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KC Organ Champ Chris Hazelton 
Leads In The Swing After Dark

In these modern Kansas City jazz times, Chris Hazelton holds a special place on the local music landscape. Hazelton is a bona-fide veteran of the Hammond B-3 Organ, and there’s not a more talented cat at the instrument, anywhere. He was tutored by 2 legends, Dr. Lonnie Smith when Hazelton lived in NYC, and by Everette DeVan in KC. That has made Hazelton a rarified gem at the Hammond, with some serious mileage on his music-biz-odometer to boot.

Like many other artists, the pandemic threw Hazelton into a mental funk that made him question his standing as a musician. His last straight-ahead jazz album, Peregrination, was released in 2012. He’s spent the better part of the last dozen-years leading two larger aggregations: directing soul-jazz phenoms, Boogaloo Seven, and spearheading the very popular straight-ahead-soul group Freedom Affair.

“After Dark really came out of my need to feel like I was still a musician! Especially after Everette passed away. It dawned on me—in Kansas City there are really only a few of us, carrying the torch of jazz organ,” said Chris. “I just had to get into the studio and do a straight-ahead jazz record. It had been more than 10 years, and the guys really delivered.”

His sonic approach was paying homage to another flavor-rich time of jazz harvesting. That magic combination of the B3 organ, drums, guitar, and baritone sax.

“The baritone up front is a niche format, said Chris, the first two George Benson records were in that format with Ronnie Cuber up front, drums, and Lonnie Smith on the B3 organ. I’ve always loved that sound. Because you have that deep rich honk of the baritone saxophone,” added Chris. “Then you have the guitar that can play an octave above that and then you have the organ that can (make it) stream. It’s just a really funky, gritty, texture to have in a quartet.”

The obvious backdrop to the construction of this album was the isolation of covid, and Hazelton’s yearning from the absence of his two mentors, lost during the isolation.

“I often talked with Dr. Lonnie about his wish to leaving something behind. That definitely started weighing heavy on me when those two guys passed,” Chris said. “Then I started to think to myself, what am I leaving behind? You get to a point in life where you start wondering what your legacy is going to be.”

This album is definitely a part of that. The legacy and echo of those visionary voices will never leave his heart. It’s a constant—whether he is on stage or in the studio, It provides a backbone, keeping the music alive and the sound fresh. Hazelton studied longest with Everette DeVan, known as a mentor to many popular musicians in Kansas City.

“I always hear Everett’s voice in my head,” muses Chris, “whether I’m playing or otherwise. Especially hearing him always saying, ‘Get on It!” Particularly when I’m noodling around or playing a solo, I hear him saying, ‘Get on It!’ That’s when I really gotta turn it on.”

On this new album, Hazelton gave up control of self-releasing the project and turned to esteemed Canadian music business veteran, Cory Weeds, a saxophonist with one of the most iconic labels in jazz, Cellar Music Group.

“Cory is one of my favorite saxophone players and he’s a great friend,” said Chris. “I’m a big control freak. So, this record has been a big exercise for me to relinquish control. Cory put it out and he knocked it out of the park. The whole process has been great!”

The backdrop to this album is a robust Kansas City jazz scene that has roared back, ushering in new clubs, and a flush schedule for all.

“I think the scene has come back quite ferociously. I don’t think it came back the way it was, for better or for worse, the landscape is just different,” said Chris. “To a large degree, there is a lot of work and it’s still a great place to make a living as a musician. I have been doing this now for 19 years and I have seen it go in waves.”

That Chris Hazelton wave is cresting again, and the sonic boom is something everyone ought to hear.

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