With fond memories of AC's jazz history, organist
Dan Fogel releases fantastic new album
Unlike most people, Dan Fogel had already found
his life's calling by the time he was 10 years
old. Routinely sneaking out of the second-floor
bedroom window of his parent's colonial house
in Margate, Fogel would climb down an old tree
and then hop a late-night bus and ride up Ventnor
Avenue. His destination? Atlantic City's jazz
Mecca on Kentucky Avenue (KY and the Curb),
where, in the late 1950s, the night clubs were
jumping with world-class talent.
With a schoolmate of his, Fogel began shining
shoes in front of the legendary Club Harlem
when he was seven. He worked for tips, soaking
up the music that blared out from the clubs.
Fogel became enamored with the sound of a particular
instrument — the Hammond B3 organ. It was a
sound that he had never heard before, and one
that would weave its swelling sound into his
life for decades to come.
"The sound is indescribable," says Fogel,
now 57 and a resident of the Marven Gardens
section of Margate. "Nothing else sounds like
the Hammond B3 organ. It's a powerful instrument."
That power, especially in the hands of pioneering
jazz organists like Groove Holmes, Larry Young,
Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff (all of whom played
the Kentucky Avenue clubs such as the Club Harlem
and Wonder Gardens during jazz's pivotal experimental
period of the late '50s/early '60s) drew the
young Fogel from Margate to the north side of
town on a weekly basis. He says he knew early
on that he wanted to play the jazz organ.
At first, Fogel attempted to make himself
look older, but failed. With his hair slicked
back and his tiny frame hidden beneath an overcoat,
he was allowed to sit down inside and drink
soda — absorbing and listening to the sights
and sounds of the jazz musicians. "The girl
at the door just laughed," says Fogel. "She
would say, 'Don't even try it, just sit over
here and get your Cokes. If I smell anything
else on you, you ain't coming in anymore.'"
Thanks to the open-minded club staff, Fogel
found himself at the right place at the right
time in jazz history. Although the thick, funky,
sweet and soulful sound of the B3 would eventually
become a popular instrument in not only jazz,
but in rock, blues and R&B as well, it was just
being developed as a jazz instrument at this
time by exciting new players like Smith and
McGriff. Fogel got to hear them all.
"I just knew I wanted to be there," he remembers.
"Nobody would go with me — 10 years old on the
north side — there were a lot of phobias about
being over there. I had no problems with it
because I had been shining shoes there since
I was seven." Fogel says, despite his friends'
disinterest in jazz and going to the clubs,
he felt it was the most happening part of town.
Aside from the lure of the jazz clubs, Fogel's
early interest in music can also be attributed
to his family's roots in show business. His
mother, who sensibly made sure Fogel took piano
lessons before getting an organ, was a dancer
in Atlantic City. His aunt, Helen Fogel Forrest,
was a renowned big band-era singer who appeared
with Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. He also had
a second cousin by the name of Jackie Gleason.
After the piano lessons helped strengthen
his fingers and taught him the fundamentals
of the keyboard, Fogel located a Lowery organ
and tried to recreate the sound he had heard
in the clubs and on the radio. "I didn't know
I needed a Hammond to get that sound," recalls
Fogel. "So I hooked the Lowery organ up to every
speaker in the house."
Listening to and being in the presence of
the club's constant flux of musicians, all of
who must have been struck by this young kid's
enthusiasm and interest, Fogel figured out that
he needed to get an organ made by Hammond to
get that sound. When he was 11 years old, his
parents OK'd the big purchase, which included
the essential Leslie speaker. "I used my shoe-shine
money," says Fogel. "I was real serious about
By the time he was 16, Fogel was playing
regularly at the Wonder Gardens, in a band that
included fellow Atlantic City High School classmate
and future jazz star Harvey Mason on drums.
"I started my freshman year," says Fogel. "We
would play behind everyone. We used to go up
to Nancy Wilson's dressing room and she'd say,
'If you boys weren't so young I wouldn't let
you up here.' She'd be in her gown and everything."
(Mason, who went on to play with hundreds of
musicians ranging from Erroll Garner and Herbie
Hancock to Eric Clapton and Elton John, returns
to town at the Trump Marina in June with his
There's a great photograph on Fogel's Web
that shows a young Mason and Fogel on the stage
of the Wonder Gardens. It's one of many proud
shots Fogel has collected over the years, illustrating
his life lived in jazz.
Decades after his first excursions into the
night clubs of Atlantic City, Fogel's music
is still very much alive. It serves as a living
link to the city's now defunct but once vibrant
jazz scene, as well as to the old school pioneers
of the jazz organ who taught him how to play.
Fogel's still playing the music he once heard
coming from the stage of Club Harlem and he's
also respected by musicians near and far as
one of the great living jazz Hammond B3 players
from the formative era.
Also appearing on his Web site are quotes
and comments from jazz luminaries like Max Roach
("Exceptionally gifted, this guy can play!),
Pat Martino ("Danny can play his M.F. ass off!")
and Joey DeFrancesco ("Danny plays the organ
in the tradition of the masters. He can play!")
praising his talents.
