with accompaniment on tenor sax, guitar, bass and drums. It includes 11 performances of American classics and pop songs, and one original song.
Frazier named his record Instinct, but the music feels more cerebral than that. His playing sounds like it has a lifetime of scholarly pursuit behind it, but it isn’t so highbrow that it won’t share a conversation.