Matthew Kaminski is best known as the Atlanta Braves organ player — laying down grooves from the press box when star pitcher Kyle Wright, Ozzie Albies, and the rest of the team take the field. In October, Kaminski celebrated his 13th season of creating game day ambiance for America’s Team, and surpassed his 1,000th game. Kaminski also saw the arrival of his debut vinyl release, a seven-song LP of spacious and swinging West Coast jazz tunes, titled “L.A. Connection.” Locally, it’s available on vinyl exclusively at Ella Guru Records in Decatur. Everything from the Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda” to the George Braith-penned “Boop Bop Bing Bash” get a classic, organ trio makeover on the record. Kaminski took a few minutes out between games to talk more about all that went into making “L.A. Connection.”
He also gave us a rollicking In the Mix playlist featuring some of his favorite organ jazz deep cuts. Press play below.
Let’s talk about your album’s title, “L.A. Connection”
I recorded in Los Angeles in January 2020, right before the pandemic. I was there for the National Association of Music Merchants conference in Anaheim. Since I was there I wanted to make it special. I knew guitar player Bruce Forman; we played a gig together a few years ago in Los Gatos, California. He’s a jazz veteran who’s played with a lot of heavyweights.
I said let’s do a record! I booked a studio. Bruce knew a drummer named Jeff Hamilton who drummed for Diana Krall. He’s played with Oscar Peterson and Michael Bublé. We ended up with 11 tunes, and I paired it down to seven.
How much of the music is composed vs. improvised?
All of the music was arranged. During the melodies sometimes you’ll hear things that Jeff did, or things that Bruce did on guitar that compliment the melody. There are a couple things where I wrote some background figures where I would play behind Bruce’s solo, and where I would write something behind Jeff’s solo. But for me, improvisation is the main feature. That’s where we have the most fun.
It shows that everyone’s listening to each other, and creating something bigger than the sum of its parts.
Yes, and since this was the first time I’d met Jeff it took a while to get accustomed to each other. But after a few hours we started locking in. That’s the hard thing about hiring someone you’ve never met to play on your recording. But Jeff is such a pro that I felt at ease. Thankfully — crossing my fingers — it turned out well.
I became familiar with you as the Atlanta Braves organist, but you do more than that.
For 11 years I’ve been going to Athens for University of Georgia baseball games. I’ll do softball games in 2022. It’s a different environment: Truist Park fits about 42,000, if you have standing room. UGA fits about 5,000, I enjoy them as much as the Braves games. There’s more exposure with the Braves, where I’m on the third level. But at UGA I feel like I’m right there in the game. I could compare it to seeing a concert at Mercedes-Benz and seeing a concert at Variety Playhouse. You enjoy both for different reasons.
How did you start playing the organ?
I started at about five or six years old. My dad was a Lawrence Welk fan. Lawrence Welk was a big band leader who had a TV show in the ‘50s and ‘60s. My dad plays an accordion. He bought an organ from the school where my sister and I were taking lessons, and I think he thought that we were going to play like the guy on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
Some people think you take piano lessons first and graduate to the organ. I added piano in high school, because there wasn’t an organ player slot.
I would watch my dad play, and figured things out on the accordion that I had learned on the organ. It wasn’t too hard for my ear to go between the two instruments, so now I play organ, piano, and accordion in different situations
Where was high school?
I grew up in the Chicago area in a town called Park Ridge, right along the Chicago border. Then we moved to a town called Algonquin, and I went to Harry D. Jacobs High School.
There’s a cover of “Help Me, Rhonda” on the album. How many songs are originals?
I recorded two originals but only one made the cut. “MaCuba” refers to the salsa band that I play with, Orquesta MaCuba.
“Sir John” is by Blue Mitchell, who played trumpet in Horace Silver’s quintet for a while. That song was also recorded by one of my favorite organists, Don Patterson. Back in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and a little bit of the ‘80s, he was known as the bebop organist. A lot of my style is influenced by Don Patterson. He recorded a couple of the cuts that are on my album. “Sir John” and “Dem New York Dues.”
I wanted to bring up the song called “Boop Bop Bing Bash.”
That’s written by an organist named Billy Gardner. There’s a saxophone player named George Braith — back in the ‘60s he had some Blue Note albums where he played an instrument called a stritch, a saxophone that plays two notes at once. When I went to record it I found out it was written by Gardner who passed away while he was young. It’s one of my go-to songs for gigs.
Who did the artwork?
A friend from high school named Derek Chamberlain. He’s a graphic artist who does a lot of magazine and print artwork. I told him I wanted something to remind me of my California trip.
While I was in L.A., I stopped by the Griffith Park Observatory. From there I saw the Hollywood sign. Then I went to Huntington Beach — surf city — so he put a surfboard in there. There are a lot of little clues that remind me of my trip to L.A. all throughout the artwork.