After years of appearances at various clubs
and festivals around the Philly-Jersey Shore
region, traveling extensively, taking time off
and recording albums on his Laughing Waters
label, Fogel has recently found a new fan in
renowned jazz critic Nat Hentoff. Just before
issuing his fifth (and finest) album, 15
West, earlier this year, Fogel called Hentoff
on a whim, figuring the music writer and historian
might be able to review it. It turned out Hentoff
liked the album so much that he agreed to write
the album's liner notes. Fogel was floored.
"The phone rings one day and Hentoff's screaming
on the phone, 'Wow, man, this is what swinging
is all about!'"
For the album, recorded live during three
sessions in July 2005 inside the wooden walls
of Ventnor's 19th century Methodist Church,
Fogel brought in a trio that knew how to groove
— tenor saxophonist Pete Chavez, guitarist O'Donel
Levy and drummer Webb Thomas.
On 15 West's nine tunes you can hear
Fogel's deep respect for the style of '60s jazz
organ that, as a much younger man, he heard
in the clubs. You also hear that he's a master
of rhythm and melody. Along with the original
title track, a bouncy number with a terrific
riff, the quartet rolls through standards like
"Out of This World," "A Night in Tunisia," "Willow
Weep for Me" and the gorgeous "I Thought About
"His is the kind of jazz that lifts my spirits
when nothing else will," Hentoff writes in the
liner notes, "making me move with it, and sometimes
just shout in pleasure."
15 West is a contemporary release
that sounds vintage, grooves tremendously and
is deeply connected to the great players of
But even though Fogel's musical roots stretch
back for decades, the release of 15 West
marks an exciting time for Fogel. He's a
featured artist on Temple University's WRTI,
and "Willow Weep for Me" was No. 5 on the radio
station's Jazz Hot 11 countdown during the last
week of January and climbing. Fogel says legendary
saxophonist Sonny Rollins has expressed interest
in recording a project and this summer, at the
Atlantic City House of Blues, Fogel is slated
to open for George Benson, another former student
of the KY and the Curb school.
Although what remains of the Kentucky Avenue
jazz scene is mostly photographs and memories
of those who were there, Fogel believes it could
rise again some day, with the right people involved.
Meanwhile, 15 West pays homage to the
great players of the past while making you wiggle
and tap your feet.
"It's a shame that they ripped it all down,"
says Fogel, referring to the city's legendary
clubs, like Club Harlem and the Wonder Gardens,
which were torn down years ago. "That was my
little home. I've heard talk about the rebuilding
of that street again. Some day they're going
Traveling when he is not composing, performing
or recording, Fogel is also an avid painter.
Over the years, he says, taking time off from
his music has helped him to become a better
"I took some time off — to not play," says
Fogel. "So that I could grow. I wanted my playing
to get better and I used the theory of opposite
solution. If something's not working the way
you're doing it, then try it the other way.
If it's not working riding forward then try
riding backwards. If it's not working playing
everyday … then stop playing!"
He adds: "My music is myself. I am my music.
For my music to change, I have to change. Sometimes,
you have to stop playing and live a little."
From the sound of 15 West, it appears
that Fogel has lived a lot.
Recordings: Dan Fogel's recordings,
all released on Laughing Waters Records, include
Movement de la Mer (1983), Naked Flowers (1986),
Something Like That (1990), Oracle (2001), Soul
Eyes (2004) and 15 West (2006). Most of these
can be purchased at CD Exchange in Northfield
or online at
www.cdbaby.com or at
Venues: Although times have changed
in Atlantic City, especially in terms of places
that book live jazz, Fogel's resume includes
performances at long-gone establishments like
the Jockey Club, the Last Shoe Lounge and the
Hideout Jazz Lounge. He has also been featured
at the Atlantic City Jazz Festival, the NJ Jazz
Festival (at Appel Farm) and the Kentucky Avenue
Performed With: Over the years Fogel
has teamed up with many a jazz great. The list
includes guitarists Pat Martino and Eddie McFadden,
saxophonists Cecil Payne and Odean Pope, esteemed
drummers Billy James and Sunny Murray and jazz
bagpiper Rufus Harley. His most recent album,
15 West, features Webb Thomas on drums, O'Donel
Levy on guitar and Pete Chavez on tenor saxophone.
Favorite Memory: For a guy who, as
a kid, was lucky enough to hang out and play
with jazz greats like Jimmy Smith and Nancy
Wilson, it's tough to pick out a favorite memory
of the old Atlantic City club days. When pressed,
Fogel recalls a night at Club Harlem where headlining
organ player Jimmy McGriff asked the 15-year-old
Fogel to sit in for him for a few moments while
he stepped out. "I played one set, then the
second set, then the third set," remembers Fogel.
McGriff never came back. "All the people were
coming from Margate to hear Jimmy McGriff play
and instead they saw me playing."