Trudy Pitts

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A fine soul-jazz organist of the 1960s, Trudy Pitts has been relatively overlooked in comparison to the small crowd of other Philadelphians from the period who made their mark with the Hammond B-3 organ.…
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A fine soul-jazz organist of the 1960s, Trudy Pitts has been relatively overlooked in comparison to the small crowd of other Philadelphians from the period who made their mark with the Hammond B-3 organ. Although she favored a slightly more pop-oriented sound than most of her peers, with a romantic loungish air on some of her recordings, she could also burn through uptempo tunes, occasionally adding some dinner-clubbish singing of her own.

Pitts attended Juilliard and got a degree in music from the Connecticut College for Women. She was doing some club singing and teaching when she was approached by drummer Bill Carney in 1955 to fill the organ chair in his group, which had previously been occupied by Shirley Scott; Tootie Heath and John Coltrane were also in Carney's combo. Pitts had not yet played often in the jazz style, and although the job went to someone else, Carney encouraged Pitts' progress on jazz organ by helping her get work. By 1958 she was playing in Carney's group and married to Carney; the group assumed the billing of Trudy Pitts & Mr. C. Pitts developed a style that was somewhat less blues-based than other Hammond organists, partly as a result of her classical training and also from using her foot to play bass instead of depending on her left hand.

Pitts recorded a few albums for Prestige in the late '60s, the first few of these featuring Pat Martino on guitar, with Carney still filling the drum seat. Although some of the tracks on these were overt pop covers such as Herb Alpert's "The Spanish Flea," "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" (from Fiddler on the Roof), and "A Whiter Shade of Pale," these were actually interpreted with imaginative taste and a pretty solid soul-jazz groove. Carney and Pitts also wrote some original material in a more straight-ahead jazz vein, and she proved herself able to swing with the best of them with fluid and passionate runs on cuts like her version of "Take Five." Pitts and Carney (aka Mr. C) stopped touring in the early '70s as their family grew, and although Pitts still plays keyboard for the theater and restaurants, she mostly plays piano rather than organ these days.