Q&A with legendary keyboardist Bruce Katz, one of the greatest Blues, Soul-Jazz and Roots artists of our times

"Music can have a huge impact on society. Just look at the Blues Revival of the 1960s which led to the counter-cultural rock music which in turn affected politics and society in general.  I want music to make people think and feel."

Bruce Katz: American Music Connections

Bruce Katz is a legendary keyboardist (Hammond B3 and Piano) who has released many albums as a leader and has appeared on over 75 other CDs with the likes of John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Ronnie Earl, Little Milton, Butch Trucks, Duke Robillard, David "Fathead" Newman, and many others. He has also had a strong musical connection with the Allman Brothers Band, and was a member of Gregg Allman's band for six years (2007-2013), Jamoe's Jasssz Band (2010-2015), Butch Trucks' Freight Train Band and Les Brers (2015-2017). Bruce also occasionally toured with the Allman Brothers as well. He won the BMA for Acoustic Blues Album of the Year in 2019 for his collaboration with Joe Louis Walker and Giles Robson for Journeys to the Heart of the Blues and is nominated again in 2020 for the same award for his acoustic piano album Solo Ride. He is a unique player and composer who combines Blues and American Roots music with elements of jazz, and improvisational rock music that creates a signature sound that is all is own. Bruce began playing piano at age 5 and has a lengthy background in classical piano. After hearing a Bessie Smith record when he was 10 years old, he started teaching himself blues and early jazz on the piano. He then heard boogie-woogie and swing music and continued his musical journey into more aspects of jazz and American roots music.

(Bruce Katz / Photo © by Stuart Berg)

Bruce attended Berklee College of Music in the mid-1970s, studying Composition and Performance. For the next fifteen years, he performed with many of the leading musicians in New England, and played “on the road” for long stretches of time. In the early 1980s, Bruce played with Big Mama Thornton on her East Coast tours and this experience revived his desire to play Blues Music as a primary focus. Bruce has also been the subject of feature stories and reviews in most of the leading blues and jazz publications throughout the world. In addition to performing, Katz teaches piano, Hammond organ and theory privately at his studio in West Shokan, NY. Bruce teaches long-distance online "Skype" lessons as well. He also conducts Master Classes in Blues/Jazz Piano Style and History,  Hammond B3 and Blues History, which he has done at various schools, universities and festivals worldwide. Bruce's album, "Connections", released on April 21, 2023. There are ten new original songs, recorded it at famous Capricorn Studios in Macon, Georgia. Bruce says: "Recording it there was really a dream… beautiful studio atmosphere and gear and an indefinable vibe that was absolutely inspirational. We think you will hear all of the “connections”… history, musical styles, the interplay between Aaron, Liviu and me." This is a milestone recording in the history of the Bruce Katz Band!

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Bruce Katz & Legare Robertson / Founding Music

How has the music influenced your views of the world and the journeys youve taken?

I've played Blues music all over the world and have come to realize that it really is a universal music that communicates to people and cultures all over the planet.  People in Brazil, Poland, France, the U.S., etc. all seem to connect with the emotion and feeling that Blues creates.

How do you describe your songbook and music philosophy? Where does your creative drive come from?

I describe my songbook as the blending of American music of the last 100 years. My philosophy is that  American music forms like blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, certain kinds of rock are all part of the same fabric with the same roots. Delta, Chicago, New York, California, New Orleans all have different innovations but are all part of the blending of styles that I like to draw from for my own music. I try not to overly stylize my music into only one format.  At the same time I have delved deeply into each of those styles and respect them.

"I miss the human element from music of the past. It seems so much contemporary music is made by machines and is so "perfect". Music that is imperfect but comes from the soul is harder and harder to find these days. I fear that music will continue to be devalued as a "commodity" or something to use but not really listen to. But I see hopeful signs...there are definitely audiences that are hungering for real music that says something!" (Bruce Katz / Photo © by Stuart Berg)

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I think the moment that changed my life the most is when I was five years old and sat down and played the piano for the first time! I've had all sorts of highlights... playing bass with Big Mama Thornton, recording with John Hammond, playing in Gregg Allman's band, recording six albums and touring the world with Ronnie Earl. AND playing Johnny B. Goode with Chuck Berry!

What touched you from the atmosphere of Capricorn Studios? Do you have any stories about the making of Connections”? 

There is a lot of history, a lot of ghosts, and music literally floating around in Capricorn Studios. You can feel it when you're in the room. And that room is basically the same as it was 50 years ago. I personally knew and still know many of the people who made landmark recordings there. 

Besides a nervous moment at the start of the session where the Hammond B3 didn't work and needed repair, the recording felt completely natural and relaxed... it's very easy to be yourself and play music in that room! Certain vocal rooms, alcoves had so much vibe to them it was impossible not to feel it. The engineers were also wonderful and added to the down home feeling of recording there. 

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the human element from music of the past. It seems so much contemporary music is made by machines and is so "perfect". Music that is imperfect but comes from the soul is harder and harder to find these days. I fear that music will continue to be devalued as a "commodity" or something to use but not really listen to. But I see hopeful signs...there are definitely audiences that are hungering for real music that says something!

"Firstly, I have learned that playing music is what makes me happy and fulfilled. I have also learned to be part of the music, to work in service to the music. When you play with a group of musicians, being a part of the whole music is the most satisfying part of playing. The interaction between musicians and the spontaneous creation of something that nobody planned in advance is what I wait and hope for every time I play." (Bruce Katz / Photo © by Derek McCabe)

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues?

Some people think that technique and soul are opposites in music. But I don't think so.  Being able to have great technique and REALLY be able to play your instrument means that you are able to play anything that you feel, anything that you hear in your mind without having to battle the instrument. You can say what you feel and the instrument or your body doesn't get in the way! Preserving the blues does seem to be very important. It's music that communicates so much emotion and so much of the human condition... It continues to need to be heard!

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Music can have a huge impact on society. Just look at the Blues Revival of the 1960s which led to the counter-cultural rock music which in turn affected politics and society in general. I want music to make people think and feel.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Firstly, I have learned that playing music is what makes me happy and fulfilled. I have also learned to be part of the music, to work in service to the music. When you play with a group of musicians, being a part of the whole music is the most satisfying part of playing. The interaction between musicians and the spontaneous creation of something that nobody planned in advance is what I wait and hope for every time I play. 

Bruce Katz Band - Home

(Bruce Katz / Photo © by Stuart Berg)

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