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5 Ways to Play Like Larry Young

Organist Larry Young carved out a truly unique path on the holy Hammond B-3 organ. His modal, John Coltrane-esque approach was a total departure from the soul and jazz organ styles that had dominated the airwaves of the ’60s and ’70s. Young’s playing (and subsequent recordings with legendary drummer Elvin Jones) influenced countless organists, including Larry Goldings, Sam Yahel, and myself. Though Young died in 1978 at the young age of 37, his solo work—as well as his work with artists such as Miles Davis, Tony Williams, and even Jimi Hendrix—continues to inspire players around the globe. Here are five ways to make your playing Young-er! 

1. Bass Lines

Ex. 1a illustrates a typical Larry Young organ bass line over the first four measures of a blues in F. Set your organ or clonewheel’s drawbars to 83 8000 000 on the lower manual. 

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Young would often reinforce his groove with drummer Elvin Jones by alternating between the root and fifth of the harmony in his bass lines, as seen in example Ex. 1b. You can hear this on the song “Zoltan” from Young’s classic Blue Note album Unity

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The simplicity of this type of bass line helped offset the syncopated rhythms Young would sometimes play with his right hand, as in Ex. 1c. Use drawbar setting 80 8000 006 for the upper manual.

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2. Fourth Voicings

Larry Young pioneered the use of fourth voicings on the organ. McCoy Tyner had famously developed them on piano, but Young was the first organist to make them a staple on the Hammond B-3 organ. Ex. 2 demonstrates how to integrate these voicings with three common chord types: major seventh (using the Lydian mode), dominant seventh (using the Mixolydian mode), and minor seventh (using the Dorian mode). Use drawbar settings 84 800 0000 for the lower manual and 88 8000 000 for the upper. Add third harmonic percussion and vibrato/chorus at Young’s preferred setting of C1.

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3. Comping

Ex. 3 shows how to use Young-type voicings in the context of a chord progression. Some of these voicings have an added note on top. Young often did this in his right hand to fatten up his sound, since his left hand was usually busy walking a bass line. Play both right and left hand parts on the lower manual using drawbar setting 83 800 0000. Once again, set vibrato/chorus to C1.

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4. Solo Lines

Another technique that Young adapted from McCoy Tyner and John Coltrane was the use of pentatonic scales in improvisation. Ex. 4a shows a C minor pentatonic scale, which one might use over a Cmin7 chord. 

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If you break up the pentatonic scales by playing the pattern in Ex. 4b, you end up with a melodic line of perfect fourths. 

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Ex. 4c is a solo line over a Cmin7 chord. Use the same drawbar settings as in Ex. 2.

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5. Putting it Together

Ex. 5 is an example of how to integrate all these elements over a blues in F. Notice how in measures 8 through 10, the fourth voicings are broken up for use as a melodic line. This is one of Young’s trademark tricks.

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